Friday, July 13, 2012

In Retrospect

It has been awhile since I last posted and now I am in the throes of preparing for another trip to Africa. We leave on July 23 and will be going once again to the Kabanana District near Lusaka Zambia to work among vulnerable children. Our project this year is to provide a more sanitary latrine facility, additional classroom space, health and sex education and community based school support for a preschool and for Healing Place - a school run by Pastor John and Thenny Mpanga. July 1 marked the end of nearly 15 years of pastoral ministry at Calvary Presbyterian Church. It was an emotional time - a bittersweet mixture of tearful goodbyes, unfinished ministry, and people that we have grown to love and care for on the one hand and joyful anticipation of a new chapter in life. As I look back over the last 15 years of ministry there are a number of things that stand out in my mind as vital details and profound memories. - Challenging a congregation steeped in traditional mainline Presbyterianism to step out of that box and engage the community and the world with a missional commitment - 3 mission trips to Mexico to build houses, 3 trips to Africa, 1 trip to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild after Katrina hit. I can recount nearly every detail of those trips; the people we met and ministered to; the jobs we accomplished; the team members; the funny incidents and stories; the heartwarming bonds of love and fellowship; the deep satisfaction of knowing that even if we hadn't made huge dents in the problems of the world, we had changed the lives of some forever - Along those same lines is the gratitude of knowing that over 275 people - from age 15 to age 70 - have participated in one or more of these trips or one of the many other mission trips our church has supported to Mississippi, New Orleans, New York, Boston, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. - A group of folks that met every week in a local Ale House for Bible Study, prayer, laughter, tears, fellowship, food and more. I am also reminded of people like Thomas, Bonnie, and others who served us and watched us seek to live out the Christian life in a real world setting - Attending AA "birthday parties" with brothers and sisters who were celebrating months or years of sobriety and knowing that I had supported them in some small way. - Over 550 erudite, inspirational, biblical, applicable, life changing sermons preached - Person after person who either wrote a card, a note for the scrap book or who stood and spoke at the party. As I heard those comments and read and re-read the notes and letters, the thing that stood out so clearly to me about 15 years of ministry was not my preaching or my insistence on challenging people to step out into the world; not my Bible Study or classes on current topics; but on personal relationships. Mention of any of my sense of accomplishments was minimal. People talked about supporting them in their Christian life or encouraging them in some ministry. Someone mentioned a life-changing experience on a backpack trip and another on a bicycle trip through the Rocky Mtns. Some mentioned my support of music program, others spoke of things I had said or done. But most simply talked about having a relationship that helped them. Sometimes you don't know the effect your life may have on another person. And sadly, people don't take the opportunity to say kind things about the way another person has affected their life until they are leaving or they have died. I feel humbled and grateful that people were able to share with me and my whole family what 15 years has meant to them (and in some cases an additional 5 years in Renton, Maple Valley and 14 years in Las Cruces). I pray I didn't do anything or act in any way that held ulterior motives of self-advancement. I tried, I believe, to simply act as a "Christ-man" (a term my grandson Davis coined after watching the movie Courageous). In the course of that, God brought dear friends, co-workers, colleagues, accountability partners, and, in some cases, those who challenged, opposed, made me think more deeply about my positions int my life and thereby caused me to grow. I have not deserved the favor God has bestowed on me and my family. As the say in Africa, "God is Good - All the Time." As I look back, I have no regrets, only deep satisfaction mixed with a desire to keep pressing forward in some way. Retirement from professional ministry does not mean quitting the challenge of "living for Christ and bearing fruit." (Phil. 1:21) It simply means finding new ways of doing that. Judy and I decided to attend church last Sunday even though we didn't have to. Neither of us had any responsibility to be there, no sermon to preach; no program to lead, no question to answer; no complaint to listen to. For the first time in many years both Judy and I were able to sit in church and simply focus on God and let others worry about microphone batteries, time going over, sermon content. And through that we encountered God in a new way. Wow. That's what it is like to go to church to worship and not to work. I had no idea. So, we press on. Next stop is Africa. I guess I have to put on a leader hat again for a few weeks as this trip was planned before I knew July 1 would be my retirement. But we are excited to extend Christ's love in tangible ways and to know that though retired, there is lots to look forward to and not just fond memories to nostalgically remember. If you are interested I will be posting from Africa (maybe even from Dubais where we have an overnight stop)on this site. Feel free to read or comment if you wish. Gotta run now and straighten out some technical problems I am having with my email and computer. Keep the faith.

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