Monday, February 6, 2017

Being Free to Follow the Call

This is a quiet time for me.  One trip for January was canceled and one trip in February was postponed, and so I'm in Grand Rapids for a few more weeks yet.  I'm actually happy about it, even though I love being out on the field, because I have so much writing to do.

I have been using this time to sharpen my tool box and upgrade the resources we use to teach Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML). I have been working hard, writing and editing the course materials that we use in all DML countries. I have completed two manuals, which now gives our churches three choices for their members, depending on their needs:
  1. Leaders in the Workplace - an eight week series (three hours per week) for people who are not business owners but work for others, whether a business, as a teacher, in the medical field, etc.  This series is designed to help Christians in the Workplace understand how to be the Church from Monday-Friday in their place of work, and develop a personal ministry statement to identify how to do that.
  2. Microbusiness Manual - some of our churches in developing countries are in rural areas where the full small and medium size (SME) business training is not needed.  This training focuses on some core components to help a business grow, as well as opportunities to help those who lack hope in the heart to understand their calling and place in this world and in God's work.  This training is two-three days, depending on the need for translation.
  3. SME Manual - this was finished some time ago but is a third option for churches who have business owners.  This is a twelve week series (three hours per week) and cover basic business skills, culminating in a business plan.
Along with Dr. Walker, I am also writing several books that can be made available to the churches with whom we work.  The bigger book includes much of the manuscript that I wrote two summers ago.  We are calling this book, The Grand Narrative of God, as it focuses on the call of God to be the Church from Monday through Sunday, and the role that ALL Christian play in God's story, from the carpenter, to the hotel room cleaner, to the small business owner.

The second book I am writing is one I already referred to recently in my blog, and is called Financial Freedom for Families.  As I teach Integrity and Finance, I am seeing that pastors and leaders not only need to know more about how to understand budgeting and bookkeeping for their church/organization, but also for their families. 

As I wrote the chapter last week on The Danger of Debt, I recounted a personal story which I may have shared on this blog before (or maybe Bob did) but thought that it would be good to share it again, especially as our pastor encouraged us on Sunday to share our history - as His Story - the testimony of how God has moved in our lives.  The writing that I'm doing is personal, not just theoretical, and so sharing from my personal experience allows me to be a witness to what I am teaching.  So, here is a portion of the chapter relating to the importance of financial freedom.
No-one strives to be a slave.  Being a slave is serving someone else's needs rather than your own, often with little to no say in how, when, where, or why it happens.
Yet many of us throughout the world put ourselves in a position of being a slave through taking on consumer debt.  Sometimes debt is a necessary thing.  But often we get into debt, or stay in debt, in unwise ways.
Let me share from my personal story.  When I got married, my husband brought a large amount of debt into the marriage.  It was mostly student loans but also credit card debt.  He claimed that he was not good with money and quickly turned all budgeting over to me.  We lived very simply, on a tight budget, and worked hard to get rid of that debt.  Almost as soon as the last debt was paid off, we felt that God was calling us to move into a very tough neighborhood, with high crime, drug houses, and high poverty.  It took some convincing for us to accept this call from God, but when we did, we found that the houses in that area were in very bad shape, and despite our good income, no bank would lend us money to invest in that neighborhood.  Thankfully, we had cleared all of our debt and were able to max out our credit cards to get our house to where it was safe for us to move in, with a four year old and two year old.  If we hadn’t been diligent to pay off our debt, we would have had to tell God, “No, sorry.  We can’t move there because we are serving another master right now.”
Once again, we buckled down, stuck to a very tight budget, and worked very hard to pay off our credit card bills.  No sooner had we paid off those debts when we felt that God was moving us to send our children to the local public (government) school, which was on the closing list as it was considered a failing school.  Our children had been going to the Christian school outside of our neighborhood, but we had felt the urge (the call) to be even more “one” with our neighbor by joining in the local school.  However, there was one major challenge (other than the fact that it was a failing school and our children would be the only white children there).  My husband was working at a Christian college which had the policy that all faculty had to send their children to a Christian school.  He had been working at this college for sixteen years and had a very good salary.  But again, we felt strongly that God was urging us to be one with our neighbors and join with them to be parents at this public school.  Because of heeding this call, my husband lost his job at the Christian college. 
I remember that I was at a prayer meeting at my church when I received word from my husband that our appeal to the decision of losing his job had been denied.  I immediately was afraid and tearful, knowing that we had lost our main income (at the time I was working at a local non-profit that we had started with our church, making very little money).  A friend (Laura Prichard) played a song for me that day from Donnie McClurkin, called “I’ll Trust You”:
I know that faith is easy when everything is going well
But can you still believe in Me when your life's a living hell?
And when all the things around you seem to quickly fade away
There's just one thing I really want to know
Will you let go?  Will you stand on My word?
Against all odds will you believe what I have said?
What seems impossible will you believe?
Every promise that I made will you receive?
What if it hurts?  What if you cry?
What if it doesn't work out the first time that you try?
What if you call My name and don't feel Me near?
Will you believe in Me or will you fear? Oh, my child?

I will trust.
It was tough to trust; I've had to come back to this song a number of times to repeat, "I will trust."  But, once again, we were able to follow this call to walk away from a solid income because we had no debt.  If we had not been diligent to pay off our credit card bills, we would have had to say, “Sorry, we can’t send our children to the public school because we have to keep our job so that we can keep paying on our debts.”  [Side note:  Our efforts to join with our neighbors resulted in that school being taken off the school closing list, with a sense of new life brought in through the church partnership, a thriving tutoring program, and other ways of working together.]
My husband was a licensed psychotherapist and so he opened a practice for low-income families in our neighborhood, and we were able to muddle through on about 40% of our income from before.  Four years later, we felt led to move to Africa, where our income was reduced by another 60% (down 85% from the salary at the Christian college).  But we were able to meet these challenges by having no debt and living on a budget.
As you can see from this story, debt is sometimes necessary.  But freedom from debt is crucial for us to be able to follow God’s call. 
This is God's story in our lives, through the teaching of parents who taught budgeting and living frugally, with a married couple who were committed to serving God before self.  It wasn't easy.  There were times of hunger and struggle.  But God was so faithful and continued to allow us to join Him in His work.  I believe the root of this journey is contentment - willing to do whatever God called us to, as long as we knew He was behind it.  Contentment is not something that can be taught - it is a choice, having to do with the hear and the now, rather than the "whens..." (i.e. when I get a raise, when I get a bigger house, when I get a newer car, etc).

The bondage to debt that I see so many people struggle with around the world is painful.  [Michael has shared with me about how the weight of debt in his past caused him nightmares, sleepless nights, and paralyzing fear to open mail.  This pain is real and deep.]  The challenge in marriages to have mutual financial goals that give a testimony to God (that aren't just about financial success) are real yet necessary to work through.  The children who are being raised without being taught financial freedom and stewardship is sad.  It is for this reason I share this story, as one testimony of God's work in one family.

And so, I will keep writing, trusting that God might use that offering to encourage others and build His church.