We flew back from Haiti to the United States with Missionary Flights International carrying significantly less than we brought with us. Not only material possessions but passion, physical and emotional health, and sense of direction. However, it is always good to fly with those guys. They are truly a light of Christ in the darkness as they transport missionaries and mission supplies across the ocean. We were so strung out and in need of rest that the leaving is only now just starting to sink in almost 9 months later.
Even while in Haiti I began planning what we would do when we got back. Being a goal focused, driven man I started planning speaking engagements beginning six weeks after our return. Many of our closest friends seemed to think that this was too soon, but of course I didn't listen to them. I thought that six weeks was a long time and should be plenty of time to heal, get some rest, and move on with life beyond the initial mission work we had done in Haiti. Of course I was wrong.
It was a nice sunny day in April when we returned to our property in South Carolina. We now had water, but no sewer. At least that was a step up from Haiti. We had set up an appointment with a person to set up a septic system in March, but they didn't take it seriously until we actually arrived in April. It took them over two weeks to get things complete. During that time we just used our outhouse. I guess we needed a slow transition back to first world living. Our camper had previously sustained some pretty significant leaking and the damage to the interior structure had rendered it livable but immovable. I found some other leaks and also some electrical problems that gave us fits for the first few weeks back. God is gracious and I was finally able to get everything stabilized enough to create some homeostasis and begin to live a somewhat normal existence again.
I had began building a shed a couple of years before we went to Haiti and never completed it. It seemed that when we had the money I didn't have the time and when I had the time we didn't have the money. I knew we couldn't all stay crammed in our camper for very long and remain sane so I began an all out effort to make the shed livable for the boys. We got a roof, walls, and a loft completed enough so the boys would have a space to sleep. Once we got things to that point it seemed that all life kind of stopped for a while and we just started to melt down emotionally.
It started to become very apparent that we weren't going to be able to make the commitments I had began to schedule for our updates with supporting churches and also a camp that I was supposed to speak for. It was a very humbling experience to begin calling everyone and canceling because we were not ready to travel yet. Amy and I started seeing a counselor after returning. When I explained to him what was going on he confirmed that if we would have tried to complete the trip it would have been a disaster for us. It was at this point that I finally began to realize how serious our condition was and how imperative it was to rest and heal. He analogized our recovery to someone that was recovering from a very successful open heart surgery. We were going to heal, but we needed to take it easy and recovery slowly.
Our whole family was invited to attend a youth camp with Bluff Creek Baptist Church in Alabama. Our only duty was to be chaperons. Someone sponsored all of us to go so we all went. It was a wonderful time of healing, connecting with other believers, and worship. We were also able to provide some mentoring to some young couples looking for guidance through the advancement of their relationships.
Returning back to South Carolina was difficult for me. It is hard for me to be still, even though we are commanded to be still and know God in His presence. It felt like I really started to be still and be in His presence for the first time in years. Even though I pray regularly, seek direction, and worship, it is something different to be still and simply be with Him for the sake of who He is. I began to realize that this time was a gift from Him and I should not disdain it or take it for granted. I should cherish it because I may never get another time like this for the rest of my earthly life.
I had the privilege of meeting a man named Roger Thompson while in Haiti. He is an author and a deep thinker. I started reading his newly published book We Stood Upon Stars. This quote seemed to resonate with me exactly where I was while reading it. “We walked vineyards, where we learned the best vines grow in struggled soil. We studied the vines, scarred with age. The signs left behind by years of pruning are easily visible. We also learned that the best wine grapes grow on vines with the most scars. Struggles and scars create richness and complexity, producing a wine worth sharing. Pruning is an act of love by the vinedresser.”
One thing I began to learn as we were finally able to settle down enough to start feeling safe again. More often than not a person will not be able to feel the pain of a wound until they are safe enough to feel it. Just like a soldier in battle can continue to fight even with a severed limb and not even realize it until the battle is over, Christian soldiers often do not feel the depth of the emotional wounds until they have been removed to safety from the intensity of the battle for a time. I began to realize how badly my capacity to function in normal life had become impaired. I started to wonder if I would ever be able to function at normal capacity again.
I was able to connect with the local Haitian pastor of the church in our local area that helped us to learn Creole before we moved to Haiti. It was pretty cool to be able to share in their language what we had experienced in Haiti. Luke and I shared together with them on a Sunday morning in July. They were deeply touched and gave us a generous offering for sharing. I know that our story touched them on a deeply personal level and probably produced some shame among them for how we were treated among their home country. It was difficult to navigate and I wasn't expecting that type of response.
Our kids share only very little, share sporadically, and we can never tell when it is coming. They often seem more resilient than their parents and in many ways more mature emotionally. It is not very often that they share enough that we can catch a glimpse of the depth that exists beneath the surface of what we see on a normal day. One thing I have come to believe. We should foster a certain amount of non-compliance in our children. Just enough so that they are not afraid to stand up for what's right when it counts. My kids have the freedom to disagree with me and I am often surprised that sometimes they seem to have more insight into what's right than I do. To me this seems to confirm that I am doing my job. I have not pointed them to me as the source of truth, but instead they have trusted me enough as I pointed them to a God who is the embodiment of truth.
It seemed like the strongest conviction to continue ministry work beyond Haiti resided in the desire to share the lessons I had learned on the field with the church in America. I guess this seemed like a natural extension of the mission because of my many years spent in and working for the US military. This is what soldiers do. After a deployment they put together training based on their experience so that other soldiers can learn from them and hopefully carry on the work beyond what was done already. I began writing this seminar in Haiti and finally completed writing it after returning to the US.
I finally set a date for the seminar in late August and delivered it to a very small listening audience in our sending church in Augusta, GA. We recorded it on video and audio and made the sessions available on our website. I wanted to be able to share our experience with anyone that could benefit from it.
During this time I really began praying about further training. After much prayer and research I finally settled on taking classes in Biblical Counseling through Light University Online. This came after it was recommended by three different people that I respected professionally all recommended this same training program. We started taking classes and eventually settled on a track to a Masters Diploma in Biblical counseling with a focus on Crisis and Trauma. We are now more than half way through to that goal and should be complete in May if we continue on our current track. It was amazing how much the classes began to help us personally on a deeply experiential level. Not only were we beginning to heal and understand what we had been through, but we were in a place to be able to empathize to help others that would not have existed had we not experienced the pain we had been through personally. It's almost like God has a plan in all of this.
We were finally able to set up a speaking schedule to update many of our supporting churches. It was a small schedule and we didn't try to connect with too many because we needed a trial run to see if we could handle doing speaking and traveling again. The trip turned out to be really good for all of us. We have learned how to do this better so that it doesn't wear us out and returned in mid December somewhat rested even though we traveled for almost 2 months. We were grateful for the support we received from all those connected with this ministry and desire to see us personally continue to share Christ with a hurting world.
After sharing with the last church on our schedule I became kind of emotional again. In some ways it was relief and in some ways I knew that it was a clear sign that this chapter of our mission work in Haiti was finally over. What next God? As we returned back to South Carolina for a regroup and plan on what to do next I seemed to connect with God and get a small glimpse of an answer. I asked God for confirmation. It was only a few minutes after that I received a text from one of the churches we had spoken to that asked me to make sure they were on our schedule when we traveled again. I told the pastor what I had in mind and he confirmed that they needed to hear what God was putting on my heart and said he would help connect me with others that needed to hear also. I guess we continue one step at a time staying close to our God and going where He goes.
I haven't been too thrilled about most of the Star Wars movies that have been made since the original trilogy. However, I loved Rogue One. There are two quotes that just resonate with me. Jyn Erso just rocks it. The first quote that gives me chill bumps every time I hear it “What chance do we have? The question is what choice. Run, hide, plead for mercy, scatter your forces. You give way to an enemy this evil with this much power and you condemn the galaxy to an eternity of submission. The time to fight is now!” The next quote that she says right before they give their lives to advance the cause of the rebellion “If we can make it to the ground, we'll take the next chance. And the next. On and on until we win...or the chances are spent.”
I don't know all of the details of the future. I am having to learn to take it one step at a time until I see victory or give my life in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. One thing I know is that the final victory is assured. Christ is building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I have the privilege to participate in the battles that lead to an ultimate victory in the war. I am growing and maturing to a place where I will be able to give comfort to my fellow soldiers in the battle until the war is over.
Revelation 19:11-15 11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.