Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A brief history of our family and our decision

Shortly after Anita & I married, I was happy helping clients complete tax returns and helping businesses, but still had a feeling that I needed to do something more to further God’s Kingdom here on earth. Anita was already helping troubled teens at a residential treatment facility in Grand Rapids. But, we felt something “tugging” at us to do something to help in the lives of other less fortunate people. Some of those ideas were, infant foster care, living at a troubled teens home as mentors, or even helping pregnant teen mothers that did not receive support from their family. But, in no way did we see ourselves leaving West Michigan.

We were living in Hudsonville at this time, but we wanted to move closer to our church home of Madison Square CRC to be a “light into the inner city”. So, we packed up and moved to the inner city of Grand Rapids. This presented us with many challenges, as we lived as the “minority” in our neighborhood. But, little did we know, that God was already starting to prepare our lives for living in Lesotho. Anita and I were happy there, but after a couple years, God had other plans for our lives. During that time, we were robbed three times. After a “three strikes and we are out policy”, I made the decision that we needed to get out of Grand Rapids. But, I can remember looking Anita in the eyes one night and feeling helpless as to how to get out. We could not afford two mortgages, or rent while we tried to sell. Also, at this time, our small group was having some conflict with our church. I felt “at the end of my rope”. And as we all know, that is when God can step in and do His best work. Just when I felt trapped in Grand Rapids and our church life was having difficulties, I could ACTUALLY feel that God was moving in my life. He was telling me to “Trust Him”. So I did! And, God provided a miraculous way for my family to move to Zeeland. While leaving our “home church” of about 8 years hurt us emotionally, I knew that God was “closing this door” and opening a new opportunity for us.

That is what led us to looking for a church home in Zeeland, and we found Haven CRC. We actually visited once and decided it wasn’t for us, but God led me back there for one more try on a Good Friday service. Anita and I fell in love with Haven and have been here ever since. Little did we know that God was already setting us up to know Beautiful Gate through Haven. Shortly after that time, Ray Haakonsen came and talked to Haven about some of the kid’s stories at Beautiful Gate. During that service, Anita leaned over to me and said, “I am going there someday!” Then came the announcement in the News and Notes 1 year later, that Haven was organizing a mission trip to Beautiful Gate. Immediately after reading the announcement, I leaned over to Anita and said, “I guess you are going, huh?” She just looked at me with that sparkle in her eye and said “Yup!”

So, Anita prepared for the next year to go to Beautiful Gate on the mission trip. Little did we know that God had started the process of changing our hearts. During that year, Anita and I had become disgusted with all our materialism and pride. We had even made a family motto of “More family, less stuff!” But, it did not seem to stop us enough, or even change us enough, for more than one or two days.

Then Anita left on her journey to Beautiful Gate in October 2009. It was then that the passage of James 1:27 became more real to us. It says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” It is very easy to understand the first part of that verse, but many people stop reading the second part. That part also “touched” Anita and myself about “not being polluted by the world”. After many time of trying to change our lives, we kept feeling that we were pulled back “into the world.” Our small group was also studying the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan at the time. That book was very challenging to us, as he talked about the “Radical Christians”, but that we should not call them radical, but “on fire.” (Note: this book is not for the faint of heart, but can be life changing). It was for me!

Anita returned from Beautiful Gate as a changed person. I had the pleasure of reading her journal and was also moved by God. We both felt that we needed to do “something more,” but still did not know how God wanted to use us.
Then, in late October, came the e-mail that sent our lives into a “spin”. We became aware of a position that Ray was looking to fill with the right person to become the operations manager at Beautiful Gate. Lori’s e-mail had said, “I think that you would be great for this position!” Wow!!! That was not something we saw coming!! But, we did not rule it out. We decided to pray about it and ask for more information from Keith and Lori about it. Then after some serious praying, Anita and I had decided that we were not ready for this in our lives. But, God was not to be deterred in His plans for us. So, on November 12, 2009, Lori once again e-mailed us asking to reconsider our decision. So, Anita and I decided once again to go to God in prayer about this more, and to ask other close friends and family for their input on this option. We decided to take more time in making this decision. In January, we decided that we were open to taking this position, but we asked God for a sign to confirm His will for us.

Then came the sign! On the first Monday in February, I woke up discouraged about not hearing from God yet, so I told Anita to “Just pray for our decision”. I went on to work and Anita continued her normal day’s activities, with prayer of course. Then I returned home for dinner. As our family was eating around the dinner table, talking about daily stuff, Elijah, out of the blue, said “Mom and Dad, God is telling me in my heart that we need to go to Africa, and take care of the orphans, because they don’t have a mom and dad.” Anita was just about in tears, and I just about fell out of my chair. After recovering from our shock, he also said, “I am serious, God is telling me right here (pointing at his chest).” At that moment, Anita and I knew that God had just spoken directly to us through Elijah! Wow!! So, that evening we decided to start to filling out the application for the position. On the following Monday, we also told our small group to pray for this. I think they were shocked as well! I can remember thinking, “God, I am an accountant, I don’t know how to run an orphanage. Are you sure this is what you want me to do?” But, I figured that God could still stop this process at any time by having Ray deny our application. So we applied!

It didn’t take long before Beautiful Gate accepted our application and was excited for us to get there! Again, wow! But, I still had one more reservation. I needed to see Beautiful Gate and Lesotho for myself before making a final commitment for 5 years. So, I applied for my passport and booked my flights for after tax season. In the meantime, Anita and I had many e-mail questions for Ray. The waiting for my trip felt like an eternity.

Then came the time for my trip to Beautiful Gate. I had long layovers at the airports. During the 7 hour layover in London, I decided to continue my reading of the book of Mark. And sitting in the terminal I read Mark 11:24, which says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” After reading that, I put my Bible in my lap and prayed to God . I said, “God, Anita and I are willing to be your servants in Lesotho, but please give me one more sign during my trip to confirm your will.” (Romans 12:1-4) And I prayed believing that I would receive the answer. What I did not foresee was how quickly God answered that prayer. While I was boarding the 747 plane in London to go to Johannesburg, I sat down in my seat and another man came to sit in the seat right next to me. I asked, “Where are you going?” He said, “To a little country inside South Africa.” I said, “Lesotho?” He said, “yup!” I asked, “Why are you going there?” He said, “To adopt a child.” Now I knew that there were going to be a couple of kids adopted out while I was at Beautiful Gate, so I asked, “You are not, by chance, going to Beautiful Gate?” He looked at me incredulously and said, “How did you know?!” At that moment, my heart leaped with joy as I knew that God had just given me the sign!!! What were the odds that the two of us would even be on the same plane and even more staggering to think about was that we were sitting right next to each other on that huge plane!! We spent the next couple hours getting to know each other and telling our stories. I had a hard time trying to fall asleep that night on the plane, as I could not stop smiling from ear to ear at having heard from God!! Now I knew that I could spend the rest of my time at Beautiful Gate without the worry of looking for the sign. And I had a wonderful time! I was also able to meet Brent again on Friday, as he and his wife finalized their adoption that day at Beautiful Gate. It was amazing to see the “sheer joy” that each parent had with their child that morning! I could see how God smiles when one of his “lost sheep” finds their way “home”.

So, here we are, becoming missionaries to do God’s will! If you had asked us in September, we would have told you, “We are not missionaries! We are not ready for that!” But, God works in amazing ways. And we would be proud to have you partner with us in this endeavor with prayers, mission trips and financial support!

Bryan