You Then, My Child

Could there be a more beautiful phrase? Maybe. A phrase like “I love you” is pretty hard to top. Or, knowing the Lord of Glory has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” brings more stability to life than even I can mess up! When the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy he openly expressed his love for the young servant of God who had served so faithfully with him. Paul took responsibility not only to steward his own life and gifting, but to shepherd the lives of faithful leaders God brought into his path. To Timothy Paul wrote, “You then, my child…”

I just returned from Gulu, Uganda. This trip concluded the nine course, non-formal training curriculum of Training Leaders International (TLI). I had the great joy of making this trip with Stu Dix, Lead Pastor of The Village Church in Baldwin, WI and Larry Szyman, Pastor for Missional Life of Faith Community Church in Hudson, WI. These two are men I love. Great friends who have made a huge investment of time and passion in this work, and in my own life. Each of us have had the privilege of a half-dozen trips to Uganda over the past few years. I started this specific mission as fairly old part of the St Croix Valley LEAD Team, I finished is as a fairly new part of the TLI staff. Some things change some things don’t.

The SCVLT began this commitment to train leaders in Northern Uganda because Faith Community Church of New Richmond, the church I had the privilege of planting and pastoring for two decades, had sent Carl Gaede and his family to serve victims of trauma. Carl started a ministry called Tutapona which the Lord has used to bring healing and spiritual life to many. The SCVLT recognized the need and opportunity for churches to be planted after Internally Displaced People (IDP) Camps shut down. The SCVLT sent me to Northern Uganda about four years ago to investigate the possibility of identifying a point leader we might begin to build a church planting movement around. On that trip I became convinced before we could hope to identify capable leaders we needed to train potential leaders. The churches represented by the SCVLT joined hands and gave generously and committed to support three years of training. We entered into relationship with TLI to use the curriculum, and to have a TLI trainer join us on each trip. This was the first time TLI had a group of pastors commit to train the full curriculum in one location. The outcome has been incredible.

There are often bittersweet to realities to face when an meaningful investment comes to a conclusion. Relationships that have grown over these years will inevitably be changed. But, the Kingdom of Jesus brings His sure promise this inevitable separation will be overcome forever. In addition, with every day the Lord gives, each of us have been prepared to serve more meaningfully because our lives have shared the grace of Jesus. We have life in Him we have never deserved, yet He lavishes us in His grace.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…

It’s easy for me to remember seemingly endless flights, rough roads, food I would prefer to forget, body adjustments to heat, and time, and cold, and whatever that nasty bug was. But, when I remember Fred’s last sermon (compared to his first), I delight not simply that he can handle the Word of God more effectively, or preach truth more clearly, but that his heart knows the grace that is in Christ Jesus. So will his people. I remember (tiny) Tony’s huge heart and even more massive vision. God has used Tony to lead his church family to plant three new churches in the last year-and-a-half. I had the joy of being in worship at one of those new churches the week previous. I heard one of our trainees (a man Tony’s church delighted to “send out”) preach a solid, grace-filled message from Romans 10. I mean, it was really a message from God, empowered by the Spirit, communicating the truth God revealed in Romans 10! Tony was present in that worship gathering. At the conclusion of the service a woman stood to share a word of “testimony”. She spoke of the work God has done in Tony. She said, “God has used this little man (yep, that’s the way it was translated for me) to bring the message of the gospel to our village. This church is a gift from God through us, and must be shared with our neighbors.” My heart swelled as Martin (the lead planter of this church) said to his people, “We are as much a church today as we will ever be. The church is not a building, a place, even an organization. The church is the people of God gathered for His glory.” I remember imposing Ruth standing to speak of conflict some in the training had experienced, and how faithful brothers (specifically those who served faithfully as our translators for the entire duration of this training program) led them to biblical reconciliation. I remember Rose’s aggressive hugs (even for a hugger like me) and even more, her radiant joy. The infectious smile of Beatrice, who became a widow during this season. I was moved when Beatrice stood to teach with the tender authority that I have only ever seen emerge from the presence of the Wounded Healer. Maybe my fondest memories will be what God did around Evelyn. Evelyn can’t read, but, I think, has the call of God on her life to lead. Each person in the class was assigned a text of scripture to teach, of course, including Evelyn. I noticed every time we did group work, someone would take care to read for Evelyn. As Evelyn prepared to teach, it was Martin who read through the passage repeatedly for her. When Evelyn taught, she shared the author’s main point and supported it from the text and applied it wisely. The text had filler her heart, because her heart was submitted to the Divine Author. The Word was in her, and came through her. She shared with me that afternoon, she had a deep sense of the presence of God as she taught. Of course it was true. I’m grateful her “sense” aligned with what God had already promised.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:1-2

God used several things to move me from my previous ministry assignment as Lead Pastor of Faith Community Church of New Richmond, WI to join the staff of Training Leaders International as an International Trainer. I love the church family at Faith, and left to myself would never have let go. One major factor was, just what is taught in 2 Tim. 2:1-2. There is a future far greater than my comfort, and a stewardship that must be entrusted to another. The passing on of the Word of Life to emerging faithful men is an experience of the grace that is in Christ Jesus. He is the treasure we seek. Only Him. I thank God for the family of Jesus who will share eternity, yet today we have much to do. Many people have poured into my life for what is now a very-long-time. Some precious friends have walked with me since Jesus called me to life in Him. Some for decades, some for months. Some from America, and by God’s grace I’ve had the privilege to know disciples of Jesus from every continent, save one (I care about Antarctica, but not enough to go there. Unless…)

Of course, the counsel that came to me from godly elders of our church was essential. How has God gifted me to serve? How can those gifts be best leveraged now? We agreed together, this was a season for my investment in Jesus’ Church in many places. I’m now tasting the first-fruits, and they are sweet indeed.

And, finally, it is this season. As I investigated, God started to show me distinct advantages of age. I’ve never been this old before. I kinda hope I have time to get good at it. (It took me at least 20 years to get good at being 30.) The day I heard young Christian leaders from the Middle East ask (by way of a podcast) that the Church in the West send older, experienced men to pour into young leaders, marked me deeply. In this and every season I have had more than my fair share of flaws, but those too have become ornaments of worship.

From the beginning of our time in Uganda, some of those we were teaching would let me know they valued what came with grey hair and grandchildren. I know I don’t know any more than younger men, but they don’t ;o) In terms of eternity, 60 is less than the width of a hair past twenty. God has called me to be faithful in this. Now and always the only way to be faithful is to follow… Him. He has entrusted truth in us that is to be given away to those who will be faithful.

I am beginning preparation to be part of a team for Liberia in March, and then Haiti in June, Lord willing. I am so grateful for the generosity of those who make it possible for me to serve in this way. My current support level is about 60% of our target, so if you or someone you know would be drawn to an ongoing kingdom investment in training future leaders, please give me a call 715.410.6806. I’d love to talk with you!

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:1-2

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