Culture Shock, Missions

Deputation: Used Tea Bags or Cup Running Over?

We started deputation (fund raising) for church planting in the fall of 2016, after a much needed sabbatical from our previous pastoral ministry years. As we dipped our toes into the preparation for the next phase of life and ministry, some well meaning voices shared their opinions of what deputation would be like for us, based on what it had been like for them and for people they knew. Others told us that we had “hard lessons ahead.”

Let’s just say…. we were braced to receive used tea bags, to sleep on bed bug infested mattresses, and to go hungry for the first year while we waited for our percentage of support to increase. I remember imagining dingy hotel rooms, tattered clothes, and missionary closets stocked with “very well used but still have some life in them” items.

Instead we received a cup running over, and I want to tell you about it. There were no hard lessons, only God’s gentle grace. Perhaps our deputation experience was abnormal (I haven’t heard too many glowing reports), but we believe that God gave us just the sort of experience that our family needed for that season in our lives. Now that we’ve arrived to South Africa (which still seems surreal), we are still saying what we said all along during deputation: “It’s been a fantastic experience.” It’s true- we literally do not have one bad story.

Deputation is a weird process of working toward a dream that feels very far away. Many times along the way, missionaries like us wonder if we will truly make it to the field. Will we be the ones that just don’t make it, for whatever reason? Will we be killed in an auto accident (btw, we traveled multiple thousands of miles in complete safety!) Will my father in law’s death three months after we started, derail us for good? Will people and churches actually join our support team? Will we actually be able to raise $50,000+ for baggage and passage costs? (By the way, that’s a low number.The moving costs are unreal.) But I digress.

Deputation is a very transitional time where, unlike settled pastoral ministry, the missionary is the hero of every church service, the one who is passing through, the one who wonders if churches think about you once you are gone to the next one. Of course we felt this way at times, because we are normal humans. Of course we had struggles along the way- health, vehicle, financial, logistical, etc. because we are normal human beings. It’s just that our issues happened on the road, while yours were happening at home.

So when I write of the blessings of deputation, I’m not talking about a perfect season of life. I’m just truly in awe of the good memories we have and the extravagant blessings of God, which created an almost flawlessly positive memorial of the experience.

Here are 4 of the biggest blessings that God tailor made for and gave to our family during deputation:

  1. God worked significant healing from ministry pain. If you’ve been around here for awhile you know some of our story. If you’ve been around here for awhile, you’ve probably also lived similar ministry pain. We began our sabbatical feeling chewed up and spit out, reeling and admittedly cynical after so many years of suffering, both in ministry and personally. I confess I wondered if I’d ever heal. I still have deep scars, and probably always will. They’ve changed who I am, and have ultimately made me more dependent on Christ and more Gospel focused (isn’t that what suffering is for?) Well, as we made our way through our deputation schedule, my husband and I noticed that God was doing something very special and very specific to us and to our needs at the time. He was taking us on a tour of His people, and through them showing us His extravagance. Through generous offerings, added support, kind gestures, prayer offered over and surrounding us, meaningful words spoken and written, hospitality, interest in us personally, beautiful things from missionary closets that met specific needs, thoughtful gifts and prayers for our children, housing on a beautiful farm, financial gifts large and small, and so much more. The list could go on and on. God was healing us through His people- showing us that there are people scattered around everywhere who truly love their brothers and sisters in Christ, and show it. This was THE biggest, stand-out work in our hearts that we saw God do week by week and day by day during deputation. It was also the biggest need we had, especially facing future ministry.
  2. God gave us grace to be flexible. There are so many things I didn’t think I could do when deputation started. Be in the car all day (or all night?) Homeschool on the road? Manage motion sickness for 3 of the 4 of us? Sleep in a different bed each night? Eat fast food all the time? Fly for 22 hours to and from South Africa each time? (#HoldMe) Again, the list goes on. If there were any “hard lessons” during deputation, flexibility was it, and it wasn’t hard. God gave us so much grace and wisdom. I even learned how to sleep wherever I am, which is a big deal if you know me. I’m one of those who would lie awake all night if I wasn’t in my own bed. Our whole family- even our children- learned to be more flexible and to better cope with the unknown and take things as they come.
  3. God deepened and strengthened our faith in Him. A few months into deputation, I told my husband that I just had a sense that this was going to be a season of miracles for us. And truly it was. We navigated some BIG challenges to our faith, and saw God answer prayer and provide in ways that will remain as memorials for us and our children until the day we die. I literally filled a journal just with the ways He provided for the first year of our 2 1/2 years of deputation. A subsequent journal was filled just with answers to prayer. God opened the heavens and poured down His favor and blessing on us in astonishing ways, meeting the desires of our hearts so specifically that several times I found myself weeping with joy and awe at how He loved us. We can honestly say that we trust God with a deeper resolve and confidence than we did before.
  4. God showed us so many of His faithful servants scattered around North America. This was one of the things that we enjoyed most about deputation, especially since our hearts beat for pastors and their wives and families. We asked God early on to let us encourage pastors and wives as we traveled around, and He gave us many opportunities to do just that. What a joy it was to visit the churches of faithful servants who are in their places of ministry, living out the Gospel in their communities! Sometimes in ministry we tend to think we are the only ones left standing, still serving. My friends, you/we are part of an army of pastors and wives who are giving their hearts and souls to the ministry of the Gospel. I loved meeting so many of the pastors’ wives who have attended our retreats, and who I’ve known online for years. Suddenly I could visualize their individual ministries, picture them in their areas of service, and know how to better pray for them. All of the late night conversations, the praying together, the sharing of burdens and blessings- was a highlight of our traveling. We are so thankful for the deepened relationships we enjoy because God pulled back the curtain and showed us a front row perspective of the work He is doing in all places for the sake of the Gospel. Truly, ministry is always bigger than us, no matter what we are doing or where we are serving.

I could easily write a book about our deputation journey, filled with so many neat stories. But for the most part, we will ponder those things in our hearts. My summary to you is this: He is faithful- truly, what else can be said? He keeps His promises. He delights in His children. We are living proof.