So many Santa’s, but no Jesus

For the past several weeks we’ve been preparing our house for our move to Scotland.  There are half packed suitcases and boxes everywhere, and we’re not even planning on shipping many things.  Some things are much easier to let go of than others, that’s for sure.  I’m finding myself packing boxes, weighing them, and then unpacking them once I discover how much it’s going to cost in shipping.  It might sound shallow, but I’ve found the shipping cost really does affect how valuable the contents are, and just how easy it is for me to live without so much stuff.

By far the largest box I’ve packed, and unpacked, and re-packed, contains hand-painted ceramic Santa’s that I’ve had for over twenty years.  I have carefully moved these Santa’s with me from house to house and state to state.  They came to me as a part of an estate for a beloved family member and they were very dear to the deceased, as many of them were hand-painted by her.  She loved Christmas.  She died in early December, and when we arrived at her house to begin making funeral arrangements her entire home was decorated in Christmas. It was so typical of her.

Santa’s were her absolute favorite Christmas decoration.  She especially loved the Old World looking ones, who had plenty of character and charm, with different colored robes and assorted goodie sacks.  She spent many hours scouring through flea markets and antique shops looking for just the right face, and she painted several of her own as well.  There were about thirty unique pieces in her collection when she passed away and I still have most of them.

Nearly every year at Christmas I drag out the boxes and carefully unwrap each figure, ensuring the piece is intact and free from chips or damage.  I then arrange them neatly along my fireplace mantle or the dining room buffet, and every time I look at them it reminds me of my loved one and how much she loved Christmas time.

Today as I was thinking about the things that we just have to ship over – things that can’t be replaced easily because they have come from our own world travels, and represent places we’ve been and things we’ve done, I found myself lingering over the large box of Santa figurines.  I’m told that Christmas in Scotland is far less grandiose an affair than it is in America.  It’s usually a quiet day, spent with immediate family.  Gifts are exchanged, family dinner is shared, and some folks will even attend a candlelight communion service if they’re so inclined to the tradition.  But people don’t saturate every room of their home and yard with Christmas trees, lights, and colorful decorations.

As I was pondering over the box of Santa’s I thought about what Christmas means to me, and the answer was easy and obvious.  It means freedom, peace, love, grace, hope, and salvation.  It means a night of miracles and wonders that has never been topped.  It means a virgin and a carpenter spending the night in a cave, surrounded by shepherds and sweet, gentle farm animals, all marveling at their Creator in the form of a newborn baby.  It means a night sky filled with the ethereal songs of the hosts of Heaven, and the light of a billion magnificent stars dancing across the sky, announcing to the world that a Savior has been born.  It means love, so pure and holy, come in the most humble of ways, to restore a hurting and broken world to Himself. Just the thought of what Christmas means to me brings tears to my eyes; and a sense of awe and wonder that the God of the Universe looked down on us and said, “Yep, they’re worth it!”

I hope you caught what I left out.  There’s not one version of Santa anywhere to be found in what I think Christmas means.  I’m not opposed to Santa in any way, but it’s not what Christmas is really about to me.  So I know that while I’ve enjoyed these trinkets for years, I don’t have to have them with me in Scotland.  I can let them go without regret, knowing that when December rolls around I won’t be missing out on the reminder of what the season is really all about.

A quick update

Hello friends, family, and partners!  Thanks for stopping by our blog.  We don’t have a lot of new information to report today but I wanted to give everyone a quick update on where we are right now with fundraising and timing.

First, we are very close to being done with our monthly pledges!  We only have about $700 left to raise to meet the minimum monthly income requirement for visa approval.  This is a huge praise for us!  I know a few of you have received partnership letters in the last couple of weeks and are still praying over those.  We understand how tight monthly budgets are, but we are so appreciative of your prayerful consideration of our partnership request.  We know that it will only take about twenty more people to partner with us to close this gap, so we’re praying and trusting the Lord for y’all.

For those of you who have not yet received a hot pink partnership letter from us please consider this our official request to you!  We want you on our team and we would love to talk with you about the work we are planning to do in northern Scotland and how YOU can be a part of making that happen.  Don’t be shy – just send me an email, text message, or give me a call and I will be happy to get you whatever information you need to help you make that decision and get you set up on our secure online giving page.  Every single dollar helps us get to Scotland. 

If you’re one of those people who have already said “yes” to monthly partnership and you have not yet signed up on our online giving page, please, please, please do that as soon as possible.  The online giving platform is our way of verifying our monthly income to our UK sponsors.  They have to see that we have our minimum monthly income covered by pledges and/or monthly gifts before they will agree to sponsor us.  Without a sponsor we cannot apply for visas.  If you have said “yes” to monthly partnership but aren’t able to begin your giving today, please set up your online giving profile and designate a future giving date so we, and our sponsors, can see that you are in fact a part of our monthly support team even if your gifts won’t begin until later in May, June, or even July.  The website address to do this is: www.risegroup.us

We still have not settled on an exact travel date yet, but we have committed to the Buckie church to be back in Scotland by the middle of July, baring any unforeseen difficulties or delays with the visa process.  Currently we are awaiting the return of our FBI background checks and the wheels of Government move like sap in February.  We are anticipating these documents to return around the middle of June, although our prayer is they return much sooner.  As soon as we have those documents in hand we will begin the visa application process, which takes about 3 – 4 weeks for approval.  I’ve been watching airfare prices like a cat on a mouse and the sooner we can travel the better it will be for us financially.  July is the absolute most expensive month to fly to the United Kingdom.  We know God is in control of it all and He knows what we need and what we can afford.

In other news, we have been super busy around the farm getting things cleaned up and cleaned out.  We have been sorting through books, journals, study materials, and personal memorabilia, deciding what to pack, what to ship, what to store.  We do not intend to ship many things to Scotland as the shipping costs are outrageously high, but there are just some things that we cannot get in our suitcases and we don’t feel we can live without.  It’s much harder than I thought it would be to sort though all the trappings of life and decide what’s genuinely worth keeping, and what’s just stuff.  In all of the goodbyes the Lord is continuing to grow me and teach me about trust, faith, and what really matters.

I was blessed to have my parents, Mike & Connie, come up for about two weeks at the end of April and they got so much accomplished around the farm in the way of spring cleaning.  Mom spent hours and hours in the garden, weeding beds, cleaning out containers, and getting old grass and weeds off the fenceline.  Dad mowed all the pastures, repaired damage the pigs had done to the pastures, and ran the weed-eater all around the yard and house.  We also managed to get a fence taken down and a ton of miscellaneous farm debris that had piled up in the last year taken to the dump.  There’s still more work to do (it’s a farm, the work is never really done!) but it looks so much better already.

As our time begins to run down we are looking to plan a trip to the Omaha area in June to visit our friends and partners at East Side Christian Church in Council Bluffs, and Sam’s children in Lincoln.  We’ll also be in North Carolina for a few days later this month visiting some dear friends and partners there.  We hope to get back to Florida one more time for a visit with all our family before we hop on the plane and fly away as well.  The list of goodbyes we want to say is rapidly growing, but that is another powerful reminder to us that we have been incredibly blessed with amazing friends, family, and a network of supporters that we are going to miss like crazy.  July will be here before we know it!  The next ten weeks or so are going to be super busy!

Thank you to each of you for your prayer support, your words of encouragement, and your financial partnership with us.  We love you!

 

 

Closing a Chapter…

Sam and I both enjoy reading.  Sam tends to be the kind of reader who is able to read multiple books on various subjects, and usually has several books going at one time.  He can read a few pages in each of his books every day and keep up with the content.

I, on the other hand, prefer to read voraciously in spurts.  I favor espionage and crime novels mostly and will cabbage onto an author I love and read everything they’ve written before moving on to the next author.  I especially love it when an author writes a series of books based around a main character or story line, like Brad Thor’s Scott Harveth, or Tim Downs Bug Man, or Patricia Cornwell’s Dr. Kay Scarpetta.  Currently I’m reading a British author, Peter Robinson, who writes the DCI Banks series.

Regardless of which character I’m reading about I always find myself a little bit sad when I finish a series because I feel like I’ve really gotten to know and love these characters, and I hate to see their stories come to an end, even though I’m about to discover a new story line and set of characters that I’m going to love just as much.

Right now, our life is a bit like the ending of a great series of stories.  One beloved chapter is coming to an immediate end, while another, equally exciting one is about to begin.  Our time in Georgia is drawing to a close, and in approximately 10 weeks we’ll be loading what’s left of our worldly possessions into a couple of suitcases and boarding a plane for Scotland where we’ll begin the next amazing chapter in our story.  Our emotions are all over the board, and most days we would sum them up to one word: bitter-sweet.

We are super excited about how God is working in our lives right now, both personally and through our partners.  We have re-discovered just what a big God we serve as we’ve seen him remove barriers, obstacles, and distractions in ways we thought weren’t possible.  We have been blessed daily by unexpected words of encouragement, the faithfulness of our partners, and watching people enthusiastically embrace us and this ministry.  We have felt new life breathed into old and tired bones as discouragement is replaced by vision, purpose, and determination.  And we have been able to rest in the peace of knowing that we’re walking right in the center of the Lord’s will for our life as the pieces begin to fall into place for our move.  Just in case you didn’t already know, we serve an awesome God, y’all!

One of the biggest changes that has happened for us in the past couple of weeks has to do with our farm.  Many of you know we purchased a little farm about four years ago.  At the time, we felt it was our dream property, and an avenue for us to stay in Georgia permanently and live a more self-sufficient lifestyle.  For the past two years as we’ve prayed over and wrestled with this opportunity to return to Scotland we had not felt comfortable with selling our little piece of heaven.  It’s paid for, and it seemed like a good security net should we have to return to the States for whatever reason.  Sam and I have talked at length about renting it out, using it as a short-term home for families in transition, leaving it empty, moving Sam’s children from Nebraska or my parents from Florida into it, and a variety of other options that cropped up.  As we explored the possibilities both Sam and I felt uncomfortable and burdened by each option.  In the last month or so our prayers have seemed to morph from, “Lord, please open the door for us to keep our farm by…” to “Lord, please give us peace about our future, whatever that might be.”

Oh how I love the way our gracious God works when we truly surrender our will to His!!

A few weeks back we were meeting with a friend from church about partnering with us financially.  At the end of the meeting he asked us what we had decided to do with our farm.  We told him we just weren’t sure, and shared some of the options we’d been tossing around.  He listened intently and when we’d finished running through the list of possibilities he just asked us if we’d pray about selling it to him.  WHAT?!?!  In that moment we were totally blown away because he was one of the options we’d thrown around in the early days and then dismissed because we didn’t think he would be interested.

Friends, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you that one of the most important lessons I’m learning right now about true surrender and trust is to not say “no” for people when God has been preparing them to say “yes”.

As this part of our story begins to come to a close, we admit to having mixed feelings.  We are sad and dreading the emotional roller-coaster of saying farewell to friends, family, our church, and things we have grown to love and cherish; but we are also anxious and excited to move into the next part of our story where we will write a whole new chapter full of new friends, family, and memories.

Thank you friends for being a part of this journey!

 

Ministry Plan for 2017 – 2018

Before I launch into the meat of this blog I wanted to say a huge “thank you” to all of you who have prayerfully committed to financial partnership with us for the next three years.  We are honored to have you as a part of our team.  Your faith in us is more encouraging than you can ever know.  We look forward to sharing this journey with you, because without your generosity and faithfulness this mission would not exist, but together I believe we can accomplish many eternal Kingdom works.

For those of you who are still praying over and considering our request for financial and prayer partnership we wanted to share with you the highlights of our current ministry plan for 2017 and 2018.  Sam and I have spent much time in prayer regarding what we feel the Lord is laying on our hearts for work in Scotland, and we have had numerous conversations with our Board of Directors regarding this initial plan.  We feel we have a good foundation to work from.  Because we are not in the country yet some of these ideas are more fleshed out than others but we believe that all these ideas can be implemented within the first two years we’re in the country.  As always, we are happy to address any questions you may have regarding the plan for ministry work in Scotland; so if something comes to mind please ask us and we will do our best to answer any questions you have.

For those of you who know us personally, you will know that our vision trip in the autumn of 2016 was a great success.  It turned out very differently than what we initially expected, but we believe that the Lord’s hand was in every aspect of the trip.  While much of everyday life in Buckie and the surrounding villages is the same as it was when Sam was there before many of the actual needs of the community have changed.

First, our target date to be in the country is still just a time frame – anytime between May and the end of August, but we will travel as soon as our fundraising is completed.  We’re praying for all our partners to be on-board and giving by the end of April.  If that happens we will be in a position to apply for our visas in early May, which means we could potentially be in Scotland as early as the first part of June.    Regardless of when we actually arrive in the country, the first couple of months will be spent reacquainting ourselves with village life, although we both fell into it rather quickly and comfortably during our vision trip, which was another clear confirmation that Scotland is the place the Lord has in our hearts.

Once the newness wears off we are planning to focus our efforts for the first couple of years in two major categories: community transformation and discipleship & church pioneering.

We believe that Jesus performed so many miracles during his time on Earth because he understood that people would not be able to hear Truth over the rumble of their stomachs or the ache of their bodies.  Our needs are not so different today, and our prayer is that we will be able to address some of the practical needs of the community in such a way as to allow us to build meaningful and sincere relationships with these non-Believers, which will open doors for us to share the Gospel with them.

The short and sweet version of our ministry plan is this: People need Jesus.  This is a universal truth for all of us who are Christ followers.  But the practical truth is, people can’t even consider Jesus if their children are going hungry on a regular basis.  Or if their utilities have been cut off in the middle of winter because they have lost their job.  Or if they are so far in debt they are in danger of losing their home.  Or if one of a hundred other scenarios, which is why we want to engage in some simple, yet valuable community transformation projects, such as:

  • Start a breakfast club for school aged kids who aren’t getting fed breakfast, and in many cases they don’t get much, if any, dinner the night before.
  • We want to host a feeding program for the elderly, something similar to Meals on Wheels for people who are no longer able to leave their homes.
  • We want to plant community gardens and teach people how they can supplement their family’s food budget with fruits and vegetables they can grow themselves.
  • We want to work with other churches, local businesses, and the town council to organize a community food bank.
  • We want to teach people who have lived a life of easy credit and instant gratification that living on a budget and being debt-free is not only possible but attainable.

We believe that by engaging with the community in these ways we will be able to build relationships with people and families in a non-threatening way.  But we don’t just want to be another aide organization, which is where discipleship and church pioneering come in.

We will be working primarily with the Buckie Church of Christ, which is the congregation that Sam served for the first seven years he was in Scotland before.  This is an established body of saints who are welcoming us back with open arms.  They are currently without a minister so Sam will happily fill that role.  As is traditional for most Scottish churches, they currently have church services only on Sunday mornings, but they also have a Monday night prayer meeting and a community men’s Bible study group, and a Wednesday night women’s Bible study group; all of which are well attended by the church members.

In addition to maintaining these existing activities we want to establish several other small groups that will primarily cater to non-Christians or brand new Christians.  Sam’s Re-Discovering the Bible curriculum will be a very useful resource for teaching these groups of non-Believers and new Believers.  We want to encourage people to abandon their preconceived ideas of Jesus and His church and dig into the Scripture to see who Jesus really is.  Our prayer is that a new church (or churches) will be strategically planted in Buckie and/or the surrounding villages from these groups.

We are also excited to work with the Buckie Youth Club, which meets on Tuesday nights and caters to local grade school and middle school aged children.  We had a blast hanging out with these kids during our vision trip and we feel this is a major missed opportunity for the local churches as these kids primarily come from secular homes and do not attend church anywhere in town.  We saw a deep hunger for affirmation and love in the eyes of these children, and we were moved to tears on our last night as the children all clustered around Sam, hugging him and asking for him to take ‘selfies’ with them, and begging for us to come back.

And last but not least, we hope to welcome our first short-term mission trips in the summer of 2018.  These trips will be a combination of community transformation activities, outreach and evangelism efforts of various sorts, as well as include day trips to a few castles, lochs, and cathedrals.

So that’s it, in a nutshell.  There is a lot of work to be accomplished, but we know that with your partnership in prayer and finances we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

 

Vision Trip success!

This post is so late in coming, but it’s never too late to share what God does and how He

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‘Lobsta’ traps, Buckie harbor.

works, right?!

Sam and I traveled to Scotland for six weeks in October – November 2016.  We went with the intention of visiting several villages along the Moray coast.  Our plan was to meet with local pastors and access the need for new church plants in those villages.  We also intended to travel to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Birmingham to talk with pastors and church planters in those areas.  We had our schedule made, our speaking notes written, our bags were packed, and we were determined to fit as much into the six weeks as possible.

The first destination was Buckie.  Sam spent the first seven years of his Scottish ministry in this quaint little fishing village located on the north shore of the Moray Firth.  Buckie is the place that holds Sam’s heart, so naturally it had to be our first stop.

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Buckie Church of Christ

When Sam first went to Buckie in 1980 the church consisted of a dilapidated building and 12 members, the youngest was 50 years old and the oldest was in her 90’s.  The first Sunday service Sam preached, the roof fell in, literally.  The building should have been condemned.  The membership tried to give the building to the local city council, but they refused it because it needed too much work.  Three days after the roof collapse the oldest member passed away from pneumonia.  It looked like a downhill slide was inevitable, but in spite of overwhelming obstacles, Sam spent the next seven years loving that church into health.  By the time he moved to the metro Glasgow area to plant another church, the Buckie church had turned around.  They had renovated the building and were running about 85 in attendance on Sunday mornings.  They’d begun a Gospel service on Sunday night’s for unbelievers, and they had a successful Saturday club for grade school aged children, and a wildly popular family camp that ran for a week in the summer.  They had also planted a daughter congregation in the nearby town of Forres, which was running about 45 in attendance.  By American standards this doesn’t seem overwhelmingly amazing, but by Scottish it’s fantastic!

When we arrived in Buckie we were immediately aware of how unhealthy the church had become.  Over the past twenty-five years they’ve had a string of short-term American missionaries who have stayed between 18 months and seven years.  The majority of these pastors did not have a plan for continued outreach and growth, and the ones that did went about it in a very forceful and off-putting way.  These men were decent preachers who loved the congregation, however, loving the congregation doesn’t facilitate growth.  We were saddened to learn that the church had regressed back to about 12 people.  Our heart’s broke for these dear old saints, and we felt God was telling us to spend some time with these people, ministering to their needs, and praying with and for them instead of rushing

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Pluscarden Abbey, Elgin

off to other villages looking for easier opportunities.

 

I love when God throws a monkey wrench in my plans.  I am a planner by nature so I hate surprises, but when God moves us to change our plans in favor of His I sit up and listen.  And boy, am I ever glad we did listen.  As the days pushed into weeks we were able to build trust with these people, and others within the community who are not a part of the Buckie church.  We were invited into people’s homes, into their lives, and what we saw was a need for a fresh perspective on who Jesus is and what He wants us to do.  Our hearts were moved in compassion and love for this community, and before we knew it, we were “home.”

After our return from Scotland in November we received an official invitation from the Buckie church to return as their pastor.  We are honored that they would place this level of trust in us after so many years, and we are happy to accept the challenge that comes with this role.  We have updated our ministry plan based on the needs we saw first-hand as we became involved in the lives of people in the church and the community, and it can be summed up in two words: missional engagement.

We will be writing  more about the individual points of our ministry plan as we flesh out the details of each of the areas of ministry, but God continues to lead and direct us in this, so we know we’re on the right track.  Currently we’re looking for individuals to partner with us as we prepare to move to Scotland.  Our target date to be in the country is by the end of August 2017, and we have to raise approximately $28,350 in pledges for our annual support, as well as $25,000 in moving and immigration expenses.    If you feel God is leading you to join with us as we minister to the people of northern Scotland please use the Contact page to let us know, or you can donate to us directly through our Giving page.

Thank you for your support!