Our calling with EMI (and holiday pictures)
This past week, we have had a 'staff week' around the office. Each day, we've spent half of the day in worship, prayer and other bonding and team-building activities. It's really been a great time to connect with the other staff here - something that happens much less naturally than in the East Africa office. Why that's the case is not for any single reason, but for a number of factors that serve to make connecting as a staff here more difficult:
Geography - we all live many miles apart since Colorado Springs is a large, sprawling city
Cultural - working in an office in the US is naturally much more formal than in Uganda
Situational - everyone has their own lives here, with many having family and friends surrounding them (as opposed to life in Uganda, where we were all stripped of our past relationships)
Anyway, this past week has been a valuable time for us to all connect - for me, it was the first such experience since arriving here.
But I was also very much challenged in a couple of ways. First, I was convicted that I have been holding back from fully pouring myself into EMI, primarily because of fear. Coming to Colorado Springs was very much a calling for us, but a scary one at that. Because of the support raising side of things, I have been very hesitant to fully plug into life here, and in some ways, at work too (at least mentally). Though I continue to grow in my love for, and calling to, EMI, I have resisted it at every turn. I basically have been unwilling to trust God that He will provide for our needs where He calls us to serve, and have also resisted wanting Him to provide for our needs out of pride and humiliation. Needless to say, I never dreamed of one day relying on others to support our family - it really flies in the face of everything we are taught in our culture - to be self-sufficient and not be a burden on your loved ones. But as I am learning, this is a completely securlar view of money and flies in the face of the bibilical world view of our personal finances. This really came to a head on Wednesday of this past week, when we had a guest speaker come in and share with us about His philosophy of why support-raising is not only a biblical model of financial stewardship, but also is a chance that we provide to our supporters to be blessed by managing their finances from a biblical world view - i.e. giving away to God as a means of securing our own financial well-being (paraphrased).
The gentlemen who came in to speak was named Dave and he works for a very large mission organization helping their missionary staff raise support. He came out of the financial sector as a financial planner and left a very lucrative, 6-figure job to help people raise support. He himself doesn't raise support, so he came with credibility in the fact that he didn't have a dog in the fight. He says that once his eyes were opened to why every Christian should be in the constant practice of sacrificial giving, he felt compelled to spend his life encouraging and informing people of this paradigm shift that is necessary. By the way, he made a point of sharing that even we as supported missionaries should be practicing this giving too.
It was an open discussion, and I peppered Dave with questions that I've had for some time about support raising.
How do we go about talking with people about this when our personality isn't typically so direct? His answer - if we truly believe God has called us to this ministry, it is our responsibility to give other people the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing, regardless of whether it is 'comfortable' for us. Is living in the US and raising support legitimate? His answer - the work of EMI is strategic and critical. Far too often, missionary work has focused on that which is 'popular' as opposed to that which is effective from the kingdom's perspective. But we know how effective EMI's work is, and therefore it's our responsibility to communicate that to people to allow them the chance to join in the amazing work God is doing through EMI. It's not about us as EMI staff, but rather about what God is trying to do through us and it can never happen if we are too caught up in pride and humiliation to give people the chance to join in God's work.
His passion is really to see people change the way they view their finances. In his opinion, the current financial problems in our country are a direct result of a distorted view of how to handle our finances from a biblical worldview. If people saw sacrificial giving to God as a means of ensuring their financial well-being, Dave feels that there would be no economic crisis. Instead of thinking of how much God wants us to give away, we should be thinking of how much he wants us to keep for ourselves, and then give the rest away. He sees missionaries like us at EMI and many other mission organizations as the people who are charged with spreading this biblical principle - and if we are unwilling to do so, we are not willing to fulfill our full calling in our ministry. I've heard this general philosophy before, but for some reason the way he said it resonated with me and I was really convicted that my own fear, sense of pride and desire to be independent is limiting my usefulness to God.
The truth is, we have lost about 15-20% of our financial support over the past year in moving back to the US, and I have really resisted trying to add more supporters to our team. We have also assumed that Alisha teaching was to be a part of our financial solution for working for EMI, instead of putting that too on the table and seeking God's will about it. It's a scary place to be as we look ahead to the future and this calling on our lives. Do we try to work it out ourselves and make it work, or do we seek after God's will in this calling and trust Him to do 'immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine"? Of course my preference is to retain as much control as possible in the situation...but is that what this calling is about - me relinquishing only 'some' of our lives, or is God calling us to trust Him fully? If God calls us to, are we willing to step out and seek more financial partners in order to make it possible for us to fulfill this calling?
To be completley honest, even though I love working for EMI and fully believe God has called us to this ministry, the financial side of things has really made me wish I had a different calling in life, almost desperately so. I honestly have dreams and daydreams about applying for 'paying' jobs so I can stop relying on others for our financial security. Is that a biblical worldview, or is that a secular worldview? More specifically, have I equated an American worldview with being God's worldview? It's not like I don't have any options for a job - in coming back to the US I had a number of possible avenues to pursue job-wise - some of which were very exciting and could have provided great financial security for our family. However, we felt strongly that God was not releasing us from EMI - quite the opposite actually.
So this is where we find ourselves right now, Alisha and I - in the middle of this tension in our hearts. In the coming months, we'll be seeking how God wants us to respond to this message we've received. Are we really called to EMI? Do we need to see our financial support team as another aspect of our ministry that we are neglecting to nurture and grow? Are we willing to put everything on the table and seek His plan for our family, even if that means relinquishing all control over to Him? Are we willing to swallow our pride? Please be praying for us, as this really gets to some deep issues of how we'll live out our life and this calling. Leaving EMI before God calls us away because of a lack of faith and unwillingness to swallow our pride could bring devastation to our family, so we are keenly aware that the stakes (financially) couldn't be higher.
It needs mentioning that we feel so completely blessed by our financial team for the past three years. Your giving to our ministry has been such a humbling blessing. We have often said and felt that we would so much rather that the checks were going in the opposite direction, but are so grateful for how so many of you have stood beside us in this calling and taken it on as your own. It is humbling, a blessing, scary, a little humiliating and so many other emotions, but overall it has drawn us closer to you all and to God, and for that we are so very thankful.
UPDATE: I leave for my next project trip to Uganda on January 27th, so please be praying for me and the EMI team from January 27-February 9th. Also, on the 9th, Alisha is using credit card mileage to fly over to meet me in the UK on my way home. We'll join the EMI office in the UK for some of their activities for their arriving interns, and also visit some dear friends from our Uganda days who are now living back in the UK. Alisha and I will return to the US on Feb 14th.