Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas Eve... from a different perspective.

The Pathway Christmas Choir
I was planning to blog about our Christmas Eve gathering.  Our worship leader is Donna Christian.  She planned and organized the entire gathering and did a fantastic job.  One of the best things she did was recruit her mother-in-law Roberta to play key board for us.  God has done a work in and through Roberta and by his grace he used our church and our Christmas Eve gathering in the process.  Roberta wrote about what God has done... her perspective is significantly more beautiful than anything I could write.  As you read, please know that the way God has used Roberta is the same way he uses all of you who pray for and support The Pathway.  Thank you and Happy 2013!

The Best Christmas Gift of 2012- Roberta Christian
I hesitate to share this with you, as it may be misconstrued as being about me, but this is a story that needs to be told. It is a story about God working in the lives of ordinary people who love Him. It is a story of God’s compassion and care for the people He seeks to love and to redeem. It a story of God’s great plan, His ability to work out all the details, but most importantly it is a lesson about how much God loves us and the kindness and goodness of God’s heart.
In the fall of this year I was approached by my daughter-in-law, Donna. She asked me, with some reservation, if I would be interested in playing the piano for her church’s Christmas Eve program.  It was an interesting thought to me, and was hard to refuse because our Pastor had just announced that our church would not have its Christmas Eve service this year. He said that he hoped that each of us would find other places to serve the community on this night. Since 2005 we had attended our little church, and every year we have had a Christmas Eve service, so what was I to make of this? Without much hesitation I told Donna, I would be glad to help.
The Pathway-- Kids Ave Choir
Donna explained that there was no one available to play the piano that would be able to play well enough to help with the program that she was planning. Donna explained that her church has about sixty people who attend.  She explained that her church is called, “The Pathway” and was started about three years ago on the Hilltop area of Tacoma, Washington. What I knew of the Hilltop area of Tacoma was not good. I remember as a newly-wed in the early 1980’s hearing the news reports that this area had the highest murder rate in the entire state of Washington. I had driven through it several times on my way to and from work at Tacoma General Hospital in the 2004. Every time I drove through this neighborhood I would pray and ask God to protect me. I really did not want my car to break down in this neighborhood.
After we arranged a practice schedule, Donna emailed me the sheet music. It had been some time since I had played new music, but after browsing through the music and playing it through, I thought that with some practice, I could do this. Our church loves the old hymns and a traditional form of worship, but I as I played, I knew this would be a bit out of my comfort zone. I found it enjoyable and nerve-wracking listening to the music; enjoyable, because I loved the challenge of learning a new song, a new style; nerve-wracking because I would have to play it in front of everyone and playing with musicians likely more comfortable with this style of music. 
The choir of about 8-10 people met a few times before the program to practice. Each time we had a different group. I loved their enthusiasm. I loved their joy. I could see that I could find a place in their group and could help where I had strengths and they could teach me a great deal about soul and rhythm and heart. It was a great joy to be with them. 
The day before the program was a Sunday. We met for practice together after our church service. I met several more members of their church and I met their pastor, Bobby. Talking with them and hearing them talk and pray helped me to understand the heart they had for the Hilltop community. Practice went well. Donna made sure everyone knew the dress code, but was reassuring anyone who did not have black pants, dress shoes and a jewel-toned dress shirt, not to worry, but to wear the best they owned. Once again, it showed me the limits of the resources these fellow believers have. 
After rehearsal Ritchie, my husband, Josh, my son and Donna and I went out a got a bite to eat. As we were sitting waiting for our meal, we began to talk about the needs of their church body. Donna and Josh explained how the church got its name, a little about the people, about the church’s mission and the activities at the church. I asked Donna if the piano I had seen in the corner of the church’s meeting room belonged to the church. She said that it was and that it was presenting some difficulties in their worship. The piano was a tall, upright grand piano. She said that it had great sound and was a fine piano, but because she lead the worship team, it was difficult to see the congregation as she played and lead the singing and worship. 
On the way home from practice, I said to Ritchie that I think this church needs us to help them. I sensed there was a need for a new keyboard so they could worship in the way that fits their style. I told Ritchie that I thought we should give our keyboard to them. Ritchie said that he did not think we could as we needed it to help with our church’s music services. I did not say much, but thought about it the rest of the ride home.
Monday night was Christmas Eve and we got to the church at about 3:30pm. We helped with some of the loading of equipment into the vehicles. Again I could see the heart of this little group of people. They so desperately wanted to reach the hearts of their community. They were loading chairs, tables, sound equipment, decorations, refreshments, and everything that would be needed to have their small Christmas Eve program at the small public elementary school a few blocks away. They said that they wanted to be in the community they were trying to reach. We prayed with them as they were about to leave. Their hearts were full of warmth and care as they asked God to bless their efforts and prepare the people to come and receive God’s message with an open heart.
We caravanned the few blocks to the school and followed the lead van and trailer through a set of gates that opened into the playground. Within about thirty minutes the gymnasium was turned into a church auditorium. The sound equipment was checked after hooking up all the equipment. I watched as the drummer spent almost thirty minutes making sure the chords were all securely taped down so the choir members and the children would not trip during the performance. The gymnasium was very cold, but thanks to a kind lady who worked at the school, she had come earlier to turn on the heat and the lights and give us entrance into the building. The room then filled with music as the choir went over their songs. 
At seven o’clock, the program began. More than sixty people watched as the screen introduced the reason we had gathered. Jesus’s birthday party had begun. We sang. We listened and watched with enjoyment as the children sang. The pastor shared his heart and the vocalists sang. The band played and the worship team led us in praises adoring the baby, who came so humbly and quietly. We knew the end of the story, and were reminded of the immense price He paid. Sadness and joy were intertwined in our hearts. The program ended with candles and, “Silent Night”. It seemed like it had only lasted a few minutes. After the music ended, the chairs, tables, sound equipment, decorations and everything else that had come out of the vehicles, were loaded back into the vehicles and driven back to the little church. We all drove home very tired. This little group of people had worked so very hard.
On the way home I stared blankly out the front window of the pick up and said to Ritchie, “I am convinced now, more than ever, that this church needs us to get them a keyboard.” Ritchie said, “We can’t afford it right now. You know that there may be a strike coming up.” I said that I knew that, but that I was convinced this is what we should do. We said nothing more about it the rest of the drive home.
The next day was Christmas. I got up early and put the sticky buns in the oven and set the timer on the oven for thirty-five minutes. I sat down in my chair and began to pray. I told God that I could not get this out of my mind. I knew that He wanted me to work within the boundaries of my marriage, and my husband had told me that he did not think that we could get this keyboard right now. I told God that He says that we do not receive because we do not ask, and that anything we ask in Jesus name, He will give it to us. I reasoned with God and told Him that I was not asking this for myself, but for this little church that has such great needs. I want Him to provide a keyboard for this church, and if possible through me and I wanted it to be the same keyboard as mine. I also wanted the place or person we purchase the keyboard from to use the money that we give them to serve you. I also requested that He prepare a special person to play the piano. Besides Donna, I wanted Him to find a person in the Hilltop community that He has placed a special talent of playing the keyboard. This person could be just learning to play or already be an accomplished musician, but that the person would be changed by this keyboard and would use it as a tool to further God’s kingdom. 
After my prayer was over, I opened my Bible. As I began reading, the verses I had just spoken to God were right in front of me. My regular Bible readings had stopped in the middle of John chapter sixteen and as I began the following words were the first words I read, “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” Could this be the Lord speaking directly to me to confirm what I had just prayed? I read on and continued to look for confirmation about my prayers. At the end of the reading, I was more convinced than ever that God was going to accomplish what I had asked. 
As I cleaned up from breakfast and began preparing the Christmas meal, Ritchie came up from down stairs and said that he had just sent off an email to a guy on Craig’s List inquiring about purchasing a keyboard. He was selling the exact same keyboard that we have, for significantly less money than a new keyboard. I smiled and let Ritchie know that I was happy that he had done this and told him about my prayer. 
The next day I had to work. I asked Ritchie if he had heard anything from the man selling the keyboard. In an email, he said that Outlook had not sent the email the previous day, and that he had just sent it. I said, “No worries. God is in control.” I was expecting that if this wasn’t the right solution, then God would provide a better one. By the end of the day, Ritchie had heard back from the man and they agreed that if the keyboard was still available that we would purchase it and pick it up in Vancouver, Washington on Friday on his way to see his parents in Portland. He also learned that the man was a music pastor at the First Evangelical Church in Vancouver and that he was using the money to pay for a guitar for his wife. It sounded to me like God was hearing my prayers. Ritchie picked up the keyboard on Friday, December 28, 2012 and by 5pm that night, The Pathway worship team was practicing with their new Christmas gift.
As I said at the beginning, the events that happened are all about God. God’s direction and guidance, God’s timing and plan and God’s care for his people are all demonstrated during these events. What I love most about this story is that God has made statements in His Word that He has demonstrated as utterly reliable. When I took Him at His word and pleaded my case before Him, He showed me, without questions, that I can depend on Him. And this story is a testament to all who are eagerly looking to see the relevance of God at work today. He is who He says He is and He cares about us. What better Christmas gift could one get?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Leadership Challenge & God's Provision

Those of you who have been following our journey for several years now know that for the longest time our greatest challenge, our greatest deficit, our greatest need was leadership.  For over a year I would shamelessly beg through my blogs and my newsletters that we desperately needed the help of some mature Christian leaders.  Kelli and I dedicated one whole trip to Texas to recruiting singles, couples or families to move their lives to Tacoma to help us make disciples.  For the longest time it felt like God was not moving.  It seemed that God was not answering.  It seemed that nothing would happen.

Then, in what felt like a blink of an eye... God said yes.  It kind of reminds me of bed time with my kids.  We usually let them have a small cup of chocolate milk before bed.  Healthy?  Probably not.  But it's just one of those things we stumbled upon that makes them smile and makes bed time easier.  Well, often times Rylan will start asking me an hour early for her chocolate milk.  I seldom respond with a "no".  Sometimes I say, "Not yet sweetheart".  Or I'll just keep quiet, not responding at all, knowing the time is coming.  Then, when that time finally comes and I let them know it's time for chocolate milk, they get so excited, start screaming and yelling frantically about which cup they want their treat in and then they run and jump on the couch because they know that's where they need to be to receive their reward.  However, in the midst of the frenzy, they seldom say thank you.  They rarely recognize that they have been asking for the milk for so long and when I finally give it to them they are so consumed by the goodness of the treat, they don't acknowledge the one who provided it.

That little story describes how I feel I've acted as the recipient of God's answer to my prayer.  I begged and I pleaded with him to provide leaders and for the longest time it seemed that he was either saying "no" or just not responding at all.  When in reality, he had a plan all along.  He knew what he was doing.  He knows what he's doing.  And he has provided so perfectly.  So graciously.  How has he provided?  Let me just tell you...

Towards the end of last year God brought 2 young adult ladies to serve with us for a month or so.  They were awesome.  A breath of fresh air.  They were energy and life to us as we have been exhausted and tired.  Right before they were about to move on I shared with our small leadership team, and they happened to be present, that I felt like God wanted us to pursue some specific leadership.  Two specific positions were a Kids Ministry Director and a Director of Intentional Communities.  Shortly there after these ladies came to me and told me they wanted to fill those spots for the next 6 months.  Before I knew it, they had decided to move their lives to Tacoma permanently.  God has used Jenna to grow our Kids Ministry from 5-6 kids to 30+ and has used both of them to plant an Intentional Community in their apartment complex where several people have already come to know Jesus.  God has used Stacie to help us recruit and train leaders, launch Intentional Communities, develop a direction and vision for our IC's and to develop an intentional discipleship process.  

While all this was going on God had also been stirring and moving in the heart of one of our former interns.  When Kyler left us after her summer she knew that God had uniquely connected her heart with Tacoma.  She was so committed to this that she went home and worked through her calling with her then boyfriend, shortly to be fiance, and now husband Chase.  They wrestled for a year with this calling and Chase even came up on his own to see if Tacoma was the place for him.  Along the way the challenges of ministry were overflowing my plate and I realized I needed help with the day to day aspects of ministry.  Kyler and Chase answered God's call to Tacoma by moving here a week after their honeymoon.  Kyler has stepped in to be our Ministry Assistant and they have both been passionately living as missionaries in their apartment complex where they are planning to start an Intentional Community.

While all this was going on we still didn't have a worship leader.  For those who have heard me try to lead worship, you know this was something that needed to change!  We have a sister church in Tacoma called Discovery and their pastor has been nothing but a support and encouragement to us since we've been here.  He knew of our need, connected us with a young worship leader named Donna and then blessed her and her husband to be sent out to serve with us.  An amazing demonstration of a heart for the kingdom.  The other area where we definitely lacking was in the "gray hair" department.  Our church is very young and we desperately needed some committed believers to be a part of The Pathway not in an official position, but just as regular people pursuing Jesus.  I approached another church in our area and asked their pastor if they could send us such a couple.  They prayed and approached 5 couples about the possibility and God pulled on the heart of Duke and Miri!  Now they are not exactly gray hairs... although I like to give them a hard time... but all their kids are out of the house and they have so much wisdom and life experience to share with our church.

All that has been going on and God has also been raising up leaders within as well.  One of our interns from this past summer is moving back to help us full-time in March and another young single lady is moving from Texas in a few months to be a part of The Pathway.  It's simply been amazing to watch God move in response to not only my prayers, but your prayers as well.

All I can do as I reflect on the leadership challenge we faced and how God is providing is to say thank you Jesus.  He knows what we need when we need it.  My challenge for you is this.  What might God be calling you to do that seems absolutely crazy?  Is he calling you to help a church plant?  Not as a pastor or worship leader, just as a committed disciple of Jesus.  We still have needs... a youth pastor, a future church planter, an associate pastor and more IC leaders.  But there are similar needs all around you.  You might be the solution to the leadership challenge that a church plant is facing today!  Pray and see how God responds.