“Who am I that you have brought me this far?” David asks the LORD this question after the prohet Nathan shares the promise of an enduring throne. (2 Sam 7) As I reflect on the last year (January 2008 – January 2009) I ask the same question.
Much has happened in the last year, some good and some very difficult. This time last year, almost to the day, we began to see nearly our entire senior population leave the church. If you ask them it was because I am a harsh and viscious man that wants to shut the church down. My point of view is that some did not like being held accountable for their actions and others were afraid to try and build new community. Over a period of 4-5 months we had 40 members leave. This was, and in some ways continues to be, a difficult experience.
In place of those 40 we have received 40 new people from all walks of life. It has been interesting trying to teach the body how to live in community with people who are so different. We have seen some exciting things take place in individual lives, but nothing that I would call a revival yet.
One of the greatest challenges of 2008 turned out to be a friendship I have been building with an Iraqi pastor named Floreed. Floreed and his family are Free Methodists who fled Iraq, planted two churches in Jordan, and then were relocated to El Cajon, CA as refugees just before Easter 2008. I have been working with Floreed on trying to establish an Iraqi FMC in El Cajon. I have learned a lot about Iraqi culture and about the business of church. We are still in the process of looking for worship space, but in the meantime they have finally understood the importance of gathering in homes and working hard together to accomplish their goals. Last night I attended the wedding of his sister Noora and when I arrived I found out I was the English speaking pastor for the wedding … surprise! All went well and I enjoy the experience of an Iraqi-Assyrian wedding. I also met another Free Methodist pastor who planted a church in Bahgdad, Iraq. I wonder where this relationship will go?
I enjoyed watching our new pastors come out of their shells and our current pastors explore new areas of ministry. Bryan has been doing an amazing job at leading gathered worship. Maureen is making amazing connections with people in the church and is really excited about fostering community. Andrew is leading a church-school attempt on Palomar Mountain. Michelle is partnering with her husband in leading a bilingual church plant on the west side of Escondido. Crazy ministry opportunities!
I am still working with school staff on catching the vision. I believe that it is vital to our ministry for the teachers to understand that they play an important role in moving the students and their families from classroom discipleship into the body of Christ. Some have jumped on board, some are dragging their feet, and others have jumped ship. One in particular was a well loved teacher who happened to be African-American. So, the new rumor for a while was that I hated black people as well as senior citizens. I’ve been learning not to defend myself.
A fun and surprsing change we have made is to keep our children with us during gathered worship. Instead of sending them out for children’s church the family stays together. This has been a totally awesome experience that needs its own entry (at some future date).
As a family we experienced several changes. We had another year of not talking with my father, which has been difficult. We discovered that my mom wasn;t keeping it as clean as she was claiming, but I am happy to announce that she is currently enrolled in a 30 day detox program, so we’ll keep praying. We had three new additions to our family. In August two of my wife’s siblings moved in with us, Patrick and Irene. Patrick is planning on enrolling in Cal State San Marcos as a math major in the Fall and Irene is … well, just Irene. Then in September we received our newest daughter, Aravis Katriel. She is such a doll.
As the new year begins we are looking at pretty much the same thing anyone else is looking at – difficult financial times, a lot of hurt and pain, staffing decisions, budget decisions, ministry decisions, life. And yet in all of this we just remember what Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news.” So we just praise God that he has invited us into a new way of living and ask that he help us live a life oriented according to kingdom principles and for the grace to believe the good news.