It’s been more than three years since I’ve been back home to Kauai and just over two for Cathy. We’ve made the journey twice in the last five years. This has been the longest period we’ve been away from
I used a question mark because on one hand, I have no permanent home, not on earth anyway. On the other anywhere I lay my head is home.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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. Philippians 4:11-13
Our friend Nick Franks who runs, among other projects, the Into The Pray podcast and Fire Brand Notes blog out of Edinburgh Scotland with his wife Mairi recently asked us a poignant question. It was in the context of a conversation about our coming out of the literal and proverbial wilderness.
“What will you bring with you?”
I didn’t have an answer. The question hasn’t left me and I’ve tried to answer it several times since arriving on Kauai.
Transition will do that…
It’s been over five and a half years since we stepped out of the confines of careers and the comfort of regular family and social life in pursuit of an obscure calling to deny self and pick up a Cross that we barely understand. We chose a life of relative poverty to love God and others. We did our best to stay connected with the past as Facebook likes and comments waned with prior illusions of intimacy. Some family and friends resented our decision and wrote us off completely. Others dismissed us on theological grounds. Soon no one seemed to notice that we were gone. It was in many ways a foreshadowing of our eventual transition from life on earth. Some call it death. We have experienced many deaths. I’m not whining or being melodramatic. Most people never have the opportunity to apprehend the superficial and vaporous nature of all they hold dear in this world.
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14
We’d entered as sojourning strangers into strange lands. I went with childish dreams of improving the vapor in His name. Little did I know that I was being sent to serve for my sake more than anyone I aimed to fix. We aimed for love, community, and impact. We landed in the depths of loneliness and at times despair. Again and again, we came to the end of ourselves and found that
This is where Jesus resides. Isaiah 53:3
Here in the vapor buildings crumble, farms decay and human bodies do the same. Meanwhile, God whispers as He builds His house from His throne in eternity. You don’t have to travel to the third world to find the wilderness and the truth it reveals. But it’s a whole lot easier to find it and abide in it there. Perhaps the biggest difference between the wilderness in the first world and that of the third is in the number of anesthetizing distractions. Most people choose anesthesia where it’s available.
One thing is certain.
It’s harder to hear His voice on Kauai. That may sound counterintuitive if you are prone to confusing the creation with its creator. Most everyone arrives here in what I call the Garden of Eden 2.0 with fairytale expectations of encountering some transcendent peace in its sunsets, rainbows, and waterfalls.
Today the irony of the life I left behind seems clearer than ever.
I keep asking people here about their endgame.
It occurs to me as I emerge from the wilderness and step into the land of Netflix and retail that a vast amount of human labor, what I call “monetized life” in the first world involves insuring our comfort against “the fellowship of His suffering”. There’s car insurance, home insurance, flood insurance, fire insurance, medical insurance and medical savings accounts in case we don’t have enough insurance. There is dental insurance, and life insurance, and unemployment insurance to ensure we don’t lose our insurance if we lose our income. We insure ourselves against future suffering with Social Security insurance then insure ourselves against the failure or inadequacy of that insurance with IRAs, and 401Ks. Everyone knows we will need to supplement our Medicare and Medicaid insurance with private medical insurance. We buy identity theft insurance to ensure no one steals our insurance. We purchase security systems and fire alarms. We buy organic vitamins, supplements, food, and water filters. We invest in exercise memberships and equipment, heart monitors, Fitbits and weight loss plans to ensure we don’t use our insurance before we get to enjoy the fruits of it for ten or fifteen years. We call this retirement. It is the ultimate goal of human life. When the appointed day of our death, the existence of which we’ve done all we can to deny finally arrives, someone else takes the proceeds of our insurance and buys insurance for themselves.
It would be comedic if weren’t tragic.
Meanwhile, eternity continues and God builds His house. 1 Cor 3:9, 1Pet 2:5
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
The inherent narcissism that plagues all of fallen humanity in varying degrees tends to block the realization that our compliance or defiance has zero effect on the final accomplishment of His will. Our participation in His plan is a wonderful and sacred privilege for us not a necessity for Him. That’s a hard red pill for anyone bent on fixing the vapor in His name. At the end of the day, our only real hope for finding meaning, and purpose as we sojourn through the vapor is to learn to abide in Jesus. We do or we produce more rags that endear us to the world. Isaiah 64, Rom 3
Yearning for Jesus is what causes us to abide. We don’t truly yearn until we realize that nothing in ourselves and the world suffices.
So much of our missionary journey has consisted of learning this.
So what do I bring?
“A whole lot less than what I left with.” is my first response. You might think people would be interested in the lessons we’ve learned in the context of a life lived in a manner so foreign to that in the US and especially Hawaii. Yeah well…not so much. I’m not shocked or offended. It’s just an observation. COVID fear, or should I say terror has wreaked havoc on the souls of people in pursuit of worldly bliss. Six years ago I’d think twice before going into the local Walmart. “Did I really have time to negotiate the gauntlet of conversation in every aisle?” Walmart was a community meeting place and “talking story” was a cultural expectation. Only “haoles” (foreigners) ignore the presence of others. Ironically “haole” means “without breath”. According to Hawaiian lore, the spirit is in the breath. Anyway, need bread and milk? Make sure you have at least an hour. That’s how it used to be. This time I went with the sole purpose of seeing who I might see. I was pretty excited after three years. No one even looked me in the eye. They just scurried along with zombified stares. One woman stopped short as she entered an aisle in which I stood alone. She sighed and appeared rather flustered before turning around and choosing an empty aisle.
It seems she was afraid to share the space.
A few weeks ago I got to share at Puka’s Ministries. “Puka” means “hole” in Hawaiian. In this case, it refers to the piercing in Jesus’s hands, feet, and side, that He endured for our transgressions. Services are held under a tarp across from the beach. It’s how Cathy and I always thought church should be done on Kauai. I mean why does any church need a building with a sixteen thousand dollar per month rent bill or an eight hundred thousand dollar mortgage? There are plastic chairs, the kind that guys like me need to be careful lest we lean back and they break. There’s a make-shift plywood stage and the dirt floor turns to mud when it rains. There are two porta-potties across the field and they serve a free lunch after the service. If nothing else you will know Puka’s by their love. The worship leader and Pastor are old friends and supporters of ours. They are familiar with brokenness. Hence, their ministry is mainly to the broken. “A broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise”. You won’t find a better church on the island. There are former inmates, addicts, jail guards, rag-tag surfers, homeless, and successful business people who might not seem as familiar with brokenness. Their humility tells a different story. I showed our most recent video that no one could see due to the glare of the morning sun. We tried to cover the gaps between tarps with a blanket to block the light. But to no avail. So I began with my own broken roots to include addiction and jail lest anyone be tempted to place the visiting missionary on a pedestal. I spoke about missions, God’s call, ongoing repentance, and the obedience that is the antidote to fear. I felt like a river overflowing its banks. Cathy said she’d never heard me speak so fast and…so scattered.
“Next time slow down and maybe say less.” She said.
I realized as I began that I am an overfilled wineskin ready to burst. I probably sounded like a machine gun. Turns out the answer to Nick’s question is
“apparently a whole lot more than I can share in forty-five minutes.”
In addition to bursting at the seams, the Lord has given me a renewed love and burden for the Bride of Christ. That might sound strange if you are a regular reader of mine.
We’ve been out on the fringes alone, forerunning and pursuing the Lord and His most lost sheep for so very long that we figured the wilderness was our one and only calling. But then I have always said that Psalm 37:4 “Delight your self in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart” is not about us getting what we want as much as it is about Him placing His desires in us. It’s as surprising to us as it is to anyone that He would be calling us back with a renewed passion for a ragtag blemished harlot destined to become a spotless bride.
It was only in October that we were looking at the condition of the United States and the blatant apostasy in so much of the church and saying,
“We don’t know if we even want to visit again!”
Still, I think it was Augustin who wrote, “The church is a whore but she’s my mother.” Hosea married a whore named Gomer. She was a type and shadow of Israel and the contemporary church.
Alas a man makes his plans but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9
This past November we were sitting on a rock by our blessed river – the one into which the landslide fed our home and all our worldly possessions exactly a year before. The waters of our preservation and our stripping had remained our most sacred place to worship and pray. It flowed onward unimpeded in spite of us like the days of our lives. Bits and pieces of roof and fluorescent yellow flooring were strewn all around us. And God spoke. Cathy and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes and simultaneously said,
“We have to go back.”
It was just like the moment in December 2015 when we stood on opposite sides of our bed in Kauai, looked at each other, and simultaneously said,
We thought we were headed directly to Honduras. Ten months later we were in mission school in Africa.
Anytime God moves us He reserves the right to change the course and direction. Understanding this would save more than a few from the snare of offense.
We arrived back on Kauai on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, and started our ten-day quarantine. Ironically the department of health official at the airport seemed to think she’d busted us for having a fraudulent COVID test. “She’s the type that will be guarding the camps,” Cathy said. We went out once or twice after quarantine and immediately got COVID. “Praise God!” Cathy exclaimed. That’s a blog in itself. The point here is that it was during that time that God guided us and repeatedly confirmed that He was sending us to Greenville TN.
We’d replied to a call for help by Will Hart on the IRIS Global alumni Facebook page. IRIS runs the mission school we attended in Pemba Mozambique. The more we learned about what God is doing in Greeneville the clearer the vision became. I should also point out the fact that the growing clarity followed our decision to be obedient. Lord willing and unless something radically changes, I will be working at the Holston United Methodist Home for children. My role will be similar to the one I had as a counselor at Hina Mauka Teen CARE on Kauai. The difference is that discipleship is the goal instead of the risk I faced in a public school setting. I will have ten to twelve boys to disciple. In addition, the unlikely partnership between a charismatic ministry like IRIS with a United Methodist Church and a 100-year-old children’s home seems proof enough that God is disrupting what Nick calls the “denominational maze”. We aren’t sure exactly what Cathy will be doing. But I suspect it will involve stopping for the one and maybe some involvement with the equine therapy they do at the school. We are excited.
Still, the transition is bittersweet.
Our tears at the river were partly a result of the fulfillment of our faithful waiting in the wilderness with no visible direction other than to put one foot in front of the other and trust God. They flowed because of His love and faithfulness. They flowed because we are leaving the people we have grown to love as our family.
I married Josh and Paulet in 2018 and they have joined the ranks of our many adopted spiritual children. We planted and watered. Now it’s time for God to give the increase as only He can. We had waited and trusted and waited some more and never gave in to the confusion the enemy tried so hard to sow into our lives and our marriage. Trials that are known to destroy marriages on the mission field only brought us closer together. We came out more solid and more in love with God and each other than ever before. I am more in love with and mesmerized by my bride today than on the day we first met. She only becomes more radiant and beautiful as the years pass by like the rushing waters of our river in Cerro Azul.
I think the Lord may be trying to tell me something about His own passionate love for His bride.
If you haven’t seen it yet, our final video is posted below. It begins with our rehabbing the 380 sqft cabin in Cerro Azul and ends with its destruction in the landslide. The shots of the people in between are a window into the lives and souls of the Honduran people we have grown to love so very much. We will continue to glean the lessons the Lord taught us through them for years to come. We remain part of Hope In Time Ministries and will help Josh and Paulet. We will continue to serve on the board and I will help with the website and newsletter. We will visit Honduras again as soon as we can. Who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll bring teams of kids from Tennessee.
We would like to thank all of our supporters through the years and especially our four monthly supporters. We could not have done it without you! We never did much in terms of raising money for ourselves and we never asked you for money. Instead each and every one of you heard from the Lord and came through at the midnight hour. Not only did you help us financially but you each played a major role in the growing of our faith. That you heard so clearly from the Lord about our need should build your faith as well. Those who donated immediately after the landslide saved our lives, our mission, and countless Honduran families in the aftermath of two back-to-back Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
We are eternally grateful.
That said, I will be archiving the Gray Hope Donorbox campaign at the end of February. Monthly donors will receive a “donation failed” message after that. You don’t need to do anything other than mark it as spam to avoid receiving the same email each month. Those donating directly to Hope In Time will remain unaffected. If anyone feels led by the Lord to support our transition to our next mission you can click here; Gray Hope Missionaries before our departure to Tennessee on February 28th, 2022. Thank you again for laying down your monetized lives here on earth for the sake of the Gospel and our mission to the people of Honduras. We love you and may God bless you. We pray that you know the peace that surpasses all understanding that we have come to know so well in this season.