Pastor's Blog

In September 2000 an email from one of our missionaries popped into my inbox.  A missionary teacher at a little Christian college in the Pacific Islands had to return to the US because of illness, and an instructor was needed to teach two intense classes – a semester’s worth of information squeezed into three weeks – on the subjects of Genesis and Church History.  The instructor was needed by the end of November – about eight weeks from the time I read the email.

The situation caught my interest, as it seemed a providential convergence of a few of the streams of my life.  I had always wanted to teach at a college level and this would provide me that opportunity without having to leave my job.  My graduate degree is in Hebrew and Old Testament studies, so a class on Genesis was right up my alley.  Furthermore, history is a special interest of mine and I had taken numerous elective classes on church history.  I had never been out of the country, much less to any sort of mission field, so I thought it would be important exposure for me as a pastor.  The Chuukese speak English so I could get to work immediately without language preparations.  And finally, my head needed a break from the stresses I had been under; three weeks teaching in the Pacific Islands sounded good to me.

The elders of our church graciously agreed to pay my salary while I was gone and to cover my airfare for the trip.  There was a lot to do in eight weeks – flights to arrange, a passport to be gotten, supplies to be purchased, class materials to be put together, and a crash course in missions and Chuukese culture to be taken.

Pacific Islands Bible College was in Chuuk, one of the states in the Federated States of Micronesia.  Chuuk is a lagoon, a ring of volcanic islands rising from the ocean.  During WWII, Chuuk was called “Truk Lagoon” and was held by the Japanese fleet.  On February 17-18, 1944 American air and land forces sank the Japanese fleet harbored there in Operation Hailstone.  During my preparations to go to Chuuk I discovered another little providence:  my step-grandfather was one of the Marines that landed there as a part of Operation Hailstone in 1944!

Today, Chuuk is a diver’s paradise.  Divers from all around the world come to explore the sunken Japanese wrecks at the bottom of the lagoon.

The flight to Chuuk took seventeen hours over two days.  I left from Philadelphia and had to switch planes in Houston and again in Honolulu.  From Honolulu I flew into Guam and stayed overnight with one of the missionaries.  The next morning I took the hour long flight south to Chuuk.

That was the first time I ever flew on a jet plane.  I was almost forty years old. 

Maybe I’ll share some of my experiences at Pacific Islands Bible College in upcoming blogs.  In closing this chapter, let me just say that my time in Chuuk was an eye-opening, life-changing experience.  It was a teaching experience custom-made for my soul and for the person I had become.  It was academic but it wasn’t mere academia.  It was chock-full of practical experience and life application for me and for my students.  It was not a teaching experience I would have ever dreamed of, but it was the dream God had for me – and when I lived it out, it was a wonderfully fulfilling dream come true.  He knew what I needed far better than I did.  God is truly so, so good.

Our little church had worked hard for almost fifteen years to save the money to purchase a 13-acre plot of ground for expansion.  Finally, that day arrived.  We paid cash for the property – everything we had -- and one of our elders quipped, “In about ten years we’ll have enough for a down payment so we can put a building on the property!”

I felt like a quickly deflating balloon flying willy-nilly around the room.

We couldn’t afford additional staff, so I had been pastoring alone, leading two services for several years and there was talk of adding a third.  I was getting stretched thin emotionally and I was wearing out.  I didn’t know if I could do it for another ten years.  So, I did something – actually TWO things – that were completely uncharacteristic of me.

Although I am committed to the idea of being faithful and not giving up on a congregation entrusted to me, there have been a few times in my pastoral career – when the pressure seemed unbearable – that I thought about seeking a different church.  It’s uncharacteristic of me, but I’ve come to that point a few times.  One of those opportunities arose in the mid-90’s when I was struggling with the thought of doing two or more services for ten more years.  Through a series of providences (or what appeared to be providences) a door opened to take a church on the west coast.  I went through a few phone interviews with leadership from that church.  The thought of getting out from under the pressure at Mountain View sounded like such a relief. 

But I just couldn’t bring myself to complete the process.  The grass certainly looked greener, but I couldn’t bring myself to abandon a flock entrusted to me by the Lord, people that I deeply loved.  Deep down I felt like I was taking the easy way out instead of learning crucial life lessons custom-made by a sovereign God Who wanted to mold me through hardship. 

I terminated the candidating process with the west coast church.  But I determined that if I were going to stay at Mountain View, I wasn’t doing another ten years of two services (much less, three!).  The second uncharacteristic thing I did was to challenge our congregations to quickly raise the money for a new building so we could get back together as one church.  I’m not a big cheerleading project-leader executive type of guy, nor am I a big risk-taker who loves to try new things.  I’m staid and prosaic.  But I did not want another ten years of struggle and discomfort for myself, my family, or the church.  Other churches were able to raise money and build, I thought, so why shouldn’t we?  The worst we could do was fail.  So why not take the risk and try?

I knew NOTHING about big building projects.  They don't teach you that in Bible college or seminary, and I’m a teacher by gift, not an executive or administrator.  But the Lord put men and women around me who knew all about raising money and working with engineers and builders and governments and attorneys – and I hate to put it this simply – but the next thing I knew, we had the money for a down payment and were making plans to break ground. 

Those years and that process are a blur in my memory.  I don’t recall how it all came together.  I just know that it did.  There were many little providences that came together to enable us to move into a new building in June 2003 and become one congregation again after seven years of being two.  And that launched a new leg of my life’s journey.

When I first came to Mountain View Chapel, the church only owned the classic building and the parking lots directly connected to it. 

The big field on which the new building now sits was a 13-acre flag lot, and the “pole” of the flag was the strip of grass just below the classic building’s parking lot.  When the church started to grow it seemed to me an obvious providence that we would one day purchase that 13-acre field so we could expand.

The ground was owned by a couple that was working through a difficult divorce.  Someone in the church knew the husband and we began working with him to try to obtain the property.  He was willing to sell it to us at a very low price – but the divorce had to be worked out first.

When the divorce was finalized, the man we had built the relationship with and with whom we had been dealing all along didn’t get the property.  His wife did, and she refused to sell the ground to us.

I couldn’t believe it.  The providence was so obvious!  How could God arrange things so neatly and then blow it at the last minute?

The more we tried to persuade the woman to sell us the land, the more adamant she got that she wouldn’t.  The door was closed and locked tightly.  We went property shopping and found a lovely 15-acre lot for sale at the other end of Douglass Drive.  Doors began to open for the purchase of that plot, and although we were not comfortable with it, it seemed there was little choice.  We assumed this was God’s way of directing our steps.

We were well on our way to making the purchase and had worked out most of the deal.  Just before we were ready to close on the property, some of the elders said, “Maybe we should check one more time into the field behind our building.  Maybe things have changed and the woman will sell it to us.”

What harm could there be?  We called the woman and we were all shocked when, without hesitation, she said she was ready to sell!  Her plans for the land didn’t meet township regulations, so she no had no further use for the property. 

We offered her $125,000 cash for the property and she accepted immediately!  And that’s how we obtained the property on which our new building stands.

We FINALLY had land to expand!  I had been leading two services for several years by that time, and I was emotionally wearing out.  With the purchase of the land, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.  The day we closed on the 13-acre lot, one of our elders said, “By my calculations, if we can save at the same rate that we saved for this property, we’ll have enough for a down payment on a new building in about . . . ten years.”

TEN YEARS???  His comment burst my balloon and my joy evaporated.  Ten more years of two services?  What’s more, both services were filling up and we were talking about the need to launch a third!  Between visiting, counseling, running Bible studies and preaching and doing all of the prep for those things I was working 60-70 hour weeks pretty regularly.  I barely got to see my wife and children.  And I’d have to be doing that (or more) for ten more years??? 

Within ten years my girls would be graduated from high school and I would have missed out on most of their lives.

So I did something that was completely uncharacteristic of me . . .

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