Someone said, “God is more concerned about our character than He is about our comfort.” Serving has a way of interesting twists and turns invariably building our character. As we laugh, cry, work, and play we wonder how the Director of our life sees the whole picture from His perspective and trusts Him with it all.
The story of our life in a foreign country often seems very much like a fairy tale – with faraway lands, castles, emotions of every kind, and yes, even romance. In 1993, we began our journey as two single adults in Belarus. We were there working for nine months. Until two weeks before our scheduled return to the States, there was no interest, or none that we would admit, toward each other. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Little did we realize “all these things” would be each other.
On one particular evening, as preparations for our travel home were being finalized, Tony and I were out in the city together. As we walked, there had not even been talk of our “relationship.” Dating is not an option on the mission field; so God worked it out all in that one evening. He held my hand for the first time, kissed me, and ask me to marry him all in the same night.
Committing to going anywhere he went, Belarus was not quite what I had in mind for an extended honeymoon. Nevertheless, we were married on July 23rd and, in August moved to our first home: Mogilev, Belarus. We had been asked to begin a new work there. The fact we were in our early twenties didn’t matter to us. We were so excited to be there – to be with each other!
We poured ourselves into everything we did – Sunday school, services, Bible studies, and whatever else we could do. With much prayer and fasting, both voluntary and because we ran short of money, God truly blessed the efforts of the team we worked with within this city. It didn’t come without tests and trials, culture shock, and sickness all added to the challenges of being newly married. Life was full of adventure! In addition, living in an area saturated by Chornobyl radiation, we learned to pray over our food.
God has an incredible sense of humor. Laughter is a medicine and a must! I could tell story after story: 24 hours in an airport because “the planes didn’t have enough fuel”; lost our very first night in Minsk, Belarus, and trying to find some type of landmark in a world where everything looked the same; sharing two “small” fold-out couches for beds with four other girls; having to explain to our neighbor, who spoke no English, we needed to borrow their shower because ours wouldn’t drain after six people were baptized; mice and roaches. Not to mention road trips are always packed with surprises, taxi rides, and being six months expecting our first baby and pushing…a car.
The list could go on and on. There is one word that helps place everything in perspective…. Flexibility. Have you ever participated in calisthenics and begun to watch others, or should we say laugh at others, because they weren’t “flexible” or coordinated? Being in a foreign country has a way of helping you identify, not only your weaknesses and then strengthen them, but talents you never realized you had.
In the States or in a foreign land, ministry has a way of identifying characteristics and challenges in our lives. Just how flexible and dependent on God we are, will determine the character that will show. In 2005, after ten years in the wonderful state of Louisiana and the addition of two handsome young men to our lives (our sons, Taylor, nine, and Tyler, five) we felt our lives being bent in a new direction. Bending demands flexibility and flexibility requires stretching; oftentimes bringing discomfort. Leaving the security of home, family and friends are never easy, especially with children. With the assurance God is in control, we stepped out by faith. We held to a scripture’s promise: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Having firsthand experience, the difficulties of language, culture, and totally beginning a new life, we understood the importance of preparing not only ourselves but our children. We told them from the beginning, “When God calls us, He called you, too.” This is a family ministry. With this understanding and assurance, our tough times are made easier. We filter each day with the belief God has “brought us here for such a time as this.”
More often than not, we hear the wonderful stories of lives being changed, and committing themselves to serve. The stories of beginning a new life in a foreign land; the struggle, fear, loneliness, and confusion seem to be erased or overlooked. I compare it to the reality of bearing a child. Once the child is brought into this world and placed in our arms of care, love has a way of helping us forget. All the sickness that woke us every morning, the worries while caring, and then the pains of labor, fade away as we lead and watch them grow in new life. It all becomes worth it. The rewards are so great the cost is forgotten, the “price” paid insignificant. For us, this life is His Life in us and we are grateful for the opportunity.