My family was already in a crazy, rocky season when the pandemic hit. We had been temporarily co-pastoring a church with another expat couple, found out that the permanent pastor could no longer move down, and then experienced a major fall out with our co-pastoring friends. It had been six months of trying to find our footing, working towards forgiveness and restoration, and still trying to shepherd our church together when COVID came on the scene.
God started to impress on us that He was asking my husband to step into the role of full-time pastor at our precious church. It didn’t make any sense at first – we were already working full time with five recovery ministries on the island. Was He really asking us to take on more? Were we supposed to let go of something? How would our supporters feel about this? Didn’t we come down with a goal? A call to something specific? The questions kept coming, but God’s answer stayed the same. He asked us to say yes without knowing the other answers.
The church leadership team voted my husband in as senior pastor the week before our country went into lockdown. His first three months in the role were all online. At least half our congregation evacuated back to the US or other home countries. Many in our local church family struggled with reliable internet to watch services. Our co-pastors stepped off leadership and, eventually, away from our church. It felt like everything was falling apart before it had a chance to get started.
As we emerged from lockdown and began to meet again in person, we realized that we were almost starting over. Church had dwindled to a handful of attendees, recovery classes at the prisons were canceled indefinitely, and people were still unsure about how to gather safely. Our weekly services seemed like a new church: one that had been planted by the old church we knew and loved, but would never be the same.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 NLT
God spoke these words to the Israelites after they had been scatted by unbelievable disaster. They were broken. Captives in foreign places, or left behind in a devastated land. I love reading Isaiah 43 as God weaves comfort, encouragement, and a deep love together in words for His people. He is a God who can always do a new thing. One who has plans for taking what appears to be hopeless and recreating it into a place of hope.
He wasn’t about to leave us hopeless either. He showed us that the way we had always done church no longer made sense. We went from a majority American church to being the only Americans for a while. We went from dozens of people to one dozen on a good week. It was time to rethink what we did and offered. We sought God on how to rebuild in the way He wanted us to.
Slowly, the Lord began to bring in new people and new families. At one point, our children’s church group was as large as the adult service downstairs! Students from the Vet and Med schools steadily returned. We launched a series on healing choices at the New Year, combining our passion for recovery with shepherding our church’s hearts. As restrictions lifted and eased, we made new events and traditions, ones that will represent our multi-ethnic congregation, and also our local roots. God has taken something we loved, our sweet church, and recreated it into one that can serve our community well in this new season.
When I began to think about the word recreation, I realized that it’s the theme of my life. I tend to use the word “redemption”, but aren’t they really the same thing? For a season my life was partying, drinking, gossiping, trying to control everything, seeking success in school and at work, seeking acceptance and hiding much of my life from my family and church, all while thinking I could fix the people around me (The audacity! How blind I was!). Those who knew me in high school and my early adult years would never have pegged me as a future overseas worker. But God – He knew. He took my mess of a life and redeemed it, He recreated it into something beautiful. Something to be used for HIS glory.
That’s what God does. He is in the business of recreating. Lives, calls, hearts, minds, purposes, plans: all changed and redeemed by Him. So that’s really our business too. Ultimately, our call is to declare the recreation that the love of our Father can bring. That is one thing that will never change.
Has God recreated what you do in this season? How was He recreated you?