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Work is not a Rabbit

Normally, I would have already written and posted this blog of last week’s

deputation services at Covenant Fellowship and Murfreesboro First Church, but

we have been on vacation all week at Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. What a blessing

to be able to spend time with family after a wonderful, but busy, two months of

deputation. Since August the 1 st we have travelled to 17 churches on the East

Tennessee District of the Church of the Nazarene, we have spoken in 21 services,

including Sunday morning, Saturday night, and online virtual opportunities to

share. We have driven 2,970 miles (we could’ve driven over halfway to Bulgaria!)

sold and moved out of our house, built new relationships, deepened and

celebrated old ones, and found ourselves in wonder at the faithfulness of our

Christ and the church. It was nice to spend time with family on vacation, but also

to take some time to reflect, to be thankful, to breathe deeply and just recognize

the beauty of this life we are being called to live so intentionally. Katie and I have

looked forward to this past week for several months, because (though we still

have several churches to go) it has felt like this would be an important marker on

our road through the first stages of our missionary journey. At times it has also

been that proverbial “rest stop” that we needed to get to. So, this blog is a bit

late, but we are thankful for the sabbath. After all, to quote Juliana Tzvetkova, as

she points out important Bulgarian sayings for living, in The Essential Guide to

Customs and Culture: Bulgaria, “Work is not a rabbit; it will not run away.”

Family Vacation in Santa Rosa Florida

6:45AM Sunday morning found us cruising down I-24 from Manchester towards Mt. Juliet,

and Covenant Fellowship Church of the Nazarene. We were generously offered

the opportunity to speak in both an early, more distanced and fully masked,

service starting at 8:30AM and a later service that follows small group hour,

starting at 10:30AM. We knew that it would be a blessing getting to share our

hearts with two separate groups, but we could not have imagined the joy we

would get by having the opportunity to mingle and connect with so many church

members before, after, and in between each of these services. Whether it was

wonderful greeters/ushers who “never met a stranger” like Lee, or old

connections like Gary Herndon, whose son Josh I bible quizzed with years ago as a

teenager, and whose other son Boomer played professional basketball in

Romania (the northern neighbor of Bulgaria). Each connection was a blessing.

If you have never been to the beautiful little town of Mt. Juliet then you

need to take a road trip. It is such a lovely place and Covenant Fellowship Church

of the Nazarene is a great complementary part of it. From our greeting by Pastor

Russ, to the wonderful spirit of worship, and passionately connected

congregation, it was quite a treat to get to do life and ministry with Covenant

Fellowship. As you can see from the pictures, this is a church that emphasizes that

great invitation to participate in the Mission of God both at home and abroad,

both in our town and in the nations, in our tribe, and in all tribes. It was good to

be with them. We pulled out of the parking lot with that kind of contented sigh

you get after the perfect meal. It was a taste of the Kingdom.

Covenant Fellowships Incredible Missions Table

Sunday night we were at Murfreesboro First Church of the Nazarene. It was

good to be home amongst our Murfreesboro Nazarene family. As we walked

through the doors toting our children and supplies, with the help of Kara Cole, I

thought of the first time I walked through those doors with Erik Gernand to talk

about the possibility of a city-wide partnership of ministry. I could not have

imagined what God had in store. I walked past three classrooms where I have

journeyed in small group discipleship with my brothers and sisters from

Murfreesboro 1 st , Barfield, Blackman Community Church, and Real Life while

pastoring Blackman. Murfreesboro 1 st is one of those places that just knows how

to host well (a defining characteristic of Christ’s life). The NMI president Suzanne

Jenkins and Pastor Matthew Cole did an incredible job of facilitating the city-wide

deputation service. I could say so much about what I mean by that, but suffice it

to say, this is a church that has decided not to make COVID-19 responsibility and

faithful Christ-centered worship gatherings mutually exclusive. Instead, they

become complementary at Murfreesboro 1 st .

I could point out so many wonderful things about our time together with

our Murfreesboro family (all four churches were well represented). However, I

think the characteristic that will stand out most in my mind reminded me of that

conversation I had with my wife’s parents after I had proposed to her. There was

celebration and support when I put the ring on her finger, but then about a week

later Allan invited me over to a “sit down” in the Kirby house living room where

we spent some time discussing the particulars of what it would look like for him

to send off his daughter for us to start a life together. It felt like that this past

Sunday night at Murfreesboro First. We had almost a full hour of Q&A following

our presentation. It felt like we were having a serious “sit down” with our folks

who had celebrated and supported this calling to start new life in Sofia, but now it

was time for really discussing the particulars of what it would mean for them to

send their family over to Bulgaria to start a life. It felt like love, honesty, empathy,

concern, care, curiosity, character, faith, hope, and joy. Murfreesboro church, you

will always be our family. We got in our car for a 4-hour drive to Birmingham with

the sounds of Suzanne’s blessings ringing in our ears. Before he left Jude turned

around, and without any prompting shouted to Pastor Matthew, “I love

Machew!” We love you Murfreesboro family!

Pastor Matthew Cole and NMI President Suzanne Jenkins

That late night drive gave us plenty of time to start our vacation reflections.

We are just overcome with gratitude at being sent by a church, by local churches,

such as these. It is hard to quantify what it feels like to know you are so called, so

sent, so supported. We cannot wait to share this journey. We cannot wait to be a

part of all that God is up to in Sofia. We know it will be incredible because we are

in it together. After all, to quote another Bulgarian saying noted by Juliana

Tzvetkova, “A united troop can move the mountains.”

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Oct 05, 2020

How I would have loved to have been at both of these services, but having promised our son that we would babysit in Cincinnati so he could surprise his wife with a 20th anniversary getaway. Jim and I will always cherish the time you spent as our church plant pastor at Real Life. Your ministry has been a huge blessing in so many ways!

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