August 8, 2016

I Have the World in my Backyard

As I see athletes from all over the world gathering in Rio for the Olympics, I am reminded of the visitors from abroad that live not far away from me. Many come to my region from around the globe for employment or a university education.

Some internationals are from places none of us will ever be able to visit. I ask myself what I am doing with this opportunity to mirror Christ and His love to those I meet.

Some of my church's members recognize this migration as a chance to minister. For example, they held English as a second language (ESL) classes at the church. Many of their Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Latin American students were associated with a nearby university.  Now, our church is changing directions slightly and becoming friendship partners with international graduate students via International Christian Fellowship (ICF) at the same school.

In the past, individuals in the church were paired with students from other countries, through a process similar to ICF's. Activities included inviting them to a home cooked meal, teaching the adults to drive or taking them to an international food store. My husband and I were friends with a Korean couple as part of that effort. One main avenue of testimony was to share our lives with the two of them. We also tried to show them, by example, what a Christian lifestyle looks like because internationals might equate the words and actions of actors on American TV with what Christians do.

In another type of outreach, one church member developed relationships with some internationals who visited his produce stand. After he got to know them better, he gave them God's word in their own language when they expressed interest.

A training class that I took for international ministry stressed showing Christian love, but it did not recommend encouraging our friends to depend on American Christian friends for everything. Instead, it advocated praying for opportunities to point others to Christ; he is the only one who can meet the deepest needs of people from any nation.

Having a heart for internationals is worthwhile, but it requires a shift in thinking for some of us. I, for one, grew up in a very homogeneous culture, eating only Middle American food, seeing no other skin colors beside white and believing there was no reason to live anywhere else in the world. However, through the small steps I have taken to reach out to other cultures in the name of Christ, I have been blessed.

I am thankful for itinerant missionaries who went out of their way to make occasional visits to my small home church. Although I was a child at the time, I could see that they had a genuine faith. Motivated by a love for God and an understanding of the plight of man, the missionaries had a vision for a world that needs the Gospel. These men and women gave me an excellent starting place to leave my comfort zone and get out into the "world" in my backyard.

July 18, 2016

Being in Ministry Saved My Marriage

This morning, my husband and I prayed together with our kids. Before we walked out the door, we looked into each other’s eyes, and we kissed. Later, at lunch time, we had a significant discussion about personal priorities for our finances. No one shouted or cried or clammed up. We also discussed our church. No one shouted or cried or clammed up. This evening, we ate dinner as a family. We laughed a lot. I did the dishes. He paid bills in the family room. After the kids were in bed, the two of us ended the day by reading side-by-side on the couch.

Ours is the story of a happy marriage. 

We owe this to the grace and mercy of our Lord. And one of his loving means has been our place in the church. 

When yet another pastor falls publicly into grievous, soul-bruising, family-destroying sin, the onlookers can quickly line up to blame life in the church. I have read many articles in recent months that claim ministry life makes pastors and their wives inherently lonely or hypocritical or distracted or vulnerable to sin or prone to cracking from stress. The cumulative message is clear: when failure happens, it’s the church’s fault. 

I know that ministry life can bring unique, and sometimes intense, challenges to family life. (See: this entire blog.) I know that there are neither perfect churches nor perfect pastors nor perfect pastors' wives. Sin is a many-tentacled monster that can drag us toward death from many directions at once. 

But I also know firsthand the privilege of a ministry marriage.

And I worry that an endless litany of blame-the-ministry could cause faithful pastors and their wives to view the local church as their marriage's enemy rather than its best ally. 

The Prayers of Many 

I can’t count the number of times our church has publicly prayed for us and for our marriage. Sunday mornings from the pulpit. Wednesday nights in church prayer meeting. Tuesday mornings at Bible study. The people of God are regularly and specifically praying for us to have a loving, faithful, and happy marriage. 

These prayers are the arms of Aaron and Hur, holding up our marriage whenever it grows weary. They are an offensive weapon against Satan, cutting down temptation before it begins. And they are an open invitation to corporate rejoicing, allowing “the many” to “give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11). 

The Good 

In church life, we are surrounded by couples who are thriving in their marriages—loving one another, serving God, and pursuing faithfulness. We watch them work and worship together. And we see God’s grace to them when trials come. 

Ministry life has taken us to hospital beds and death beds, to moving trucks and waiting rooms, to drought-plagued farms and hard-hit small businesses. We have seen marriages walk through the sea billows and come out singing “it is well.” 

These couples are our cloud of witnesses: cheering us on, handing us cups of cool water, and pointing us to the same Christ who is also at work in them. 

The Ugly 

We have also watched marriages die. Too many times, we have cried together for a church couple who didn’t make it, who met the end in a dingy courtroom stacked with allegations. And we have doubled-over in fear and grief and anger for all the sins that led them there. 

But even the ugly is a grace for my marriage. Having seen the multi-car pile-up beside the road, I resolve to drive more cautiously. Having watched the house next door burn to the ground, I check the batteries on my smoke detectors. Having witnessed a friend falling off the cliff, I back away from its jagged edge.

Thanks be to God. 

God’s Gracious Constraints 

The blame-the-ministry posts are correct when they observe that ministry life comes with plenty of constraints. People are watching you. You have demands on your time. At every moment, you are expected to act like a Christian. True. 

Those constraints are God's grace

Because of the ministry, I must speak kindly to and about my husband. I must serve God alongside him. I must set an example for younger Christians. I must surround myself with more mature Christians. I must submit myself to the direction of the elders. I must show up twice every Sunday to worship God with him. 

And aren’t those the very things my marriage needs? 

I cannot say what my marriage would be like if my husband were not a pastor. I have only the life God has given. But I do know this: ministry life is, by God’s kind intent, good for my marriage.
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