This is the story of how we came to the conclusion that God was calling us to serve Rwanda and live in Atlanta. Yeah, it's a long story, but it will really help you understand why we're doing what we're doing. We applaud all who make it to the end...
Years ago, God began opening our eyes to Scriptures we grew up with and knew well, but didn’t fully understand. Matthew 25:31-46, 28:19-20; John 13:1-17; Isaiah 58; 1 John 3:16-18 for starters. Suddenly, we saw everything differently. Our money. Our time. Our resources. Over and over, as we poured over the Scriptures, we found two huge themes: Tell people about Jesus and help people in need. It’s in there from Genesis to Revelation and it’s exactly how Jesus Himself lived on a daily basis. And yet, after all these years of ministry, we came to the sad realization we were very poor at doing these two things. It broke our hearts to read Scriptures about feeding the hungry, looking after the orphans and widows, fighting against injustice, telling people about the hope we have, etc... and realize that we were not fully living according to God's Word.
We spent the next several years trying to figure out what that meant for us. It’s what eventually led us to adopt from Rwanda - not because we thought we couldn’t have children but because there are millions of orphans in need. How could we continue to ignore these kids in need by insisting on having kids that look like us? When we brought Ellie and Elijah home we did our best to live out these Scriptures, but frankly, we became a bit self-absorbed with the many issues that can come from adopting kids in need (behavioral, medical, emotional, etc...). But after God got us through the most difficult year of our lives, we came out on the other side and began to dream of what God might want to do through our family.
It became evident to us as we were compelled to action by Scripture, that God was calling us to do something new in our ministry. While we LOVE doing the worship and college ministry at Live Oak Christian Church, God clearly had a new direction for us. He wanted for us to not just fit these ideas (tell people about Jesus and help people in need) into our current life, but to make it our life. We sat down with our elders in June of 2012 and told them all that God had been laying on our hearts, and that while we didn’t know where He was taking us, we knew He was calling us to leave (much like Abraham). The only things we knew for sure were that the move needed to include telling people about Jesus, that we needed to be helping people in need, and that we felt that downgrading from home to live in an apartment in a big city would be a great way to do that. Apartment living provides such a great opportunity to pour into people and build community with believers and non-believers alike.
When I got home that night, I had an e-mail waiting from one of the elders telling me about the CARES ministry by APARTMENT LIFE. They’re an organization that helps people do exactly what we were being called to do! Apartment Life sees apartments as mission fields and plants teams around the country. They make an agreement with the property manager and provide an apartment at a reduced rate with the idea that you will help build community for those residents. For the apartment manager, they get a greater retention rate out of their residents. For Apartment Life, they get an opportunity to spread the gospel and invest in the lives of the people! So really, this was a no-brainer. We were going to do an apartment ministry anyway - now we would have support, accountability, and a cheaper apartment.
Apartment Life is only in certain cities around the country. We were already intrigued by the thought of Atlanta, partly because we have always been drawn what God does through the 268 Generation and Passion City Church, both in Atlanta and around the world. Atlanta also boasts an incredible coffee shop that focusses on Rwanda, so we were curious about that. It’s a big city full of opportunities to pour into people in need and that is culturally diverse, we have some great friends there, and it’s a tad closer to some family. It fits us and our mission extremely well. And sure enough, Atlanta is also one of 16 cities Apartment Life is working in.
Beyond the apartment ministry, we knew nothing! That ministry would be our personal side job, but we still had no idea what God was calling us to full-time. Months and months went by, and honestly, we found ourselves getting a bit discouraged. After all, we'd already told the elders we were supposed to leave, but God hadn't told us where to go yet! We put several “feelers” out that aligned with those Scriptures to see what God did, but nothing panned out. 268 Generation wasn't looking. Passion City Church wasn’t looking. The coffee shop wasn’t looking. And several other leads (not all in Atlanta) came to an end. God simply had other plans. One particular morning, Erin spent several hours praying and begging God for some direction. She followed that up with a quick Google search for “Rwanda” and “Poverty” - the first thing that popped up was AFRICA NEW LIFE MINISTRIES (ANLM). And the first thing we saw on their site was: “Africa New Life exists to transform lives and communities through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Acts of Compassion.” In other words, they exist to tell people about Jesus and help people in need. We had to at least call!
When I called, I was told there weren’t any jobs available. But as we talked, we discovered that a couple of people work for them essentially as US missionaries on behalf of Africa New Life and Rwanda. They raise their own support and then spend their lives raising awareness of the situation in Rwanda and what ANL is doing about it. They raise financial support that makes ministry in Rwanda possible, lead teams of people to the country to see it first hand, get children sponsored, etc. In that conversation, I also discovered that while they had no ties to Atlanta, they had been in discussions with the leaders of Passion to hold “Passion Rwanda” in the near future. Yeah. Needless to say, we kept talking.
In January of 2013, I had the opportunity to fly to Rwanda to see what they were doing first hand. I was blown away. ANL is determined to break the cycle of poverty in Rwanda by providing education and spiritual insight. I saw beauty rising out of the ashes. Hope being restored. Orphans being loved on and taken in. Widows being cared for. The hungry being fed. Churches being built and filled. I saw the difference child sponsorship through ANL makes because I looked these kids in the eye. Kids that were true orphans, who were malnourished with nowhere to live and no hope now had the best education available in Rwanda through AFL’s own schools. They were given clothes, food, medicine, education, and most importantly, the saving truth of Jesus. They were now dreaming of being surgeons and teachers. Anything was possible! They were healthy and grinning ear to ear. Thousands upon thousands of lives are being restored and given hope because of this ministry and the Scriptures that had convicted us had come to life.
I had begged God for months to stop this whole thing if He wasn’t in it. We didn’t want to go if He wasn’t going with us. After all, life is goooood. We are in a great church with great leadership and vision. We are being taken care of financially. We have insurance and a great home with good schools. I love my job. Besides, we have a lot of debt already because of our children’s medical issues, so the idea raising our own support is ominous to say the least! But in the end, none of that matters compared to being in the center of His will. And wouldn't you know, not only did He not stop any of it, He continued to confirm the decision over and over and over! It was really quite annoying. At some point you have to stop asking for more proof and just surrender to His will. So as much as the idea of raising support scared us, we believed whole-heartedly that since this was His idea, He’d take care of the details.
What started out as simply being compelled by Scripture has turned into a very clear calling.
My last day at Live Oak Christian Church was May 26th. After that, we went into missionary training with Great Commission Ministries and are now in full fundraising mode. We will move to Atlanta sometime in July (most likely), in time to get established before school starts up. Our church has been gracious enough to give me a severance package even though I’m leaving on my own terms, which will provide a salary through most of August. And then we’re on our own financially, living solely by faith and through God working through His people to provide! Let the adventures begin!