Last night I experienced something I have only had the privilege of experiencing about three other times in my life. One time was when we left on the mission field at Roosevelt Park Church, once when we left Mahula, Nigeria, once in Obule, Uganda and now speaking our last time at East Martin CRC. What I experienced is overwhelming love and appreciation from lives changed by God.
If I had any doubt that God would use our time of hardship and extended time in Michigan, my doubt is now gone. I do not know how to put into words what I felt last night as the church expressed their appreciation for us and how God used us. My heart wished I recorded what each person said, took pictures of us crying together, or wrote down the testimonies. I feel a bit like Jesus' mother Mary who pondered/treasured it in her heart all that she saw and heard. It all comes down to one word: joy. There is no joy like the joy of seeing God work in peoples lives and knowing you were a part of it.
About a year ago East Martin began asking Josh to come and preach because they were without a pastor. Josh was preaching from the Freedom in Christ Grace Course many of those times. People were touched by the messages and began to ask if Josh would be willing to come and lead a FIC Bible study. At first Josh said no not knowing if we would be around long enough and he encouraged them to get the materials and do the Bible study together. I was so impressed that the people at East Martin were open and wanting more and seeing we were not going back to Uganda soon, I encouraged Josh to teach there. I knew the Holy Spirit was at work because East Martin was the only church that has ever welcomed Josh to teach the FIC Discipleship Course. God was at work.
For three months last fall we went through the Discipleship Course with EM. I was so impressed with the people opening up, trying new things, sharing, being willing to learn, grow and change. God's Truth brought freedom to many people. And because we went through it together, we grew close. Josh has continued to preach at EM and met with people to find deeper freedom.
Sunday night was our last service there before going back to Uganda in July. Josh was excited all week because he asked people if they were willing to give a testimony in church about prayer and said each person said yes! Do you know how hard it is to get people to share in church? But nine people said yes and Josh knew God was at work and it was going to be powerful. It was! I could not believe the openness and tears from those who spoke and then from almost everyone. (I wasn't the only one crying for once!) It was beautiful and unifying. Stories of God answering prayers of healing, the church praying for them, God saying no to prayers only to have a better plan, the church welcoming and loving them in their need, God there in the hardship of farming or in the death of a child, God reconciling families, learning to praise God in prayer... When God's people testify, there is power.
After the service they had a goodbye for us. I was blown away by their words:
-My life was changed.
-We have changed as a church.
-You were here for me. Literally, God had you stay in Michigan longer for me.
-I am completely free now!
-You made us uncomfortable and had us do new things we've never done.
-I was blocked. I was walking the path of Christianity with my chains. I loved my chains. The chains are gone now. I have joy. The Holy Spirit is always in me.
-I serve 3 days a week because of Josh.
-Josh's gift is making the Word clear and understandable.
-We cheered when you announced you are going back but I wanted say boo.
-You are always welcome here. There is always room for us. East Martin can be your plan B.
-Thank you for sharing yourselves and your family with us.
- Josh shared that to those with much, much will be demanded and then I knew it was ok, you need to go back to Uganda.
-Happy for you, crying for us.
-You changed this church.
-We love you guys!
Talk about being encouraged, empowered...and exhausted at the same time! I felt like I received enough to keep me going for a year. How blessed are we?! I give God ALL the glory. He did this. He changes lives. He loves them. He speaks to them. He frees people. He is at work. How gracious of Him to allow me to have a small part in it. Humbled.
I want to add that our dear neighbor Mary also faithfully went with us to EM and did the FIC Discipleship Course. Mary was in a low spot in life when we met and she says we saved her, but we know it was God. As much as Mary has been touched by us, we have been blessed by her! EM also welcomed and loved on Mary and it is obvious she is now part of the EM family. It was beautiful watching the family of God accept her. We are thankful to continue to hear Mary testify that God continues to do a healing work in her. Our kids adore Mary! They visit her, walk over and go right in, do crafts together... Makai loves Mary and often wakes from his nap to look out the window to see her. Mary loves that we have given her purpose. A two way unexpected blessing. We thank God Mary is part of our Michigan story!
So, I hate goodbyes, but they are so worth it.
Can't wait to see what God is at work doing next...