Thursday, November 17, 2011

On the Road to France... pt. 3

Roberto and his wife, Elena, are awesome. That sentence was actually written about 5 times, each more sappy than the previous one. So, I will just say they are awesome! Seriously.

Before officially meeting him, I had seen Roberto around church from time to time. You can't miss him. He really stands out in a crowd. Every time I see him, he always has a smile on his face and is talking passionately about some new recipe he is trying out. Even more, he always seems to have a group of 5-6 people around him, trying to talk with him about this and that. My son, Quinn, loves him to pieces!

I had never met Elena before we joined Leo's group. She is one of the sweetest, least pretentious people I know. She complements Roberto well. Their love for the Lord and each other is displayed for all to see, and I love them both dearly, though I have only known them for a few months. This friendship has never felt forced. We have all just fallen into a groove that seems to have been cut specifically for us. It just won't be the same if we're not all doing life together in France.

That being said, we went to Roberto's house with a map of France to pray over it, to dream about what could be, to see how each other is feeling led. So far, we all seem to be on the same page. Roberto is a natural at planning the "breakfast" side of the business. We talked about sustainable food, growing our own animals, fruits, and vegetables. The ladies committed to hospital corners and folding of fitted sheets. That's when I was told that I'll be in charge of the "bed" side of the business (Leo refers to me as Bed and Roberto as Breakfast. HA!)and let me tell you, I was suddenly in that dream where you're standing on stage in front of a full house and you suddenly realize that not only have you forgotten your lines, you never even saw the script in the first place!

In one evening of dreaming and scheming, suddenly, I'm looking for the brake pedal. Let me be clear, I... CAN'T... HOTEL!! I've stayed at the Holiday Inn a few times, but I couldn't tell you the first thing about booking guests, managing reservations, managing a hospitality staff, balancing books, managing laundry service (I can't even manage my OWN laundry!). So I do what one always does when they're looking for information they don't have. I Googled it.

I started looking for B&B management software. I found a software company that seemed to have good reviews. I read their testimonials and discovered that one of the properties is only about 5 minutes from my apartment. So, I called them and left a voicemail saying I'd like to talk with them about running a B&B. Yeah, they haven't called me back.

My dad called me on my birthday which, in itself, is amazing. I told him about our mission and he suggested I look at the local college. I thought, "What a great idea!" Sure enough, the local college offers both a certification and an associate's degree in Hospitality Management. There's only one problem... I have NEVER been a great student.

I'm not kidding, I slept through Algebra class in high school. Some of you may remember that. In fact, Coach Westmoreland sent me to Mr. Bell's office for snoring... in Study Hall. I woke up in History class one day and Coach Saxon was writing on my face with my own pen! To this day, I'm not sure that I passed my classes so much as my teachers just didn't want to deal with my snoring and desk drool for another year. So yeah, college is probably not my best option, but it did get me to thinking. What if I found a local B&B that will let me intern (volunteer) on weekends for 6 months to a year and learn the business. What if I apprenticed as an innkeeper? I have ALWAYS learned best in a hands-on environment. My friend, Earl, constantly tells me how freakishly quickly I can pick up on anything that I take a genuine interest in: music, computers, automechanics, vocational ministry, customer service, sales. God seems to have gifted me with some crazy aptitude skills.

Anywho, my wife and I were visiting with some other friends, the Coleman's. We have become THAT couple who cannot stop annoying you about the thing that has us all switched on. (I promise you, we WILL bore you with all the details of our mission in France when we see you next!) We laid out the vision, from beginning to end. I told them how I am looking for an inn to apprentice with and Mrs. Coleman stopped me to tell me that they had stayed at a bed and breakfast just outside of Fredericksburg recently. She told me how it is also a ministry for church pastors to come and be ministered to and that the owners are looking for folks to come and help them run the business! She is going to introduce us via email and see if we can make this happen.

So there you have it. You know almost as much as we do. We have looked at properties for sale. We have sent inquiries on a couple properties and have received responses from mortgage companies and realtors who are eager to meet us. The 4 of us will be embarking on a vision trip over Spring Break.

Our only ask at this time is that you be in prayer for us.

- Pray that we do not become so wrapped up in the business that we let the true heart of the mission, the ministry, become lost.

- Pray that God will continue to make our next steps as obvious as they have been. Seriously. I'm not bright enough to see subtle hints. I need neon signs and burning bushes.

- Pray that the 4 of us continue to be knit together in unity for this mission.

- Most of all, pray that we continue to seek God's will in all of this.

If you're reading this, it is because God is calling you to hold us accountable. Stop us and ask us how things are going, where our hearts are, what our next steps are. He may also be calling you to serve with us as a summer/winter intern. He may be showing you that when He calls YOU into the mission field, that He is providing a place for you to come and rest, to be loved, to be heard, and to be encouraged.

Make no mistake though, if you are His, you are being called to something greater than yourself and He will lead you every step of the way.

All praise and glory be to God!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the Road to France... pt. 2

So there we were, wrestling with thoughts of organizing a house church, struggling with our own frailties and shortcomings, convinced that we may not be hearing God correctly. Certainly, we are survivors of messy ministries. Truthfully, ministry is very messy because it involves messy people who come with their own baggage, vices, and weaknesses. We are a broken, selfish creation in need of redemption.

In light of this uncomfortable revelation, I reverted back to the only response I knew. I tried to reinvent and recreate myself in order to lone ranger this ministry into existence. Why not open a bed and breakfast? I could go to culinary school, become a chef, run a successful inn that would fund a lay counseling ministry for missionaries who need to get away from it all!

I watched Food Network (food PORN!) every chance I got. I studied up on various cooking techniques. I attended cooking classes which were actually cleverly re-branded, live infomercials. (Thank you very little, Williams Sonoma!) I subscribed to various YouTube channels that taught multiple cooking techniques, but what intrigued me most were pastries. Yes, I thought, I will become a pastry chef. I will learn my trade well, apprentice in a bakery downtown, honing my craft to perfection, and carry this ministry on the back of sugar sculptures and chocolate truffles.

Then, I screwed up a pan of biscuits and discovered that I hate baking. Why hello, Square One! Oh, you knew I would be back? How... awkward.

To say the very least, I felt a bit jaded and definitely dejected.

Before long, France had become a backburner dream. I would only think about it every so often. I continued to pray about it and for various missionaries who were steadily heading into the mission field. Several friends and familiar faces that I saw in person at church on Sundays began popping up on bulletin boards instead. Their time had come to answer God's calling. I must admit, I felt a bit melancholy because I had been given a glimpse of a wonderful calling and the only answer I was hearing from my prayers was, "Not yet..."

Fast forward to August 2011. We joined a missional community with some friends from a previous group that had split. The very first night, our discussion topic was "What Has God Called You To?" So I threw down my elevator pitch for the respite care ministry in France.

One of the men in the group, Leo, got up to make a phone call while another, Roberto (a chef, no less), playfully asked how I felt about taking a house chef with us. Polite smile from me as a signal to move on to someone else. However, Leo wasn't ready to let me off the hook.

"Seriously, how would you feel about taking a whole team of people with you?"

The silence in the room roared in my ears. I honestly hadn't considered actually asking anyone to GO with us. Sure, some folks had told Heather and me that they wanted to be involved in the ministry SOMEHOW, but no one had actually been so bold as to challenge us to form a team BEFORE we went to France. I stammered out some pathetic "I don't know. I never thought about it," milquetoast response, but make no mistake. This dormant stone started to slowly roll and shed its moss of complacency.

I don't remember what anyone else said in group. I was reeling from the fact that God had just spoken to me through Leo. We are supposed to take a team with us. We don't have to do this alone! We don't have to have all the answers!

After group, Leo told me he had called his dad who is part of a sending organization (sending missionaries, that is) and suggested that when we're ready, we should talk to his dad. Puzzle pieces were beginning to fall into place.

A couple weeks later, I went to visit Roberto at his job. He took some time out to sit and talk with me. I couldn't help myself. I started relaying to him all the foolish plans I had considered about this ministry, how it would've been cool to make it self-sustaining by funding it from a bed and breakfast. I never saw the sucker punch that came next.

"Why can't you?"
"Why can't I what?"
"Why can't you fund it with a bed and breakfast?"

That began an interesting discussion of creating a self-sustaining restaurant with various farm animals and fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs that we could grow ourselves. It was fun to dream and easy to talk about. After all, it was all only hypothetical until the text message I received from Roberto 2 weeks later:

"So do you think France is ready for me? We want to talk more with y'all about your plans."

(to be continued...)

Monday, November 14, 2011

On the Road to France...

So I feel compelled to share what God has been doing in our lives over the past couple of years and, to a greater degree, over the past couple of months and weeks.

The summer of 1998, Heather attended World Mandate in Waco while I was on a short term mission trip in Mexico. I'll leave the details of her experience for her to fill in, but I remember getting a call and the words, "What do you think about moving to France?"

My response was, "I DON'T think about moving to France, but thank you for asking." I was born and raised in Texas. I love everything about Texas. With the exception of living in San Diego as an infant and in Mississippi for a couple of months as an adult (future book title: Places NOT to Move to as a Newlywed Couple), I have lived in Texas all my life. I am convinced that Austin is the closest that one can get to Heaven without bumping into the pearly gates and if you cut me open, I will bleed Texas barbecue sauce. Though to be honest, I haven't tasted my own blood nor dipped brisket into it. So let's chalk that one up to hyperbole, shall we? Bottomline: I had no intention of going to France, except for maybe a quick European jaunt. However, it has become apparent that God tends to birth big plans for us in my wife first and is content to let me wrestle with them and, finally, submit.

Heather continued to talk about France (as though it didn't matter how I felt about it... HMPH!)and how she felt burdened for missionaries overseas. She found out that statistically, missionaries stay in the mission field for an average of 2 years, with their marriages ending in divorce and completely burned out, spiritually. They feel disconnected from the church due to not having a support community around them and churches not willing to step out of the comfort zone of signing a support check. I, too, began to share this burden. God had allowed me a season in vocational ministry and I know how it feels to have strong support, and I know what it means to have no support. So I began to warm up to the idea of beginning a respite care ministry for overseas missionaries that is located relatively close to Charles de Gaulle international airport.

From the beginning of these "stirrings," I felt the compulsion for this to be a sustainable ministry and I really struggled (and still do) with trying to assess my marketable skills and abilities. I couldn't think of how a former youth minister/music education dropout who loves to eat and hates to exercise could be marketable, much less how I could use that to earn a living, support a family, and support a ministry. I despaired and lamented over the roads not traveled. Why didn't I study harder? Why didn't I focus on this? Why couldn't God have gifted me in that? (Not many people know that the US Navy wanted me as a nuclear engineer because I happened to guess better than 97% of other applicants on the ASVAB!)

I was not trusting in God's provision, but was trying to find out how I could make His plan happen in my own timing and my own ability. I decided that we would bide our time until the boys graduated high school and were off to college. 10 years is plenty of time to get things figured out, earn some more money, pay off some bills, win the lottery, and reinvest more lucratively... RIGHT?

I took another short term mission trip to the Dominican Republic to share in the work of Makarios. With my new burden for missionaries, I worked with the TeenRock and Makarios leaders to compile a list of comforts from hom that the Makarios team couldn't get in the DR.

The day of the trip, we packed extra bags full of Goldfish crackers, A1 steak sauce, Lost Season 5, Ranch Style beans, and a number of other mundane items that we take for granted. That night, we brought out the goodies and it was like Christmas in June. Accompanying these items were various letters from loved ones in the States. It was such a beautiful and fulfilling moment that I begged God to let me live in that moment for the rest of my life! Even now, the faded memories are bringing tears to my eyes as I remember the joy, the excitement, and the sheer exhilaration from knowing that God had used me to love on these (mostly) strangers in such an intimate and meaningful way.

While I was in the DR, I was in awe at how close the Makarios team was and how they seemed to carry each others burdens so well. God showed me that this is how you avoid burnout in the field and then convicted me that we would need a support team in France. Otherwise we would only be in France for about 2 years prior to burnout, ourselves. When I told Heather that we are most likely being called to starting a house church, we both cringed a little.

(to be continued...)