I journal avidly. I started this when I was a young teenager and have continued it ever since. I have collections of large, small, multi-colored, worn, and torn journals that hold the records of my thoughts, prayers, hopes, dreams, doubts, failures, successes, laments, and celebrations. For me, journaling is way to live each experience twice. The first is real-time and the second is way to reflect, re-live, and review each situation of a given day. It helps me live intentionally. I love going back and reading these old journals, especially on significant days (many of which I had no idea would be significant!) as a way of stepping up to an altar of remembrance. Life might not always be good, but God ALWAYS is, and every moment is filled with his glory.
We landed in Bulgaria a little over 18 months ago. I remember being asked by a Field Strategy Coordinator: “What do you think it will be like those first weeks, months, and years in Bulgaria.” Maybe he knew my answer was meaningless. How could I have known? All you can do is hope. I cannot believe that we are ending our first tour in Sofia and heading back to the U.S. for our first home assignment in a month. The weather has been nice here, so Katie and I took Levi on a walk in the park the other day, sat on a park bench, and read through my journaling of those early days in Sofia.
After some laughter and long silences, we both looked at each other and agreed that these have been some of the best and most difficult days of our life. It is now hard to believe that we landed here 18 months ago with no friends, connections, no school, much less language ability, no church, and a house in need of more repairs than we could ever imagine! It is difficult to believe because God has now filled our lives with wonderful friends, great connections, an incredible school for our kids, the ability to preach, teach, and interact regularly in Bulgarian, a beautiful growing church, and great house that has become a home (though we are not sure if the repair needs will ever be fully met!).
We spent another hour or two reading from the journal and sharing stories. God has given us so many stories. We have stories of meeting friends, of cultural blunders, of shedding tears, of celebrating holidays, of worshipping with new believers, friends accepting invitations, helping refugees, and seeing the church, life, and ministry flourish here. We have so many incredible stories to share.
I think it is more than a good practice. I think story telling is an absolute necessity for the Christian life together. We are commanded to tell the stories of God’s faithfulness. I grew up in Cleveland First Church of the Nazarene and I remember hearing stories in testimony services, from pastors and laity, in youth group, in songs, in Sunday School, and from missionaries. I learned so much about the faithfulness of God from these stories. Do we still tell our stories? Are we Christians good story tellers?
One of my favorite passages is from the book of Joshua. In this passage the people are commanded to build an altar and as an extension are commanded to tell the stories of God’s faithfulness. They are told to take up stones for the altar and that in the days ahead when generations as about the stones they are to tell them the story of how, “the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:7) Later, once they had crossed the Jordan, we are told that Joshua immediately setup the stone altar and said,
“In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground. ‘For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:21-24)
Telling stories has always been the key to witness for the church. So, we are excited to share our stories with you! We are so excited to go to so many churches over the summer and tell meaningful stories of God’s victory, providence, grace, strength, and mission: miraculous stories. It is hard to believe it is already story-telling time back in our home region, but for us it is kind of like journaling. It is as if we are getting to live it all again as we tell the stories. We could not have hoped for the stories God has given us. These are your stories too, because we have been on this journey together as you have prayed, supported, and journeyed with us all along the way.
I want to end with a quote from my journal. This is from my first journal entry after having left our home in the United States. I was actually on a plane as I was journaling. I am struck, as I read it, by God’s faithfulness:
“Well, it is that time again. It is time to begin a new season of life and to step into it with our faith and hope grounded in Christ. God has been faithful in every season in both ways looked for and unlooked for. God is always so present, so active, and so near. So, really, each season has been God’s story. My hope, for myself, for my wife, and for my children, is that this next chapter of the story will be filled with God’s powerful presence, providence, and grace in a way that we have never experienced before in any of the previous chapters of our life together. We need it.
This chapter is so very different from all the others. We have given so much. This calling has cost us more than we knew we had to give. Yet, it pales in comparison to those who have gone before, namely, Christ. But still, it is all we have to give: stuff, friends, family, a place, ministries, plans, goals, roots, our kids’ future, finances, language, etc. What will it have been for? Trust.
We trust in Jesus Christ. We trust the Caller. After all, He made us and sustains us. He knows what story we have been made for. It is for this story. It is for this calling. I want to live the story Christ has made me for. I cannot wait to see how the story shapes us… How it makes us… Only God knows how he plans to transform us. Lord, it is all for you. Make it all glorify you.”
The Lord has heard the outcry of his servants. We have stories to tell.