During college, I spent a few brief stints living at a few different friends’ parents’ houses. My family was back in Pennsylvania, so occasionally it would make sense for me to crash with a friend over Thanksgiving break, or for part of a summer, or for something like that. I know there were at least three families that put me up for a while… there may have been others I’m forgetting. Very shortly before college graduation, I knew where I would be working, but I didn’t have an apartment picked out, and the end of the lease on our college house was fast approaching. About that time, someone asked my then-fiancé Stephanie, “Is he just planning on relying on the kindness of strangers for the rest of his life?” I suppose that answer is more truly yes now than it was even at the time.
But here’s the thing about the kindness of strangers. Not to take credit away from the individuals, but it is through us that God chooses to act and manifest his kindness in the world. It’s through the relationships we build and the generosity we give to and receive from others that God can reveal to us much about his character. We simply can’t understand him in his entirety, so he breaks off little chunks and spreads them throughout our lives, experiences, and relationships with friends, families, and even strangers, so that he can gradually reveal himself to us in a way we can understand.
For our part, we’ve continued to see the hand of God in our journey, extended through the kindness of “strangers,” and even some people we know a little bit better than that.
For starters, we have a place to stay for free when we arrive in Honduras. If that’s not absurd enough, you should know it’s probably bigger than our house in the US, and I’m not even going to tell you that it has clean running water and air conditioning, because then it might not seem like we’re suffering sufficiently.
This place comes at the courtesy of Mark and Becky Veenstra, who do a great deal of work to organize the medical brigades that travel to the Luke Society clinic in Gracias over the winter months. They’ve responded to God’s call in such a way over the years that they built a home in Gracias which they use to house these medical teams when they serve there for a week, or two, or longer. They have graciously extended the use of their house to us while we look for another place of our own in Gracias before the medical brigades arrive. Oh, and this place even comes with friends, as there is a Honduran couple that lives in the lower level, whom we met while we were there in February, and we couldn’t be more excited to get to spend more time with them and get to know them much better.
Also, we found a renter for our house in Michigan without even listing the place. (Hint: God did it.) Our neighbor’s sister is moving in from out of town. Done. I knew I didn’t need to worry about it. And to rent out your home in Holland Township, you need an inspection, so that gave me another opportunity to worry – which I took full advantage of – but an inspection last Thursday revealed that we only needed a few hard-wired smoke detectors, and we’ll be good to go. Those are getting installed this week.
Now here’s the trick. This rental actually needs to begin before the end of June, and that’s a little problem because we don’t fly out until August 2nd. Enter Stephanie’s brilliant idea of camping for the month of July. So we’re borrowing a camper from my workplace, and we reserved one of the last spots at Dutch Treat. That’s right, the one and only Dutch Treat. It’s a campground right off the main road in town, so it’s definitely not the type of camping we’ve done before, but it has a pool and a pond and a field and everything else that will make this a month Sam and Evie will never forget. And perhaps one that Stephanie and I will wish we could. Ok, I don’t really mean that because we’re all looking forward to it as sort of this extra bonus that God is giving our family as we travel along on this journey. When else are we gonna get a chance to do something like this?! It reminds me of the passage of scripture through which I first caught a glimpse of the Holy Spirit:
Sorry, that was actually Evie. I promise I didn’t even set that up. I got up to make coffee, and she was typing away when I got back. Sam was close by telling her that she’d better stop. Good man. Here’s the real thing:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
I like to think of the “light burden” as one that is lighter than air, like a backpack full of helium that lifts us as we go, making our steps lighter, allowing us to experience joy in the toil that used to seem like drudgery. I never would have chosen to camp for a month with my family right in the middle of town. But I think God knows better than I do what’s best for me, and I’m really looking forward to it.
So I can see God moving in all these ways in my life, but I think what has impressed me the most lately is the incredible way that God weaves all of our stories together.
When we were in Gracias in February, one of only a couple scriptures that really spoke to me was Isaiah 61… the whole chapter. I won’t recount it here, but feel free to look it up. I think I just stumbled across it through a daily reading in my little Bible app, and as I read through it, I got a very real sense that God was speaking promises to me, but it was hard to believe because there are some pretty lofty ideas in there. Fast forward to April 26, when I get an email from the teacher who will have Evie in her class next year in Gracias, introducing herself to all the new teachers. Her email signature indicates that she works with none other than “61 Isaiah Ministries,” and she and her husband have spent about the last six years in Gracias. Furthermore, they said that Stephanie is an answer to prayer for them as they have a desire to teach first aid and CPR to their Honduran staff for when they are in charge of looking after children. We’ll have to figure out how everything is going to jive with our other plans, but it’s very clear that God has gone before us – way before us – on this journey. Also, that same day, we went to a little Wednesday night gathering at church, and the scripture we were discussing turned out to be Luke 4:18-19, in which Jesus was reading in the synagogue from the prophets… from Isaiah 61. You know, sometimes I’m almost offended by how little attention God thinks I am paying.
And I’ve been greatly encouraged as I’ve been seeking help and advice from those who have been and continue to be serving on the mission field. There are so many! It’s a big world out there, and there are so many incredible people doing so many incredible things, that I would encourage you to find out more about the missionaries your church supports, or your cousin who takes trips to Africa or Asia or something (or maybe it’s Australia?) and get to know their stories, and even maybe a little of the geography of the area where they serve, and listen to a couple of the stories of the things they have seen God do to transform people’s lives.
And don’t forget about those who are living out God’s will at home, and maybe this includes you. Let me point out that this also includes those who aren’t completely sure whether or not they are in God’s will, as long as they are seeking him genuinely and with all of their heart, wherever on this planet they are. In Acts 1:8, after having risen from the dead and before ascending into heaven, Jesus says to his apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And it’s very inspiring, but our simple minds tend to skip right to the end and assume that witnessing can only be powerful if it’s done someplace else… at the ends of the earth. But if we think God’s work can only be done somewhere far away, or only happen sometime in the future, we’d be missing so much.
Earlier, in verse 4, Jesus actually says, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the apostles are in Jerusalem! This is the first place Jesus brings up, and it’s exactly where he wants them to be his witnesses… where they are now. And that’s the same place where we must be witnesses… wherever we are… right now.
Our family’s isn’t a unique situation or some sort of exception. God is showing up in radical ways for people all over the world, regardless of where they’re from or where they’re working and how much of a “missionary” or a “Christian” or a “good person” you or I would judge them to be. It’s not up to us to discern God’s calling for their life, but we should take notice when something out of the ordinary seems to be working so well. And then, when these unexpected things seem to be happening over and over again in a consistent manner, it’s up to us either to recognize and acknowledge or to deny the underlying pattern that is being woven by the creator of the universe. You don’t have to look very hard, but you do have to remain open to God to see what he wants to show you. And he’ll keep on showing you every day, because you’re the reason he created this world and sent his son to redeem it. And he was especially excited to redeem you, and to help you live out his perfect plan for your life.