earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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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

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

June in the Detroit Metro Area

We just reached a major milestone in our pre-field ministry. Our little car passed 200,000 miles on the way into Chicago this past weekend. Other than a few more inexplicable noises, it seems to be running fine. July will be a high-mileage month. June, on the other hand, has allowed us to stay in the Detroit until this week.

On June 3 we had the opportunity to update our ministry partners at Huron Baptist Church in Flat Rock. I shared a few current prayer requests and filled the pulpit for their Sunday morning worship service. Since our last visit to Flat Rock was pre-Ian, we were glad to introduce them to our son.

That evening we visited Warrendale Community Church in Dearborn. They invited us to share our ministry with the church. After the service we joined everyone for their monthly potluck supper, which provided more opportunities to get to know the church and answer questions. Not that I have been keeping precise account of this, but Warrendale is probably in the top 5 for highest percentage of people signed-up for our monthly email updates. Thanks!

On Sunday, June 10, we had the privilege of presenting our ministry to Tri-Lakes Baptist Church in Brighton. Although we have known a few of this church’s members through our seminary, this was our first opportunity to visit the church. Tri-Lakes has been involved with the work in Tanzania for many years now. We are excited that they are interested in remaining involved with the ministry and have decided to partner with us.

June 25, 2012   No Comments

June 2012 Prayer Update

We are three months away from beginning work in Tanzania and everything seems to be moving so fast. We are glad to have the opportunity in these upcoming months to continue building relationships with the churches who have partnered with us. The other big items on our to-do list involve moving out of our house and spending time with family. Here are some current praises and prayer requests.

  1. Another successful bible institute session was completed in May. The students considered the doctrines of God, man and sin. Based on their feedback, it seems that these men are appreciating the importance of these doctrines.
  2. Our meetings with churches continue to be blessed with great conversations and positive responses to the presentation. God is answering our prayers for blessed meetings and mutually committed partners.
  3. There has been a good response to the Tumaini donation project. We are approaching our deadline and there are still a number of needs remaining, but there is no shortage of generosity in this case.
  1. Please pray that God will provide renters for our house in Michigan. Ideally, the situation can become a mutual benefit to us and the renters.
  2. We are focused on preparing for departure. Our most earnest prayer request in this regard is that God would use these remaining months to prepare us spiritually for serving him in Tanzania. Pray that all of the logistical work is completed so that it doesn’t become a distraction to more important matters.

June 11, 2012   No Comments

Memorial Day Weekend in Cincinnati

The three of us traveled to Cincinnati on Memorial Day Weekend to meet with a few churches we have been in contact with for about a year. We joined the Strassner family (from Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church) for lunch on Saturday and met the elders of Providence Bible Fellowship in West Chester that evening. I presented our ministry in their morning worship services on Sunday morning. We quickly realized that there are an unusually high number of people at this church interested or involved in the spread of the gospel over-seas. Many have visited missionaries or have family members serving as missionaries. This means that our short visit was packed with rich conversations! That evening we joined Bible Chapel of Delhi Hills for their church cook out. We met pastor Landis on an earlier visit to the area. This time, we were able to meet and discuss ministry with all but one of the other elders.

Our first out-of-state road trip with Ian went very well, although it wasn’t without challenges. This trip has confirmed that I cannot compete for attention with my own son (but how could I be disappointed in this?). Overall, it was a hot and busy weekend. We returned home emotionally exhausted from all that was packed in to the trip. In retrospect, however, it is so encouraging to be introduced to churches who are genuinely like-minded in our desire to advance the gospel.

May 30, 2012   No Comments

May 2012 Prayer Update

Our one-way tickets to Africa have been purchased. We are now less than 19 weeks away from our departure. Thank you for being a part of God’s blessings in our life through your prayers. You may use the following praises and prayer requests to continue guiding your prayers for us.

  1. We were able to complete a few excellent church meetings in April before breaking for the birth of our son. God provided the means for Laura to participate in meetings at the beginning of April and kept everyone safe in travel. We are also thankful that Ian waited to be born until after I returned home from the last out-of-state meeting.
  2. Our son, Ian, was born healthy. Laura is also doing very well. These things are great gifts from God–certainly the answer to many prayers.
  3. God continues to meet our needs in some unexpected ways: a garage sale, help from church friends, and anonymous gifts. We are overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s people and the kindness of God towards us especially in the past few months.
  1. In God’s providence, we are finishing our pre-field ministry ahead of schedule. While I don’t expect us to be supported at 100% of our budget by then, we are already supported at a sufficient level to begin our first term. That being said, we are still eager to fill the gap in our prayer and financial support. Please pray that God will bless our remaining meetings and that, as a result, we will find the best gospel partners for us.
  2. Please pray that we continue to lean on God as we adjust to being a family of 3 and resume our church meetings.
  3. We are focused on preparing for departure. Our most earnest prayer request in this regard is that God would use these remaining months to prepare us spiritually for serving him in Tanzania. Pray that all of the logistical work is completed so that it doesn’t become a distraction to more important matters.

May 4, 2012   No Comments

Missions Conference in Port

I made a solo trip to Faith Baptist Church in Port Washington, WI, for their missions conference April, 14-15. We considered the theme “teaming up with missionaries whether it is by participating on the field, prayerfully supporting them, or giving financially.” My contributions dealt with prayer and understanding the biblical view of calling. In addition to meeting the excellent people at Faith Baptist Church, the conference provided an opportunity to fellowship with missionaries on their way to or back from other fields.

Meanwhile, Laura stayed at home. She’s done with traveling for a while. In fact, we don’t have any more church meetings scheduled for 4 weeks. As we wait for Baby Gass to arrive, we’ll continue getting our house in order to move out.

April 19, 2012   No Comments

“Quintessential New England” Meeting

Following the Sunday morning worship service with First Baptist Church of Duxbury, MA, on April 1, we were told that we were about to have a “quintessential New England afternoon.” Indeed we did. We had our mid-day meal with a family in their more-than-200-year-old home. Later, we enjoyed a drive around the old sea captain homes near the church. But, in contrast to the New England stereotype, we found the First Baptist to be very personable and welcoming.

I was interviewed during the church’s live radio program that Sunday morning. This was a new experience for me! I was also asked to preach for their worship service and present our ministry in their Adult Bible Fellowship hour. Throughout the day we were encouraged by the church’s interest in what God is doing in Tanzania and the challenges before us in moving forward. Their interest was clearly expressed during our prayer meeting with them on Sunday evening.

April 9, 2012   No Comments