Wednesday, October 9, 2013

God has sent your help on ahead

About eight years ago I was at my lowest. I had become disillusioned with my marriage, the church, and even God. I had prayed with faith for Him to rescue me, but God had not come through for me in the way I wanted. I began to wonder if He was even listening. And if He was listening, why did there seem to be no action on my behalf? I had my fill of suffering and decided that I did not want to be a martyr for life. My heart wavered between feeling intense pain and feeling cold, dry, and disconnected.

It was at this time that a small glimmer of hope was thrown my way. My husband and I were offered the opportunity to come to the City of Refuge at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. City of Refuge is a ministry to pastors who are hurt, burned out, or otherwise in need of a break from ministry.

I've blogged here about COR before and the dramatic life changing experience it was for both Kevin and me.

But today I want to share a bit more specifically about the people that God put into place just for me. When I was slowly being broken down for the 17 preceding years (I was nothing if not determined!) and was praying for God to intervene and change my circumstances, He was already bringing things together for me. The Father was already working on my behalf. God had already begun to move the people He would use into a place where they would be able to help me. I didn't know it, the people He would send ahead of me didn't know it, and the church that He would use didn't know it. We were all clueless. We couldn't see what God was working out.

As I suffered alone, the friends who would pave the way for my healing were on the other side of the globe watching their world fall apart. And the pastor of the church that would be a safe place for them, and later for Kevin and me, was just beginning to catch a vision for helping hurting pastors.

For my pastor, it happened like this: a phone call from a fellow pastor friend asking to be recommended to another church. My pastor, Johnny Hunt, said yes to this friend. But later, after reflecting on the heartbreak in his friend's voice, Pastor Johnny called back and said, "No, I can't recommend you to another church. Right now, you need a place of rest. Come here to our church. We will provide a place for you to live. We will provide for your family. Just come and rest awhile."

And the City of Refuge was born.

For my friends Troy and Melissa Haas, it happened like this: Troy's behaviors on the mission field in Africa were exposed and Troy was immediately flown back to America for intensive counseling. Melissa was left behind to pick up the pieces, pack, and deliver her second born. Then she too was flown back to the US for counseling.

When their six months of counseling was over, they didn't have anywhere to go. But Pastor Johnny called. And called. And called. Troy was too ashamed to talk to anyone, but eventually answered the phone. "Why don't you come here to COR and let us love on you?" asked Pastor Johnny. They came, rested, received grace and experienced healing.

Troy and Melissa also developed a desire to minister to other hurting couples. Eventually, they began  support groups like the ones they had experienced in their therapy. One day Melissa would be my group leader and Troy would be Kevin's group leader.

For me and my husband it happened like this: the church we were serving was draining the life out of Kevin. Our marriage was draining the life out of me. We were both exhausted and alone when Kevin began to attend Troy's support group. Eventually, this opened a door for us to come to COR.

Everything didn't get better overnight. It took two years in COR and two more years of counseling and support before our marriage began to be a source of strength rather than a life sucking vacuum. We have our moments and we are still growing, but overall we are in a good place.

For our counselors, it happened in various ways, usually involving personal pain and loss as God redirected their career paths into Christian counseling.

For our friends, it happened in various ways, always involving personal pain and loss as God brought us together into the City of Refuge and support groups.

Yesterday as I reread my favorite Old Testament account of Joseph, I came to Genesis 45. Joseph is speaking to his brothers after reuniting with them, and he says this:

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves
 for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me 
ahead of you... God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you 
a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 
So then it was not you who sent me here, but God.

God spoke to me as I read that passage. "This is what I did for you." He said, "It wasn't Kevin's depression or other issues that sent you here. It wasn't the 'bad church experience'. It wasn't people who have hurt you, it was Me. I sent you here to save you by a great deliverance. I sent many Josephs ahead of you to make a way for you, so that you would live. And now I call you to be a Joseph, too."

I am so grateful for my pastor and his heart for pastors and their families. I am so grateful for Troy and Melissa and their heart for working with the broken and wounded. My life today is one of joy and peace and purpose, because of the lives of those God sent ahead of me.