Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Changing Hats

As a child, I remember reading the Dr. Seuss book "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins", where poor Bartholomew discovered that his simple little hat had multiplied into a seemingly inumerable number of hats, which almost resulted in his death.

In many ways, I feel a bit like Bartholomew. In the year 2000, we left pastoral ministry in the U.S. to come to Brazil. I took off my "pastor" hat and put on my "language student" hat while we spent a year learning Portuguese in language school in SE Brazil. That hat did not fit well at first, as I had to adjust from being a competent communicator accustomed to speaking to and leading large groups of people to being an inarticlate foreigner who struggled to do the most basic of tasks. But, after a time I adjusted to the new fit.

I then took off that hat, and put on my "leadership development and evangelist" hat for three years of ministry in the state of Maranhao in NE Brazil. After the initial adjustment, my head grew to fit that hat, and I grew to love it. It was very fulfilling to pour my life into the lives of humble church planters and to help them through a ministry of mass evangelism. Despite the difficulties of rural ministry in third-world conditions, I saw many many people saved and saw lots of new churches started through the sacrifices of my students. I got to spend lots of time with U.S. volunteers who brought me peanut butter, saw God work in their lives in new and exciting ways, and encouraged us in our work. And then suddenly, my hat was taken away.

My beloved pregnant wife started having severe medical problems and we discovered that our soon to be born son had brain problems. The next thing I knew, I was back in the U.S. with the "poor missionary with a sick baby" hat on. For a host of reasons, it felt like my world was ending. But God was faithful (that'll be another post), and after a year of furlough and medical leave, we were ready to put on our familiar hat again. But it was not to be. We were told we could not return to the poor medical care of NE Brazil - it was time to look for a new hat.

God gave us the "church planter" hat. We moved to a large, urban city which has a reputation as a place that is both resistant to the gospel and one where missionaries serve for a short time before leaving the field in discouragement. To be quite honest, the work has been slow. The change of hats from successful evangelist and trainer of many to a nobody struggling to get a tiny group of people excited about starting churches (with little visible result so far) has been a shock to my pride.

Changing hats has been hard to do. Sometimes like Bartholomew Cubbins, it feels like it's going to result in my death. But I know that God is faithful. He is telling me to be faithful as well, to do what I know to do, and to wait on Him to bring the results - both in my life and in the lives of those to whom He has sent me.


Dad said...

Parker seems to be following in your footsteps, wearing many hats. You folks are doing a great job of encouraging communications!

wmj said...

Hey, Jeff. You are my hero, and I really mean it. I admire your taking on a challenge the size of POA, and it is a challenge. I really believe that you are involved in a key ministry. POA is what Brazil’s secular future will look like tomorrow and in the next generation. I doubt if there is reason to believe that we can expect to enjoy an indefinite openness to the Gospel in Brazil. Secularization has proven to be an inevitable companion of education and economic advancement in Europe and North America. There is no reason to think that it will not occur in Brazil as well. It is just a matter of time. Therefore, evangelize and plant churches in POA today in order to plant churches in Brazil tomorrow. Keep up the good work. Finally, one last bit of urban missions church planting advice for the “Mud Man”: “Church planting begins where the asphalt ends.” Go to the end of the end of the asphalt and a little beyond. Based on a past experience, that is where the harvest begins, and you should find some mud as well for old times sake.  God bless. WMJ

Dave Christensen said...

Hey Jeff,

I love the blog idea for you guys. I wish some of our missionaries would do the same. I was really able to relate to this post about the hats. About a year ago I started to transition out of youth ministry and into a Cell Group/Evangelism/CE ministry. Everything has gone well and God has blessed each area, but I never felt "right" in such an administrative position. In fact, I almost felt like I had been "shelved." I considered leaving and looking for another youth job, but God seemed to be clear that he wanted me where I was. Turns out that I will probably be transitioning again very soon. As a result of our church growth team, it looks like I am going to lead what I call a "church plant within the church." This will basically start as a ministry that targets 18-30 year olds with a Sunday evening service with the intention of becoming another church. I have really learned that God has plans for me in ministry that I never could have imagined.

As for my family, the quick update is that Meredith and I have two little girls now. Rachel turns four this month and Chloe is one. We are also expecting our third in November. Life is very good.

Praying for you guys,

Anonymous said...

Your blog is great!I love you!Blake

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jeff!!! this blog is great!!!