A recap looking forward:
I'm in a rather contemplative mood tonight as I soberly write our family's final newsletter from Costa Rica. While sitting on our balcony listening to both the gecko above my head and also the car alarms down the street, I sincerely have several emotions - some familiar but some new. Instead of filling this newsletter with ministry pics, I would like to take some time to write some thoughts about these emotions, and why I feel like they're being drawn out. I think, since you've been part of this journey too in you're own way, that you might find this interesting at least, and at most glorifying to God.
I think we all reach a point in life where we're at least tempted - or challenged - to take a step of faith. Whether we go through with it or not is another question, but I think that there's a time that each of us encounter that makes us itch. It gives us a sense of discomfort for the norm. It pushes our senses and urges us to, by faith, take a step further than what we consider normal. Whether this is in our family life, our profession, or our spiritual walk, we're goaded. And when we encounter this, we face off with a very real decision to kick against, ignore, or make a move forward. I have yet to meet a Christian man or woman who hasn't felt this in some form or fashion.
That's where our story began...the story of the "Savell Crossover."
One night in what my friend jokingly termed "the cloffice" (my closet that doubled as my office), Elaine and I began enjoying the joyful process of being challenged by God to begin understanding this thing called faith. It's difficult to even describe what this word looks like, much less live a life characterized by it.
Our life as of almost two years ago was good, and some would say great. Heck, I'll say great. It was one serving the local church alongside of a great staff and a great congregation. Relationships with extended family were solid. Speaking of family, the Lord saw fit to give us a couple of healthy, fun kids. Good salary, good friends, good family, good church.
What else would a man want? And then it hit...hard. What if there was something more? Not more to be achieved, but more to enjoy - a deeper satisfaction and experience as we lived our life in Christ. The questions flooded in. What would this entail?
The Biblical reality of faith came to mind, but what would that even look like in our lives? And then we began to realize that faith is never conjured up by our skill sets or even our dedication. It's putting aside what we normally hold on to and throwing ourselves in the middle of the action, no matter how crazy it would sound.
As I evaluated myself and even Elaine, I realized that I placed my dependence in creating a solid sermon and maintaining even more solid relationships. Elaine held onto friends and family. Emma was loved by all and knew it. And Jack, well, he was a little young to be thinking through much.
We were at a real fork in the road. And we had to walk one way or the other.
The Savell Crossover has everything to do with a journey down a path that has stripped us of everything that we depended upon. When asking Emma the other night what God had taught her during this time in Costa Rica, she instantly replied that she had learned that not everyone likes her. Although Elaine has certainly formed great connections with other missionaries, she was taken away from the friends and family that she knew and loved. As missionaries, we're always an arm distance from deep relationships in our country that we serve knowing that it could end any day. And real relationships with locals are more difficult than one might imagine. For me, I'm not sure that I could even construct a sermon right now. And my life of maintaining relationships in order to get things done are pretty difficult to create when I can't even speak the language.
Language, relationships, familiarity, normalcy, and the such left when we landed in Costa Rica on August 1st, 2011. Everything that we depended on instantly vanished. We were left with this concept of faith.
I say concept because I think that's what it was to me at the time. It was something to preach about and to counsel others in. It was a word in a book.
And so with suitcases and tears in a foreign country - literally hand in hand - we began trying to figure this thing out. For us, I think that we could have been in any country in the world and the experience would have been the same (and that's not the same for everyone). We felt stripped of those things we depended on. And those dependencies weren't luxury items. They weren't nice ovens or super fast Internet or even keeping our financial support levels up. They were the intangibles of what I mentioned earlier.
I found through talking with other missionaries that each person and family has similar but very unique difficulties. I've also found that it's not how we deal with the difficulties, but how the Lord deals with us as we go through the process.
We were immediately faced with the reality that all we could actually do is sit, pray, and be schooled. And I'm not talking about language school. I'm referring to being schooled in the subject of faith. We quickly learned in a very real way - not only a Piperesque theory - that the first lesson of faith is that it's all about the glorification of God. It is certainly not about the so-called sacrifice of the missionary. That quickly becomes a false idol that drives one to another hamster wheel of life. The glorification of God through inexplicable attempts for Kingdom expansion is at the core of the lesson of faith. That's at least what we were learning.
But how would this flesh itself out in our life? What would an inexplicable attempt even look like - without any of those other things that gave us confidence?
The rest is history, yet the beginning.
We have found that the Lord teaches faith by showing Himself faithful in times that seem out of control. This is what we've seen over and over again.
The securities and confidence that we once knew so well showed up in different ways that left us scratching our heads. Although we were torn and confused and feeling stripped down, an overwhelming sense of joy and peace held our emotions tight. The Lord was teaching us to trust Him and to simply notice, maybe for the first time for us, His faithfulness in the chaotic moments.
And how do I begin to describe those? They are too many to name. No extended family. No real friends. No ministry context. Simply a foreign country and a language school where we felt like children again. Oh, and rain. Chaotic and out of control would describe most missionary's lives, at least in the beginning. What a terribly glorious position to find oneself in. Because this is where we learned the truth of how futile fear truly is in the midst of God's faithfulness. Fear and faithfulness - although they can exist at the same time - certainly don't walk hand in hand.
And we have learned this through this little adventure. We have seen God's faithfulness to provide all that we will need now and for the future.
-We were picked up at the airport by the same man who is now the Country Director for Costa Rica for The Grace Institute
-We were taken under the wing of a family who has filled the role of parents, and have been there for us at any moment.
-Friendships were built with families in language school that won't soon go away. I would dare say that they are life-long.
-We were given another child.
-My wife has become stronger than she ever imagined.
-My children have gained an understanding of family and having each other's backs.
-Ministry is unfathomable and inexplicable. Hundreds of pastors and church leaders are being introduced to the beauties of Scripture, and teaching their congregations.
-We believe just a little more in the realities of grace than when we left.
-We have been changed. We are different than we were.
And these differences cannot be ignored.
And how can they be? From the time we landed until now when we are packing our bags to leave, God has given us experiences and opportunities that can't be forgotten.
And that is where we experienced the Savell Crossover. We went from one place to another in the area of faith.
Faith, when it comes to children means that life doesn't have to be all figured out for each child right now. We have learned to daily go to God for direction when one child finds out that not everyone likes her, or when one child isn't in love with Christ like you would hope, or when the other isn't physically growing. We have learned that though we can't control these things that they are under control - truly under control.
Faith, in the personal lives of Elaine and me simply means that big and strange and unordinary things can be attempted. Life can change. Love can grow. Happiness in the midst of the unordinary can actually increase. An extrovert can learn to find peace in the quiet, simple things. And an introvert can get charged by a great adventure.
Faith, in the context of ministry, has led to The Grace Institute. A dream and a prayer to be used in God's Kingdom has exploded into something uncontainable and uncontrollable. It's exciting, frightening, fulfilling, and causes me to submit. I have learned a little bit more about not having to have a statement of explanation about everything going on. It's too much.
But it's in these things that testify, not about our faith, but God's faithfulness. He has thrown us into positions of chaos so that He can take credit for His Kingdom work. So whether it's my children, Elaine, friends, work, or whatever part of life, He gets it. He receives the glory. The glorification of God - where we have learned to experience a joy and contentment that can't easily be explained.
So as we end this Savell Crossover and begin The Grace Institute, we give thanks.
We thank God for these opportunities, because that's what they are - opportunities.
We thank you for continuing this journey with us. Part of that faithfulness that I've been speaking of is seeing how God has brought brothers and sisters in the journey with us.
So I sign off from Costa Rica. Looking forward to life back in the States, I'm torn by emotion because it was here that we have been changed more than anywhere else.
We look forward to a continued relationship as The Grace Institute continues its work and our family settles back into life.
See you soon.