“Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
I believe God enjoys surprising us in the most unexpected ways. Moms & Dads, you know the excitement you experience when you’ve been working on something special for your child(ren)? And then the moment finally comes when you’re ready to unveil your surprise, Oh! It’s the best! I think God LOVES doing the same for us, His children! You never know what experiences God will use to stir your heart and ultimately change your life.
A quick timeline of events: 2003 – married, 2007 – our first child, Audrey was born, 2008 – we began running Ben’s family’s garbage business (BSW, Inc.) that his Father had started in 1984, 2009 – our second child, Gabe was born, 2012 – we build and move into our forever home. That brings us to 2013 where I pick up below.
Five years ago I had no clue what surprises God had in store for us when I gave a reluctant “yes” to hosting children in our home for a weekend from The Children of the World International Children’s Choir – WorldHelp My Mom had signed us up for this opportunity through her Church, the thing was my Mom never did this type of thing, clue number one I should have known God was up to something. That weekend God began changing our hearts and opening our eyes to His work throughout the world. We hosted two girls, Sure from Uganda and Thezarey from the Philippines. We loved them both but quickly had a special bond with Sure, what I loved most was her huge, joyful, funny, engaging personality. As the weekend came to a close my reluctant “yes” to hosting these girls had turned into the ugly cry and it looked like our Church, Childrey Baptist Church and Brookneal Baptist Church would begin a partnership to develop a relationship through short-term missions trips with a village in Guatemala.
Fast forward two and a half years and Ben is going on the first trip to Guatemala to Hope of Life International I was scared for us both to go and leave our kids and he didn’t want me to go for the first time before he’d been without him, so we had decided he would go.
God moved in a way that’s hard to put into words in both of our hearts that week. He was revealing Himself to us in ways we’d ever experienced before and although we didn’t know where it would lead we knew God was starting something new in our lives. Shortly after Ben was home we began plans to return to Guatemala together. We knew God had moved in us through that experience and we wanted to prayerfully share it together to discern what He was asking of us.
We returned to Guatemala in February 2016, just Ben and I along with our Pastor, Jerry Stanfield. We wanted to seek God and experience this place where we’d so clearly felt the Lord move, together. God allowed us some incredible opportunities that week that will forever be stamped on our hearts. When we returned we knew with certainty that God was calling us to full-time service,that we felt would be focused around foreign missions in some capacity, but we weren’t sure what or where even though we deeply loved Guatemala and the relationships we’d developed there.
We began seeking some possible options of continuing the family business (BSW) while shifting our focus to ministry options. This proved difficult as our business required daily involvement for both of us, especially Ben. We cared deeply for the people we’d worked with for almost 10 years and wanted to develop an exit strategy that would honor God and be good for our employees.
Through a series of events some would call random but were certainly divine appointments, Ben reconnected with his best childhood friend, Matt. Matt a devout Christ Follower, felt led to come work with us with the intention of freeing us from day-to-day responsibilities to pursue exactly what God was calling us to. Matt began taking over Ben’s position (General Manager – translated in small business terminology as the guy who does everything when needed) in February 2017. While Matt was uniquely equipped to fulfill the job requirements we ultimately learned that God has placed him back in Ben’s life and had crossed their paths again for other reasons in addition to his work capabilities. In August 2017 we began aggressively pursuing options to sell BSW. Without Matt fulfilling Ben’s daily responsibilities Ben would have been unable to focus on the sale and it quickly became evident it was one of Matt’s divinely purposed reasons for joining us at BSW. On October 1, 2017 we sold our second generation, family owned and operated business of 34 years. While we knew its was God’s timing and the right decision for our family, selling your business and your “job” without knowing what you’re going to do next is extremely intimidating especially when a large part of our identity for the nearly previous 10 years had been connected to our work. We were and continue to be abundantly grateful for the opportunity to lead a business and a group of people, we didn’t do it perfectly and made a lot of mistakes but we learned along the way and it was a blessing to us in ways that are too numerous to count and the skills we learned and grew into we know will be used in our future. I’ve always heard God will use all of it, all of what He put into you, He’ll use for his Glory!
We enjoyed Thanksgiving & Christmas of 2017 in a way we hadn’t in years, the trash business is really busy around Holidays so it was a special time for our family. While we were enjoying this new-found “freedom” and quality time seeking Jesus independently and together we were certainly eager for a Word from the Lord for direction for our future. It seemed like for the longest time He was saying just “be still with me,” it was challenging to be still when everything around you says “be busy, all the time” but now it’s easily seen how He used that time to grow our roots deeper in our relationship with Him and taught us so much about abiding, abiding in Him.
Beginning in the New Year we began taking on more local ministry opportunities and for about 2 months hosted a Friday night gathering we lovingly called “House Church” in our home. It was a great time of worship and sharing in the Lord. As God would have it, through the House Church gatherings, Matt connected with another local church who was in need of a Pastor and is currently leading that growing congregation. Remember me saying God had multiple reasons for crossing Matt & Ben’s paths again? Yea, this is one of them! A clear example of God’s goodness and that His ways…always higher and bigger than ours! I’m just grateful to be a spectator when He does stuff like this!
We were enjoying our local ministry involvement but it was clear God was still tugging on our hearts about foreign work, however we had no clue what or where it was. We’d pursued several possibilities that hadn’t lead anywhere and we were just feeling somewhat frustrated. We knew God had placed this desire within us for a reason but it seemed every door we attempted to open would just close. In early March, one early Saturday morning, our Pastor, Jerry, called Ben and said “I have a book you have to read, it’s about your life story, I’m bringing it over now.” Now here’s the thing, Pastor Jerry is a really fast reader and so when he finishes books he passes them on to anyone he thinks can benefit from them, but here’s the other thing, Ben and I are not fast readers, at all, and it often times takes us months to complete one book! This time it was different, Ben began the book early that morning and was finished by early afternoon! Crazy! The book was Fulfilled by Joey Lankford and it was spot on in so many ways with Ben’s life experience working in his family business and ultimately stepping away to seek and fulfill God’s purpose for his/our lives. “Fulfilled” reignited our desire to continue praying and pursuing foreign ministry options as God led.
We’d always had a desire that whatever we did in ministry, would be all of us together as a family. Many foreign ministry opportunities we’d explored were more focused around the husband doing ministry work outside of the home and the wife more of a supportive partner. While I strongly desire and love to follow the lead of my husband I’ve also known that God was going to use us both and our children and that gave me comfort that He would provide the right opportunity for us, we just hadn’t found it yet. On March 14, 2018 I ran across a Facebook post for The Amazima School job opportunities. I was very familiar with the organization, Amazima Ministries as two years previous Pastor Jerry had given me Kisses from Katie , remember me saying he loved sharing books? I had immediately fallen in love with the ministry through what I’d learned in the book, I loved their vision, mission and purpose. One of the job opportunities they had a posting for was “Family Mentors” which was described as discipling secondary aged Ugandan students and modeling Biblical marriage. Ben wasn’t even home that afternoon but I said a short prayer and decided to submit the initial interest form knowing God would either open or close this door. I told Ben when he got home later that day that I submitted an interest form for a job as Family Mentors in Uganda, I’d keep him posted if I got a response from it. A gift God has always seemed to have given in our marriage is that He can lead one of us and then quickly confirm for the other if it’s something He wants for us, so we felt confident this would be the same way. Two days later we received an email from their Dean of Student Life, Kelly Miller, that he’d like to schedule a phone call with us to discuss specifics of the job. The following Monday we had a two-hour phone call with Kelly learning the overall vision and focus of the ministry and The Amazima School and specifically the role of Family Mentors. A funny little nod from God at the beginning of the conversation was Kelly saying “sorry I was a few minutes late for the call I was working on the trash vehicle.” Yep, God gives even the smallest of gifts like this, we just smiled and giggled at each other. We immediately fell in love with the purpose of The Amazima School, summed up in their desire to change a culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through intentional, meaningful relationships with their students and their families. In that first conversation Kelly described so many things about the ministry that spoke right to our hearts and the desires God had given us.
God quickly gave us confirmation after confirmation through divine appointments to make clear to us He was desiring our pursuit of this opportunity. The testimonies to how He revealed Himself to us through this period were and continue to be amazing to us and give us confidence in our discernment of following His lead. We continued on through the process of applications, phone calls and FaceTime interviews and in prayer together and with Audrey and Gabe. From the beginning we wanted this to be something we were doing together and that meant all of us. Their excitement for the possibility of serving at Amazima was another way God confirmed this opportunity for us. Let me say, I was blown away by our kids ability to not talk about it publicly until we were committed, they wanted to share and tell their friends so badly but were so patient in the waiting and I am thankful for Jesus developing this fruit of the Spirit in them through this process. On May 10th, nearly two months after our initial inquiry Kelly offered us the opportunity to accept the Family Mentor position, we were immediately excited and honestly I wanted to answer with an adamant “Yes!” on that call but we also wanted to share the news with the kids and pray over our acceptance for a few days. On Saturday, the 12th Ben sent an email that we wanted to accept. Several days passed and we didn’t receive a response to our acceptance, I knew the students at Amazima were on break and assumed the staff were taking a break as well. Eight days passed and we still hadn’t received a response to our acceptance, ok, at this point the devil begins playing on your emotions and your mind. Ben and I were both wondering but not talking about it, each attempting to remain strong for the other but on the inside I was honestly thinking, “did they change their mind?, did better candidates come along?” Nothing about our communications with Kelly had indicated this but isn’t it times like these that the devil tries to trap us in our thoughts and emotions as he whispers you aren’t good enough. Even though we knew in our hearts God had brought this opportunity before us, it was His idea, not ours, and we’d prayed fervently that He would throw the door wide open or slam it shut in accordance to His will for us. That following Sunday, over a week since we sent our acceptance, I told Ben to just shoot Kelly an email and ask if he’d missed our previous one. Ben felt as though he just couldn’t find his words to send it and felt frustrated, I said we’d just pray about it and Ben was thinking yeah, I just did that but ok. I prayed and as I was praying Ben began just laying down his need, doubt and frustration in his own prayer. In a moment of honesty he discribes his internal prayer saying “Lord if you want us there then why can’t they just email us out of the blue, why all the frustration when we’ve taken the leap”. As it had been from the beginning, this was His. We had been on our porch, I went back in inside and left Ben on the porch, assuming he would send the email. Five minutes later I hear my phone ding, look down and it’s an email from Kelly, I look at the preview and assume it’s in response to the email Ben had just sent. Before even opening the email I jumpped up to run back out on the porch, I meet Ben half way through our kitchen as he’s coming inside and said “Did you see the email from Kelly?” He said “what email?” (apparently he’d fallen asleep during the 5 minutes I was inside, God continues to amaze me that men can do this, how can they fall into a deep sleep in 5 minutes? Mind blown, a term often affectionately used in our home!) I said “Kelly, emailed us back, I assumed in response to your email?” Ben said “Tally, I never sent the email.” You’re telling me he just emailed us right now, at the very moment he was struggling, and never even hit send? The email from Kelly told us that he’d been out of Uganda for 8 days and had logged onto his email that night and found our acceptance buried from the previous week and that they were humbled and excited for us to join their team. Y’all, God does this for His children. He knew what we needed in that very moment and he provided, it isn’t a coincidence that a man half way around the world was checking his email and responding to us at exactly the right moment. Here’s the other kicker, there’s a 6 hour time difference and it was late afternoon here making it late at night there. If we’d had any doubts about this being God’s plan for us, in that moment they were removed. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges and hard days but we’ll know that regardless we’re where He called us to be.
Our family will be moving to Uganda to join the team at The Amazima School in January 2019, an initial two-year commitment with the option to stay longer if both us and Amazima so desire. We covet your prayers as we prepare to leave and as we settle into our new life in a new place with 18 Ugandan students, that we’re already praying for. We don’t know them yet but God does and we’re excited to love and lead these kids closer to Jesus to the best of our ability. Audrey and Gabe are very excited but we ask you pray for them as they will be transitioning to a new school, new friends and a new home. We know God will provide all we need in this place, even on the hard days He will be there and He will provide.
As a western staff member at The Amazima School we are required to raise our own monthly support to cover our expenses. We look forward to opportunities in the next few months to share broadly with our church and on a one-on-one basis individually as to how we have seen God at work in our lives and how our family and friends might be able to support us financially or otherwise.
So, I’ve never written a blog before so I apologize for my novice skills, hopefully I will get better at it as I do it more often! Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy first post, we will update as often as possible as new things develop and to share how God is continuing to work! We truly appreciate your love and prayers as we begin this journey.