My Story: Stranded on Omnipotence
When I was in college, I feared that giving my life totally to the Lord meant He would probably send me to Africa….
My husband’s and my degrees are in Bible and theology. But after his seminary graduation, he continued working at the law firm where he started as a runner. And over the course of twenty-five years, using his administrative gifts, he worked his way up the corporate ladder. His last job description says he managed a staff of fourteen, securing multi-million-dollar contracts for seven locations.
He sometimes wished God would open doors to full-time Christian work, but he loathed hospital visits and felt energized by tasks. As he went to seminary at a time before “executive pastor” positions existed, few ministries sought people with his skill set. So he volunteered as church treasurer and served in deacon and elder positions, giving generously of himself in every way.
Being the one with the gift of teaching in this marriage, I was the one doing so-called Christian work. Part of Gary’s efforts went to supporting me through seminary and cheering for me as I wrote and spoke. Those who questioned why “the wife” was the one doing the “spiritual work” (don’t get me started), he encouraged to view my service as his success in “presenting me spotless” (Eph. 5:27).
I loved having the freedom to say “yes” when venues couldn’t pay me. I could charge little to nothing when necessary, which meant I brought in less than $20,000 per year.
Eventually the Lord blessed us with one daughter, and our small family traveled easily. Gary and I volunteered to serve as missions coordinators at church, eventually partnering with one church in Mexico rather than going to different locations. Over an eight-year period more than half our members made site visits; we had high participation.
And our respect for national-led ministries grew. We learned, for example, that spring break (our most-convenient time) was the least convenient for them; Christmas was when they really needed us. We learned to serve rather than calling the shots.
Our partnership allowed Gary and me a great standard of living, and I mean that in the best sense. We had what we needed to pursue our passions for Christ. Yet we sensed the Lord urging us to do more for the poor and disenfranchised. So we prayed, “What next?”
The answer came, as such answers often do, in a way that initially traumatized us. At the front-end of the US economic crisis, the firm brought in a new boss. And he chose to outsource Gary’s department. Layoff. “Sorry: can’t afford severance pay.”
Normally we kept a hefty short-term savings account for just such an eventuality. But about twenty-four hours before Gary learned he would lose his job, we had paid cash for a newer car—a hybrid so we’d send less money to Saudi Arabia and lower the repair bills. We scratched our heads at the Lord’s timing. We were stranded on omnipotence.
Around that time, I conducted a magazine interview of an American couple training African leaders. This husband and wife were transitioning to the Middle East, as their African partners had started handling the work on their own. But as most of these pastors had only sixth-grade educations, they still needed specialized administrative help.
So this couple was seeking a stateside liaison to help connect the nationals with well-digging organizations, recruit people to sponsor at-risk kids, and fly over several times a year to provide training. Through technology, the job could be done stateside—needed to be done stateside.
The opportunity sounded like a match for Gary’s skills. Only one catch—it required raising support both for our monthly living expenses and the cost of the work itself. But the US economy had crashed, and projections said it would only get worse. Pursuing the opportunity seemed unwise, but we had no peace about saying no. So we kept asking, seeking, and knocking, trying to discern the line between wise stewardship and courageous faith.
The sponsoring organization suggested we make a multi-site visit to Africa. Only one problem—they were going during tourist season, which doubled the price. And we felt our daughter should accompany us. So they gave us a price tag of $8,000. What? We were still hyperventilating over COBRA payments.
But to our shock, response to our request letter amounted to all but the last $50. So we went. And we fell in love with the nationals. We had to say yes.
Unfortunately, on our return we learned that many Americans view living in the states while ministering overseas as “taking the safe route”; people couldn’t see we’d be serving mature nationals who didn’t need Westerners telling them how to run their ministries. It would take a while to get buy-in, and we didn’t have “a while.” We had to make a decision.
Added to that, our home church lost our pastor and was budget-cutting. And sadly, that lack of home-church support kept a large church from partnering with us. So we still couldn’t commit.
But then the seminary where I taught granted my request to raise my hours to thirty per week, making me eligible for health insurance benefits. And we made the last payment on our house. Suddenly we had enough income to cover our family’s monthly needs; we just needed the funds for travel and funding the ministry.
So we took what was, for us, a scary plunge. For us diving in required courage. For us it required living by faith. For us it required a choice to sleep well at night instead of fretting over money. We knew it was the right thing to do.
So we said yes.
Every month God has supplied all our needs. And serving these indigenous pastors has brought immense joy as we have helped them dig wells, start schools, empower women, finance uncles and aunts willing to keep orphaned relatives out of orphanages, provide solar-powered “Jesus Film” kits, set up microbusinesses, train pastors, replace destroyed homes, and plant churches.
Our national partners do a superb job on the ground; they simply need the kind of administrative help my husband has been in training for twenty-five years to give them.
Last week the wife of a pastor in D. R. Congo asked me to find women willing to assist her friends with microbusiness loans. They are hungry, but they don’t want handouts. So the stretching for us continues. Their needs far surpass our abilities.
We continue to be stranded on omnipotence.