December 10, 2012

When You're Church Planting Overseas

My husband just returned from a 10 day whirlwind tour, having gone to develop mission partnerships for our church. I stayed home with the kids, but I honestly felt so much purpose in sending my husband off, thinking about how far our little church plant has come in that we're now turning our attention to sending people out.

On the first leg of the trip, he connected with evangelical pastors in England who are working to break up hard spiritual ground and where fruit is difficult to come by. But they are strategically trying to reach their city and faithfully doing so.

On the second leg of the trip, he visited my former college roommate, whom you met recently here on the blog, and her husband, a doctor at a Christian missionary hospital in Ethiopia. The missionaries, he explained upon his return, are doing an incredible work there to save physical and spiritual lives.

I was excited to hear Kyle's report when he returned home. But I was also reminded of the many international church planters toiling often in isolation and with little encouragement or respite. I am thankful for their faithfulness, and, although I don't have international church planting experience, I want this place to be an encouragement to all women in all kinds of ministry situations.

That's why I asked a friend of mine, Mandy Post, to answer a few questions about her life as an international church planting wife. Mandy and her husband Jason have lived in Galway, Ireland for almost 10 years. They moved there to help start an evangelical church and develop a church leadership training program. Their church, Galway City Baptist Church, began meeting in their colleagues’ living room in 2000, then in a nearby hotel in 2005, and in 2009 moved into a local primary (elementary) school.  It is their dream to see the church established well with strong, Godly leaders and an Irish pastor. Mandy and Jason have four children, who were all born in Ireland.
Q: How did God call you and Jason to Ireland?

A: Jason and I married soon after graduating from college, and Jason began his seminary degree a couple of months after the wedding.  We went into seminary knowing we wanted to church plant, probably in the northwestern part of the U.S.  But as the Lord would have it, He brought a seminary professor and a missions-minded church into our lives.  After a missiology course in seminary and a few mission trips to Russia and Europe, we began to sense the Lord leading us outside of the U.S.  Once we narrowed down the organization we wanted to work with, we began looking to serve in a post-Christian part of the world (our hearts were drawn to people in those cultures).  This led us to Western Europe.  Our organization had just started a work in Ireland and was looking for young people to go to Galway, a city where half the population is under the age of 25.  Galway also has two major universities, and with our ministry experience with young single and married adults, we felt like it was a good fit.

Q: Tell me about adjusting to life as an international church planting wife. What were those first few years like? What did you learn about yourself and about God in that period?
A: Jason and I had been married 6 years when we moved to Ireland, and we had our first child a year after that big move.  The first few years were not only spent adjusting to being a church planting wife and living in a another country but also being a mother.  I definitely wouldn’t advise starting a church and a family at the same time!  However, the Lord knew I needed to learn to solely depend on and trust in Him.  Not only did I need energy to care for our young children, but I also needed energy, brainpower, and patience to teach Sunday School, lead Bible studies, and host ministry events in our home.   I had to learn to ask for help and sometimes say, “No,” to requests for my time and energy, which is not in my make-up!  And when you are starting a new church and all hands are required to be on deck, it can be difficult to step back from responsibilities. I still struggle with this and the feelings of guilt for either making ministry priority over my family or vice versa.  The Lord has brought encouraging words to me, though, through sermons, Scripture, friends and supporters, our children, and my husband.  I’ve learned that I’m not going to get it right all the time, and the Lord is still on His throne doing His work in the hearts of man, whether or not I’m directly involved.

I also learned pretty quickly into our ministry that my ways are not the Lord’s ways.  Within the first couple of years, we had a small group of believers meeting together, and they were all from other countries.  The church we were planting didn’t look like the Irish church I had pictured in my head.  The Lord was telling me that He was building our church His way and not mine.  Through connections with their Irish co-workers, schoolmates, and neighbors, the Lord was using our non-Irish congregation to reach far more Irish people than Jason and I could have ever reached on our own.

Q: How has international church planting challenged your marriage and parenting?
A: I come from a very close family (especially being a twin) so I knew it might be a challenge for me to live far from them.  However, the excitement of living drastically for the Lord far outweighed my concerns of missing my family.  I saw moving to Ireland as our adventure with God!  Then came our babies.  I never imagined how sad and difficult it would be to have our children so far from the comforts of family (and also to see my siblings having children and missing out on being the drop-in auntie).  My hormonal roller coaster of 8 plus years of pregnancies and breastfeeding led me to moments of serious doubt.  I doubted not only our calling but also the Lord.  I would even find myself blaming Jason for my heartache (as if he dragged me to this far away place!).  After all of my pouting, blaming, and threatening to give up on it all, the Holy Spirit would gently remind me this was the Lord’s plan for us, and His plans were good…not easy, but good.  I find comfort in Abraham’s story of God calling him to pack it all up, leave his family, and head for the Promised Land, knowing that my Promised Land is heaven.  And the Lord would use Jason to tenderly affirm me through my doubts and ranting.  It is amazing how the Lord works it for one spouse to be up while the other is down!

As for parenting challenges, I’ve realized I need to let go of my concept of “normal” parenting and embrace the life my children have as third culture kids and the pastor’s children.  They feel Irish but are constantly reminded that they aren’t, really, because their parents are from the U.S.  They are surrounded by Christ’s love through our family and church; yet, most of their friends come from non-believing homes.  We battle the culture of deception and lying, foul language, loose censorship, and alcohol abuse and at the same time use opportunities from the culture to teach our children to love and influence their peers for Christ.  We’ve learned to call them kid missionaries instead of missionary kids.

My interview with Mandy will continue in my next post (you can read it here), in which she'll share how she measures "results" in a postmodern culture and what advice she would give a new international church planting wife. If you don't want to miss part two, I invite you to subscribe here.