God Ruined Me in England, and Sent Me to Kansas City

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This is the first article in our series, “Here I am. Send me!” We learn in Isaiah 6 that only after the prophet is totally convicted of his own sin and failures, met by God’s perfect love and might, can he go forth as a true servant. This is nothing new to us in ministry. We see daily how the Lord has used our past trials, our insufferable weakness, to allow His strength to shine forth in our work. In this series, we’ve asked a few courageous souls to tell us how their particular hardships have prepared them perfectly as servants of the Lord. 

In hindsight, I loved it for all the wrong reasons. 

I had a really nice budget. We had a great student ministry staff. We had lots of creative ideas. Tons of kids were showing up. The Holy Spirit was moving. We even had a full-service coffee bar with a legit espresso machine in our student center! What was not to love?

The executive pastor, the man who hired me to work at this large New Mexico church, ended up leaving because of a “difference in vision with the leadership.” It made me nervous. I liked my job. And then I read this quote by Soren Kierkegaard:

“The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

After reading this quote, I foolishly began to pray that my life would be ‘ruined.’ At the same time, I also started reading the book of Isaiah, and was immediately struck by the words in chapter six and Isaiah’s almost foolish willingness, “Here I am. Send me!

I had a great job, full of the comforts that many people in youth ministry crave: a big budget, staff people, and tons of resources. And I realized in many ways that I was climbing the proverbial ladder. Bigger church. Bigger ministry. I was falling into a trap. I was at risk of hearing and not understanding, of seeing and not perceiving (like Isaiah says to the people of Israel). Was I following God’s will for my life, or my own will?

I realized I was chasing my own dream, my own desire, my own will. And I began to pray, “God, send me where the need is great and where few will go.” (A bit naïve, I realize, since the need is great everywhere and few answer to any call). And even as I began to look for a position to be sent to, I only scanned job postings in places where I would want to go, also places where others would likely want to go. I had much to learn.

Eventually I began emailing with a guy who worked with students and trained youth workers in England. To make a long story short, through my conversation with him (and out of this desire to be ‘sent’) I took a position in a small Anglican church in England. 

I moved from a home with endless sunshine – to one where it never stopped raining. From a big student ministry budget – to literally no budget. From a context I knew and understood – to one completely foreign to me. From a position of comfort and “self-sufficiency” – to one where minute-by-minute trust was required just to get through the day. From a job to which I was hired – to somewhere I believed I was being sent.

I often wonder, was I truly sent? Two years after moving to England, after selling most of what my family owned (so to not have anchors remaining in the US that would make it easy to go ‘home’), and turning our lives upside down in response to being sent, my work visa was not renewed. With three days notice my wife, two daughters and I had to leave the country. We had two options: wait for a re-application to gain a new visa, or look for another job.

We ended up staying in Chicago with family. The four of us crammed into one tiny bedroom while my visa application was denied not once, but twice. We had no income and no health insurance (as healthcare is free in the UK). While trying to find a job, any job, I came down with a terrible case of pneumonia. I needed a job badly. I looked everywhere. I looked at jobs in places I previously would never consider going. 

Finally, while deathly sick and taking three or four different kinds of cold medication just to get through the weekend, I interviewed for the job I’m currently in.

It was in that place of utter dependence on God that I really began to understand Isaiah 6. Perhaps, previously when submitting to the Lord – saying “Here I am. Send me!” – I believed I had something to offer, something God needed. But now, in my desperation and total necessity for provision, I began to understand how Isaiah’s sent-ness was completely linked to his confession. Isaiah knew down to his bones he was lost, that there was nothing he could do for himself, and that only God could make him worthy.

In many ways, my life was ‘ruined’ by my time in England, and in my failed effort to get back. But I see now how this process of ruination was really God’s way of preparing me to actually be sent. I’m now serving at a church that I dearly love in Kansas City (a city that I fiercely love), with opportunities to use gifts that were previously untapped. I’m growing a student ministry from scratch, serving alongside people who ooze the humility (not pride) that was in Isaiah’s earth-shaking words: “Here I am. Send me!” 

Now if I could just get a proper coffee bar…

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles from Rooted’s youth ministry blog. 

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