earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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Posts from — July 2012

Change and Jesus

We are in the middle of a whole mess of change. There’s simply no way around it; one cannot move from Michigan to Tanzania without an extreme disruption to our way of life. Most of the things we’ve used daily for the past 6 years are now either in a box or no longer in our possession. We are almost 2 weeks into a 6-week road trip that ends with our flight out of the country. Needless to say, the process tests our emotional and physical endurance. We should be quick to say that there are many pleasant situations in the midst of our traveling–thanks to you. Our accomodations have been comfortable and we have benefited from exceptional generosity in the form of meals, loaned vehicles, and occasional fun diversions.

The reality that distances this stage of pre-field ministry from a nice (but rather odd) vacation is that our daily routines have been pitched never to be recovered. I’m not exactly sure where my favorite mug is; my running shoes have been inadvertently packed into a box somewhere; and all the daily activities I usually take for granted are just not there. The greatest difficulty in this disruption is in leaving behind what is familiar to us.

I’ve been admonished to remember that change can be good for us. Shaking up the status quo shows how dependent we can be on our regular routines. We all create space in our lives for predictable and familiar things–your home, something to eat, or some physical activity, and so on. But when everything is in transition, the house is bare, the meals are not home-cooked, and the whole day is full of new challenges. Where do you turn for relief?

The midst of change is the best place to learn contentment. Consider Paul’s testimony:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:11-13)

We could mishandle the situations in which we “are brought low” or “abound” by disregarding the one who enables us to “do all things.” There is a secret to be learned in that God is using “any and every circumstance” to strengthen us. But true to my form, I have not always recognized God’s good gifts to us as they really are–gifts from above (Jas 1:17). Likewise, I have not always turned to God first in the midst of our loss. Correctly handling these circumstances ends in contentment because we are satisfied not in the predictable and familiar but in Jesus who enables us to endure all things. First, be content with Jesus. Then, knowing that there is no variance in his kindness (Heb 13:8), we may also know the stability to handle the change in our life.

July 28, 2012   3 Comments

It Looks Like We’ve Been Robbed

We held our second and final yard sale this past Saturday. With the help of many friends and Laura’s sister, who came in for the week, we were able to sell almost everything we will not be taking with us to Tanzania. Once again we are amazed that God makes something so common rather extraordinary. The sale makes it possible for us to move out and it helps provide for our outfitting expenses. Beyond that, it also does our heart good to see our “stuff” go to a good friend or a stranger who was eagerly looking for that particular item. Yard sales require a ton of work, but the unloading of so much stuff also brings great relief!

Indeed it was a long day. We were scheduled to meet with Bible Chapel of Delhi Hills in Cincinnati on Sunday; our hosts there were expecting us to arrive that night. During the yard sale, a few hours before the departure, I learned that the brakes in our car had developed a significant leak. By God’s good providence the shop was able to fix the problem just before they closed. Our departure for Cincinnati was late, but we made it safely.

On previous trips to Cincinnati, we have met with the pastor and elders of Bible Chapel and discovered a mutual appreciation for an approach to missions which aims to develop local church leadership. Sharing our ministry with the church led to a number of excellent discussions about God’s merciful work in their lives. Many of whom also encouraged us by sharing how their response to God’s mercy involves laboring to see the gospel reach others in this world.

When we returned to Detroit on Monday, I couldn’t help think that our house appears to have been robbed. We’ve been left with a few odds and ends–but this is just where we planned to be. This week we will be packing what’s left, which will either make the passage with us or on the shipping container. Thank you for praying!

July 24, 2012   1 Comment

Last Trip West of Chicago

…before we depart for Africa. We were able to cram much family and ministry business into our recent trip through Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. On July 8 we joined Prior Lake Baptist Church in Prior Lake, MN, for their worship services. After being introduced in the morning service, we joined the children with whom we discussed life in Africa. There we resolved the error that tigers and triceratops are roaming wild in Africa and explained why children all over the world need to hear about Jesus Christ. Dan and Jana Eads have visited this church previously, so we reintroduced the work to them in the evening.

My dad, Ian, and I

We met with the leadership families of Grace Community Bible Church nearby in Lakeville before returning to Iowa that week. My youngest sister’s wedding was the following Saturday, July 14. This event provided opportunities to discuss our ministry with many members of my family–many of whom are unfamiliar with our approach to missions work. We pray that God would use such opportunities as a testimony of the faith. Of course, my extended family was also glad to meet our son and have the opportunity to see us before we leave for Africa.

Is this heaven? No, this is Iowa

Unfortunately, that will be the last we see of Iowa for quite a while. That Sunday, July 15, we met with First Baptist Church in West Bend, WI. Pastor and Mrs. Dunford have met with us for lunch a year ago and greeted us at a pastor’s conference since then, so we were eager to meet the church which is benefitting from their service. After such an emotionally draining trip, we were glad to find much affinity between us and this church.

July 19, 2012   No Comments

July 2012 Prayer Update

The pace of life picks up drastically this month. This week we begin phase 2 of our master plan for moving out as we pack a few items away for storage. We expect to be completely moved out by the end of the month. Our church meetings this month will take us as far west as the Twin Cities and as far east as New Jersey. And for excitement, we’ll toss in some preparatory work for our shipping container and some research for my master’s thesis. Good times!

It is good for us to remember that God has thus far exceeded our expectations in every way. Despite the uncertainties of pre-field ministry, he has been better than faithful in meeting our needs and giving us reasons to trust his wisdom. Here are a few praises and prayer requests to consider as we gear up for a round of new challenges.

Praises:
  1. Our beast of burden passed 200,000 miles this past month and continues to serve us well. We are grateful that our car has been practically problem free for so many miles. On another travel-related note, we are finding that Ian has been more content with with long hours in the car than he has been otherwise.
  2. One very significant way that God continues to exceed our expectations is the financial support we receive from our partnering churches. We are currently at 93% of our budgeted amount.
Requests:
  1. Please pray that we will have wisdom and endurance to be faithful stewards of our time and resources as we prepare our things to move to Tanzania.
  2. With all the change in our lives, there will also be a corresponding change in our relationships with family, friends, and teammates. Please pray that our church meetings continue to be used by God to build understanding and commitment to the spread of the gospel. Please pray that we may help our family to navigate the upcoming changes. And, please pray that God may continue preparing the relationships between us and our teammates–Beth and the Eads. We will be leaning on them much for support in the upcoming months!

July 9, 2012   No Comments

Send-Off Meetings

Since plans for our transition from pre-field to field ministry have become settled, we have made efforts to schedule  meetings with as many of our current partners as possible. We have already given our final pre-field update to a few churches in Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Michigan. This past week we visited Lakewood Baptist Church in Delafield, WI, to catch up with each other and discuss what our partnership will consist of once we land in Africa.

In various ways we communicated to each other that we are both still learning how any of our supporting churches will be involved in our ministry beyond prayer and financial support. The precedent set in the NT is that Paul’s partners in the gospel did more than send him money; they were involved in his work, providing for his other needs, and bearing the burden of spreading the gospel together (e.g., Philippians 1:27-30; 2:25; 4:2-3). These send-off meetings serve to reinforce this commitment even though neither of us are entirely sure what this will look like until we’re about knee-deep in the work.

Lakewood is one of a few of our partnering churches which organizes a group to represent the Gass Family to the rest of the congregation. These groups are a tangible expression of the church’s commitment to “hold the ropes.” In our limited experience this seems to be an effective means of working together. If for no other reason, it has facilitated profitable communication between us and the people supporting us. The believers of Lakewood Baptist Church shared on multiple occasions their excitement for being a part of this ministry in Tanzania. I’m glad to say that this is a genuinely mutual excitement.

July 3, 2012   No Comments