Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Last General Update from the desert valley

Dear Family, Friends, and Prayer Partners,

This will be the last general update from the desert valley, here in Wasco, before we end this mission assignment and head home to Beloit the end of September. GOD IS SO GOOD! We have worked very hard, have enjoyed our time here immensely, and have seen good things... in the healing of this church, in the empowering of the elders, and in setting a course for the future of the congregation.

We know it sounds weird to say that a church that 9 months ago was ready to "die" after a massive leadership/interpersonal explosion...is healthy enough to look to the future. But it seems to be true! We've seen the Lord Jesus Christ do some miraculous things in people's hearts.

In a nutshell, here's what we saw:
We inherited a demoralised, fearful congregation that had split in a major way.

The people felt used, disrespected, and neglected by the former pastor and a small but vocal group that supported him and dominated church life.

There was very little sense of direction or purpose. Like another church we served about 10 years ago overseas, there was massive fragmentation.
Here's what we are seeing today:
The fear is gone! There really is new hope, new spiritual life, and as one woman said Sunday morning, "Oh boy! There's joy in our church, again!"

The people are starting to believe that God values them and that they have a role in sharing Christ with their community, once again. In fact we've seen more, new, overt ways that they are speaking about Jesus out in the town, than when we came. Sue and I have tried to model overt, but relational evangelism with them.

There is a new sense of purpose and direction... they are figuring out who they are as a church in their community, and what they want to offer the populace.

The elders are much more cohesive and intentional about their spiritual role in the congregation.

They are less "a board" and more "a ministry team strong in the Word, prayer, and caregiving".

The few dissident families have had to "fish or cut bait". The church has decided not to run after the trouble-makers anymore. See Proverbs 19:19. Two families are back cooperating and trying to heal as well. 3 families decided to go elsewhere and have taken their problems to other area churches. We'll see how that goes!?!?!

The church has a new Pulpit Search Team that has started the process of finding God's next settled Pastor for Grace Church. This time, they are looking for a man with a real love for Jesus and a tender heart for people.

The pieces of the puzzle are in place. Now, in about 5 to 6 weeks, we will bow out quietly so they can get on with consolidating their new health and new hope, without becoming dependent on us...after all... we're just itinerant missionaries here, too. We look back on these 6 months and realise that God has allowed us to be a small part of a big project. We praise the Lord because He did things so simply: We knew we had a message to give and we needed to model Biblical, Servant Leadership.
Here's what happened:

We preached a return to our first love for Jesus as Saviour and Lord, personally.

We taught only from the Bible, no other Christian books..

We tried to demonstrate a dependence on prayer, with genuine caregiving.

We reminded the people of the reality of the Holy Spirit, here and now!

We tried to live in such a way, transparently, that they saw that we really loved and cherished the people... and had a shepherd's heart for them.

I taught and trained the elders consistently in informal ways and actions. They started to "get it" and developed a "corporate model for leadership" on their own. Sue and I, over and over, talked about A PASSION FOR JESUS AND A COMPASSION FOR PEOPLE. Then we tried to simply show it!

We will leave here happy and content that God used our meagre gifts simply and at the right time. We've enjoyed this "mission field" as much as Europe & Africa. After a brief rest in Beloit, we head off to England, Belgium, then Mexico and a wee bit more work in the USA. In the spring, we're going to rest, enjoying only weekend trips to speak in supporting churches, hopefully... and consider new plans about South Africa. You'll hear more about that in the October & December newsletters. The two things we've learned in these 6 months is that God can still use us and that after all these years of travel, we are happy with a more "settled" ministry.
So many miles... the tired tires get a little bald (not just the head!).

Bless you for your love, your prayers, your strong support, and your letters, cards, calls, and e-mails. They mean so much to us...all the time. Take care. Stay close to Jesus, and to each other.

See you!
Larry & Sue