Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In the beginning

Post Date: 31 Mar 2008
Article written as part of St. Bartholomew's discernment process: 31 Oct 2007

Susan and I were brought up in the church. I am the son of missionary parents and Susan the daughter of very active laity. Susan and I met in the summer of 1988 at a National Youth Conference in Kansas City. A few years later we married and two years after began our family. As young parents to Meredith (now 14 years old), we served in the church where my father was the minister. First, serving as youth sponsors and Sunday School teachers and later I served as the Children’s Ministries director and on the board of deacons. After a move to a nearby city, we felt the Lord calling us to a church that had recently started a building fund and was meeting in a local elementary school. For me, this was very reminiscent of the churches that I was brought up in while on the mission field in St. Croix, Virgin Islands and in McAllen, Texas. Susan and I both enjoyed the ministries that we served on and began to help build. It was during our work in this church that our 3rd child, Ethan, was born and we enjoyed watching our middle son, Evan, grow from a toddler to a 2nd grader. While attending and working in this community church God began working in our lives. We considered the nature of our worship experience and the fact that too many times we drove out of the parking lot on Sundays feeling unchanged. When we tried to put words to our feelings we described our worship experience in terms normally reserved for sporting events or some similar form of entertainment. Spiritually speaking, this was a very ‘dry’ time for us. We were pouring our energies and ourselves into this church but all of this ‘hard work’ was leaving us empty and frustrated. We weren’t exactly sure what we longed for but we felt that meaningful worship might involve ‘sanctuary’, not necessarily in form but in function. What would it be like if our worship time felt like a refuge and was full of reverence and awe?

In the fall of 2003 we began attending St. Bartholomew’s. A refuge is exactly what we found within its walls. Susan and I probably did not realize how badly hurt I was by past experiences in our former church and we certainly didn’t realize just how long it would take to repair that damage. I was bitter and full of cynicism. Mostly I had lost my love for people and especially for my Christian brothers and sisters. Susan and I started praying that God would fill our hearts with love again. We prayed that we would have a genuine love for others and out of this we would be able to joyfully serve others.

This prayer continues on even today. Under the God-anointed leadership at St. Bartholomew’s and the loving hearts of its parishioners, we can say with confidence that we have experienced
spiritual healing and growth. We are forever grateful for this and for learning how to worship a holy and loving God in a way that fits the way God ‘wired’ us.

Over the past two and a half years, we have been serving in several capacities at St. Bartholomew’s and have received many blessings from our service. One consistent aspect throughout our time at St. Bartholomew’s has been the unbelievable amount of love that we have received from others in our church fellowship.

In June of 2006, I took a new position within the company in which I had worked since 1998 and almost immediately Susan and I sensed that we had totally missed God’s calling on this move. Looking back over the year’s worth of painful and sometimes sleepless times, we now realize how God used these times as a real ‘attention getter’ (and I thought that as a former children’s ministries director and a Sunday School teacher I was the master of attention getters!). We think that God used the painful circumstance of my new job to bring to the forefront what it meant to work, sometimes around the clock, at something that really had very little or even no eternal meaning. I won’t drag our readers (or Susan and I!) through all of the life lessons that were learned (and are still being learned) over this past year but suffice it to say that we came out the other end with a new perspective on life.

The first shift in our perspective was a growing sense to make our lives matter – to involve ourselves in something that would count towards eternity. We did not know exactly what this meant but we knew that in order to fulfill this commitment, we were most likely going to have to make some sacrifices. We specifically felt led by the Holy Spirit to begin praying about missions. One of the exercises we used to assist us in this journey was to jot down those things we loved doing and felt most passionate about. The activities on this list seemed to point us in the direction of vocational missions. Since creating this list, we’ve been praying about and taking steps towards fulfilling what we consider to be the God-given desires of our hearts.

A second shift in our perspective came about through our study of God’s word. A recurring message that we encountered through the Scriptures, counsel from my parents and even word and song was to travel lightly. For us, lightening our load meant moving out of our home and modest parcel of land that we had come to love and had felt was a blessing from God. We took this step and other steps in order to be in a position to answer God’s call whether that call was right here in Franklin, Tennessee or across the globe in some remote area. We just felt that this was the Holy Spirit urging us to do this and when we sold our place we felt a peace about it. It is interesting to note that our new place, although we are very thankful for it and are content, is not our home. We have not become attached to the house or the neighborhood. We think that this might be by Design.

One night on a yellow legal pad, Susan scratched out a second list of those things that we really loved doing and were the desires of our hearts. We placed no restrictions on what this list could include. This was basically a recipe for our ‘dream jobs’. Oddly enough, we both dreamed up positions of service and ministry in a foreign country. With the exception of one or two items, this list was filled with activities involving children and youth. Our list included everything from counseling to coaching a youth triathlon team. This was very fitting since we have both spent so much of our time either working or volunteering in just such vocations and ministries. We then committed this list to prayer. At first we prayed that we might find opportunities in filling such needs in our church and in the local community while keeping our current ‘day jobs’. This was mostly because we wanted to be certain that we did not overlook opportunities that are right under our noses. As we began to pray, we began to think more and more about full-time mission work. In fact you might say that it has consumed us. Over the past 6 months, a day has not gone by that Susan and I have not spent some time in these thoughts.

We both have our ‘ideal jobs’. For the past 10 years I have held several positions within Vanderbilt and am now working for a godly man and Susan is a librarian and is actively involved with our two oldest children’s education. Still, there is a constant nudging at our hearts. We’ve been very deliberate about involving ourselves in local ministries and volunteer services but still there is a tugging at our hearts. We have an overwhelming desire to serve in what we think might be a full-time capacity.

To this end, we have continued to gather in prayer with family and friends on this matter. We have also researched various ministries that are aligned with the things we wrote on our yellow legal pad several months ago. One such mission work is a boarding school for missionary children. The Black Forest Academy is in Kandern, Germany and serves the children of missionaries who labor in countries that are unstable or have substandard educational systems. The Black Forest Academy (BFA) “exists to provide a quality, international Christian education that equips its students to influence their world through biblical thought, character, and action.” According to Greater Europe Mission’s website, “the one factor in missions that has caused more missionaries to leave the field than any other is missionary kids. And that’s where Black Forest Academy comes in. BFA exists so missionaries can complete their mission to people in over 40 countries all over the world.” Currently, we feel a strong connection with this ministry. We are planning a vision trip to Kandern next spring. In addition, we will travel to Madrid, Spain to counsel with close friends that are missionaries. In Madrid, we will visit another international Christian school for missionary kids, Evangelical Christian Academy.

We are encouraged by the discernment process at St. Bartholomew’s and its emphasis on community. In this brief ‘window into our hearts’, we’ve only shared high points in our year long journey. We hope that this will provide a platform from which many more conversations and times of prayer will be spawned. We look forward to the opportunity for spiritual growth and discernment that God will grant through this journey.

In Him,

Mark and Susan Powell