Change – unsettling, disquieting, and ominous. It’s a small, six-letter word that can knock the wind right out of you. As a missionary in Haiti, my home is in a place where the sands of time and shadows of change shift slowly. But there are people I love in the States where time is a raging river that carries change at immeasurable speed. Change is impossible to escape.
Being a missionary in a country that is forever fixed in the sweltering sway of summer has its advantages. Vitamin D deficiency is virtually non-existent. This fair-skinned bookworm has started to take on a skin tone that no longer matches the color of the pages she reads. Precious storage space isn’t necessary for bulky sweaters, coats, and scarves. Your wardrobe is virtually the same for the whole year. The palm trees are always green, the ocean is always blue, and one never has to worry about the treacherous nature of snow, ice, and slush.
Being a missionary in a culture where the pace of life equals the slow, steady rhythm of a gentle stream eroding a rock bed also has its advantages. The flower of change is slow to take root and even slower to bloom here. You learn to take life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. You learn flexibility and to make the best of the situations you are in. You learn to value quality over quantity, depth of relationship over surface acquaintanceship, and intentionality over casualness.
Perhaps it is these virtues that weave together to create a web of false stasis around my life, an imagined sense of constancy and permanence. But it doesn’t take long before that facade of predictability is shattered.
Sometimes it is simple changes that make me smile at the blanket of constancy I cling to. For example, I fly to Haiti in January, leaving the bitterly cold, snow-blanketed plains of Iowa behind. When I return to Iowa in May, my eyes still expect to be blinded by the glare of sun on ice, my skin expects to recoil at sub-zero temperatures, and my ears expect to ring with the silence of gentle snowfall. Instead, the shroud of white has been replaced with a patchwork of recently plowed farms and green sprays of spring, the cold replaced with hints of warmth, and the stillness replaced with the chirps of crickets and hum of cicadas. The Christmas trees have all been tucked away and the rich colors of the season have been replaced with the bright palette of new life.
Other times it is weightier changes that make my heart ache with their heaviness and import – The church I called home for fifteen years of my life is no longer being pastored by my father. My sister’s family grows by nine pounds, one ounce and 19 ¾ inches. The soul of a bright, joyful young man in my home church is no longer for this world but is finding rest and repose in the arms of his Savior. He is shortly joined in Glory by a fellow missionary from my home church who labored hard for the Kingdom and made lasting impact. My kindred spirit, my partner in interpreting and all things adventuring meets a man, dates, gets engaged, and is married. My little brother – my greatest childhood antagonizer, partner in crime, confidant, and friend – meets a woman, dates, proposes, and is married.
In the midst of change my heart is unsettled, trying to grasp at straws, clinging to what I think I know, and trying to find purchase in a world that is always shifting. And my heart is so quick to jump to the realm of “what-if’s.”
Fear. What if the changes in the lives of those I love causes them to love me less?
Worry. What if my relationships with the people I love are never the same?
Regret. What if I had been able to be present for the entirety of all those changes?
But it is in the middle of these thoughts, this churning of emotions and agitation of spirit, that my heart in all of its flailing finally finds purchase. The Spirit whispers and imprints the words of the Father on my heart –
I am the Lord, I change not… Malachi 3:6
I am the same yesterday, today, and forever… Hebrews 13:8
In Me there is no variation or shadow due to change… James 1:17
How do I combat the dark hands of change clawing at my throat, threatening to steal peace and stillness of heart? I turn my heart to the One who never changes. Just as David remonstrates his heart to hope in God in the midst of his depression and turmoil in Psalm 42, I must preach to my heart the truth of who God is and what His promises are. God is constant. In a world where the best laid plans often go awry, I can rest in my Heavenly Father who is immutable and unaffected by change. I don’t have to fear the loss of love because I have a profound love that is richer, deeper, wider, and stronger than anything in this present earth (Ephesians 3:18-19). The Redeemer will never love me more or less than He does in this moment. I don’t have to worry about losing relationship because I have identity and purpose in my relationship with a Father who adores His children. The Restorer who pursued me in the wreck of my life will never leave or abandon me (Deuteronomy 31:6). I don’t have to regret not being present. The Creator who sees, knows, and hears is present for me (Psalm 139).
In the wise and discerning words of A.W. Tozer, “All that God is He has always been, and all that He has been and is He will ever be.” His promises will never be rescinded or overturned. His unchanging nature shines brilliantly against the backdrop of change that is inherent in the world of mankind. And it is in this nature that my heart must rest.
Just as change is an arrow that points to the immutability of God, it is also an indicator of hope. As hard as it is to swallow, the reality is that fundamentally, change is a good and gracious gift from God. Redemption’s ongoing story is one of change, transforming from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). And without God’s sanctifying hand of change in my life, where would I be? The changes God has wrought in my heart and life all happen for the greater purpose of conforming me more into the image of His Son. The changes that God gently, or perhaps not so gently, introduces into your life all fall under His sovereign, omniscient hand that works for your ultimate good and sanctification. It is because He loves us that He changes us, our loved ones, and our circumstances. What hope is found in this truth!
That small, six-letter word has taken on new connotation in recent days; the disquiet is replaced with rest, the unsettledness with peace, the ominous fear with hope. Let change point your heart to the one who is changeless. And be thankful with me that He continues to change us in order to bring to completion His good work in our hearts.
Courtney Johnson lives and ministers to the people of Haiti.
In June of this past summer, I moved back to Central Asia to do gospel work among my dear people who Christ purchased with His precious blood. Many of them do not know about the glorious good news of the cross. So, that is why I am here: to serve and help make Him known in this nation.
This summer was super busy for me. When I got back from the states, I met my new team that God had already provided for me to serve with here. I got to know them pretty quickly, and we began to pray, fast, dream and envision our future ministry in Central Asia. God opened so many doors for us to begin to do what we love: preaching and teaching the gospel and doctrine.
In the middle of the summer, we started five weeks of membership classes. After those classes, we collected around fifteen members that were interested in being part of our local congregation. We praise the Lord for these men and women who want to be a part of what the Lord is doing here.
Then, early in the fall of this year, we launched our first congregation. Over 70 people showed up to worship and hear the word preached at our launch! After the service, we had a big celebration of thanksgiving to our Sovereign God for His faithfulness and for everything He provided for us to launch this local congregation in Central Asia.
Just three weeks later, we moved to a physical building. Now, we have a place to meet on Sundays for worship and hearing the preaching of the Word.
We are very excited that God did all this in such a short period of time.
I want to thank my God and Savoir, Jesus Christ for His mercy, grace, and strength to do all this with His sovereign power. I thank all of you, my prayer warriors and partners in the gospel. Thank you so much for your prayers and support. I couldn't do all this without your help. Please continue to support and lift me up for His glory and our joy.
It is hard to imagine, but our family is getting close to our 11th year of life in Australia. We continue to be amazed at this opportunity. Even as the seasons of life change with children getting older and ministries maturing, we continue to thank the Lord for the gift of serving in our adopted home.
As the years progress, Australia continues to become part of our DNA. We have a ever-present love for our American heritage, but we feel our love of Australia grow. It is not easy sharing the Gospel in this melting pot culture, but with the various ministries and people we work alongside the opportunities continue to present themselves every day. We enjoy sharing this experience with visiting friends, family ranch mission teams, but we have to remember that most of our visitors have a very limited view of our sunburned homeland.
One thing that is very different to America is that in Australia, it is compulsory to vote and to fill out our census form. Due to this requirement, our statistics are exceptionally accurate. Based on our last census report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and McCrindle Research, here are a few statistics that might help people to see that Australia is a very different place than they thought.
1. If Australia were a city, at 23.5 million it would still only be the world’s seventh largest (after Tokyo, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Jakarta, Seoul and Delhi).
2. The average street of 100 households has 10 babies (aged under 3), 27 cats and 45 dogs.
3. The average Australian stays with their employer just 3 years and 4 months – only a third of the way towards long service leave. If this plays out in the lifetime of a school leaver today, it means they will have 17 separate employers in their lifetime.
4. In Australia, there are almost 100,000 more women than men, with six out of our eight states and territories experiencing a man drought.
5. Three decades ago, the median age of an Australian was 30.5, today it is 37.3, and in 2044 it is projected to be 40.
6. The average Australian spends 10 hours and 19 minutes each day on screen time – and due to ‘multi-screening’ this is achieved in just under eight hours of linear time.
7. By the time generation Z (five-19-year-olds) begin to retire (beginning in 2063) the average median capital city house price will exceed $2 million and the average retiree will need $600,000 more than today for a comfortable retirement.
8. If you lived on an average sized street in Australia comprised of 100 households, on that street there would be a marriage every 9 months, a death every 7 months and a birth every 14 weeks.
9. Currently, there are almost 105 baby boys born for every 100 baby girls born in Australia
10. The most widely said Australianisms are “no worries” (74 percent of Australians have used this phrase), “arvo” (73 percent), and “G’day” (71 percent).
11. Swimsuits in Queensland are known as togs, in NSW cossies, but in Victoria, bathers. And while Victorians use the word cantaloupe, in the rest of the country the fruit is known as rockmelon.
12. Australia is currently growing by 1 million every 2 years – that’s an additional city of Adelaide every 2.5 years.
13. Three decades ago, almost two in three Australians were married, while today, less than half are, and the “never married” proportion of Australians has increased from a quarter to a third.
14. There are more people in Sydney today than lived in all of Australia a century ago.
15. A quarter of Australians (27 percent) were born overseas and almost half of Australian households (46 percent) had at least one parent born overseas.
16. The average age of a first marriage is 29.8-years-old for men and 28.1 for women.
17. The median age at which men first become a dad is 33, and women have their first child at 30.7 years.
18. Australia is growing faster (1.8 percent a year) than any other country in the OECD.
19. Australia’s death rate is at an all time low. And Sydney is the state capital with the lowest probability of death (5.3 deaths per 1,000) while Darwin and Hobart have the highest capital city death rates (6.6).
For people who love to analyse numbers, these are fascinating numbers and help us to see where we need to be reaching people, and figure out unique methods of reaching Australians. Australia is not the same as the US, and we need to adjust our strategies for reaching people for Christ.
The one statistic that grew the most over the since the last census is the number of people who said they were 'non-religious.' Going to church is not a regular thing for our nation. Sunday is considered Sport Day. It is a time for football, cricket or netball.
To merely start a church is not going to reach the people of Australia. We have to have active evangelistic endeavours to reach people. We do this through workplace evangelism and unique events in cinemas. We are seeing fruit through these ministries at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue.
Not to be discouraged, through these evangelistic efforts we are seeing church growth throughout our nation. With partnerships with Geneva Push and local pastors, we have seen a steady rate of churches starting and growing throughout Sydney. Alongside Pastor Ben Kwok, we have been serving for the past three years with the Rouse Hill Bible Church family. We are seeing regular growth and exciting stories of people coming in contact with Christ for the first time in their lives.
We want to thank you for your regular support, prayers, and teams. It is a world away, but it means so much to us and helps us to continue the work of the Gospel in the land of Oz.
Russ and his wife Cathy, along with their four children, live in and minister to the people of Australia. To learn more about their ministry, visit http://www.matthewsdownunder.com.
What if you won a million dollars? What would you do with it?
What if your car is stolen? What’s your immediate response? The next day? One week later?
What if a government official walks into your church and asks you what you believe?
Would any of these questions be easy?
For me, the million dollar question is way too easy. Why, I can spend 100 million dollars fairly quickly. Yes, mission work would be the main beneficiary, and the need is great.
The stolen car question was asked in three parts, because the three timelines can have three different responses. Shock? Disappointment? Anger? I think it was The Simpsons that taught me the chain of responses in a crisis situation is known by the acronym DAFBA: denial, anger (D’OH!), fear, bargaining, and acceptance. There’s no right answer. For me, the stolen car question has other implications. Some neighbors of ours in France had their car stolen recently, when someone broke into the house to find the keys, hanging on a hook by the door, and off he went with a free car. That could happen to us, although our car is not the most attractive. The real issue for me is if one doesn’t find our keys sitting out waiting to be taken. What happens when someone doesn’t get a “free” car?
Finally, the government official question. Or it may be a news team. Or in the office, or a co-worker. Or on the street... anyone that you don’t expect, as if the question startles you: what do you believe? Or “who are you?”
Unexpected circumstances can yield gospel opportunities.
1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Who would ever ask me? Maybe we should expect that more. Maybe we should interpret someone’s comment as his way of asking that question: “I don’t know what to believe anymore...” Is that not a wide-open door, begging you to walk through and share your faith?
Maybe the reason no one asks us about the hope we have is because no one knows we have this hope?
Lord, help us to keep our ears open, and especially our hearts open, for neighbors, co-workers, kids knocking at our doors during Halloween, suffering people around us, and help us to love. Help us to be ready to give a response for the hope you give us. Protect all those in areas where crime rears its ugly head, so that your children will rise up and be witnesses for your glory. Amen.
Gary, along with his wife and children, minister to the people of Lille, France.
I'm around people and talking to them literally all day when I am at work, and although I would classify myself as more of an introvert, I crave and look forward to simply being around other believers even when I am exhausted after work. Our world is not easy to live in as followers of Christ. In these days when Bedside Baptist is a fast growing “church” due to either the cramming in of additional activities or laziness, what we need is quality fellowship. We need to “get down to the nitty gritty” as Nacho Libre would say. We need to share life, pray, study, worship, and serve together.
As a side note, yet on topic, I’m thankful for our lighthouses and the women’s ministry where we can sharpen one another and bear burdens together. If you aren’t involved in one of these groups, I strongly encourage you to join a lighthouse and/or Bible study.
A few years back when I was in college, I began to understand the importance true fellowship has on being steadfast in faith and spiritual growth. I went to a Christian college, in fact, but even with requirements of daily chapel attendance, weekly church attendance, and a Bible minor, spiritual dryness remained a threat to the Christian bubble we lived in. One could still get involved with the wrong crowds of students, isolate themselves within their studies, or have the prideful idea that they don’t need accountability or discipleship.
Not knowing anybody but my roommate going into my freshman year, I didn’t know what to expect when it came to finding a good solid group of friends. God used the friends he placed in my life to teach me more about Himself. A group of us who were in brother-sister halls formed a bond that has lasted beyond graduation.
Towards the end of sophomore year through graduation day, we met every Sunday night to pray, sing, and read scripture. This was the first time I truly remember feeling unconditionally loved by people other than my family. Along with the laughing and goofing off, we shared trials, encouraged & prayed for each other, and some of us cried. And I can say, when you have 21 year old girls comfortable enough to cry through their struggles in front of 21 year old guys, and those guys respond with compassion and prayer, you know you are among some quality people. There was no judgement, and we all sought to serve and love each other. We weren’t perfect at this at all times, but God sustained our unity through forgiveness, selflessness, and focusing us on Christ.
Now out of college, I have taken the lesson of necessity of church fellowship. One way God made us in His image was in our relational ability, as the Trinity is in constant unified fellowship. God uses biblical fellowship to show and give us His unconditional love, truth through the study of Scripture, refreshment of our souls, and the unity of the Church. Let us not take for granted our brothers and sisters in our lives who love and intercede in prayer for us.
God is glorified through the unity of His children (John 17:20–26).
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