Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Leaving Canada

Photo Credit: sea turtle (Creative Commons)
About two years ago, I wrote a post sharing the news: I am moving to Canada.

One year ago, I wrote about our first year in Canada, the ups and downs, and how much we had learned.

Now, just after our two-year anniversary of moving to Canada, we are preparing to leave.

My final Sunday at North Langley Community Church is December 21, and if all goes according to plan, we will be leaving the nation of Canada the following morning. We will be moving to Vancouver, WA and live with Katie's mom for a season as we figure out what God has for us next. I am viewing the next six months as a sort of sabbatical, a period of rest and recuperation in order to get back into full-time ministry with a renewed spirit.

I recently shared that I am in burnout. The burnout plays a significant role in our motivation for leaving Canada, though it's not the only reason. The only way I can put it is that we felt "released" by God from our calling to this location and ministry. Try as I might, I couldn't shake the thought or feeling; God was telling us we needed to go. I totally understand this sounds like some spiritual trump card, a sort of "God made me do it" excuse. Nevertheless, it is true. Katie and I discerned a similar release when we left our home in Arizona over two years ago, and prayerfully recognized this new calling from God a few months ago, leaving a lingering and clear command in our minds--be ready to leave Canada soon. I suppose the best place to be in life is in obedience to the Spirit, and it doesn't make much sense to linger when He is guiding you in a direction.

Leaving our home in Canada is bittersweet. We have made beloved friends, and I deeply love and care for the teens and families at NLCC. The decision to leave was not easy or fun, and my greatest difficulty in leaving is the inability to adequately comfort the students I love because I'm the one who caused the grief they're experiencing. The teens have been gracious and understanding, but I know it's still hard for them, as it's hard for me. This is one of those paradoxes in ministry: on one hand, Jesus is the one who transforms people and saves them from sin, and He will continue to work in the lives of youth at NLCC without me. In this sense, I am not essential for God to do His redemptive work. On the other hand, I believe Jesus has uniquely created me (and you!) in His image, and I am created for a purpose only I can do, for relationships and conversations and moments where God intends to transform lives through me as a conduit for His grace and love. In this sense, I am absolutely essential for God to work in this time and place. My story has a unique impact here in Canada, and Canada has certainly left its impact in my life.

I will miss British Columbia. I will miss seeing the sun pierce through the fog surrounding the banks of the Fraser River to illuminate the trees and mountains all around. I will miss seeing movies being filmed in my neighborhood and taking the SkyTrain to see films in Vancouver on one of their many theaters. I will miss the locale of Walnut Grove and Fort Langley, the latter being such a quaint and quirky little town (albeit one that has vastly increased in busyness and popularity in the two years of living here). I will not miss border crossings, but I will miss the charming city of Bellingham. More than anything, I will miss particular friendly faces and the beautiful souls behind them.

While I'm pained to leave people I love, I am still looking forward to the next season. I hope this chapter will be filled with rest, discernment, healing, and prayerful dependence on God. I'm eager to pursue graduate studies, as I enjoy and am challenged by theological studies. I was recently accepted to George Fox Evangelical Seminary to pursue an MA in Theological Studies, a similar program to what I wanted to study at Regent in Vancouver. Some have asked me why I'd be going to grad school when I'm in burnout, assuming schooling would be a hindrance or drain on me. But I view education--or particular aspects of theological study and learning--as a life-giving activity; one of my personal values is to be a lifelong learner. (I know. I'm weird. Consider me a nerd.) While we leave friends behind in BC, we also will be reunited with family and friends in the Portland area, living nearer our family than we ever have as a married couple. So while the move will be stressful and difficult, we also anticipate new friendships and community, deeper connections with our family, and a greater reliance upon the Lord.

Here's how you can be praying for us as we move:

-Pray for our kids. Katie is due with our third child (a boy!) the first week of March, so we want to get moved to Vancouver, WA and figure out the medical/hospital situation. The end of Katie's last two pregnancies had difficulties, so we need continued prayer for health and protection of our third kiddo. We also need prayer for our other kids--Copeland and Eloise are so excited to live with their grandma and move into a house with a yard, but we know it's going to be stressful for them in ways they likely can't describe, so we are praying for peace and endurance and joy for them.

-Pray for NLCC. The students and families at NLCC have been shaken by transition, and while I'm absolutely certain of God's presence and goodness in the midst of the grief, it's still a difficult and painful season. Pray for the next youth pastors at NLCC, whoever they might be, and pray for the current volunteers and youth ministry team.

-Pray for my spiritual and emotional health. I've felt such a profound sense of relief and hope since sharing about my situation and making the decision to move. I know it seems kinda crazy, but I've already seen how much more present I've been with my wife and kids, and I know Katie has seen a difference too. There's still a lot of emotional work to do within me, but burnout hasn't defeated me, and that's something worth celebrating. I'll be looking into seeing a counselor for a season, and hopefully will be able to work through some of my present burnout symptoms.

-Pray that God would provide the right job/role for me at the right time. As we move, I don't have a ministry job lined up. I'm quite sure that a full-time church ministry role is not what I need at this time. I'd love to do some itinerant speaking and teaching for churches and schools and youth workers, and I'd also love to find ways to write more (Contact me here if you'd like me to speak or write for you!). These are life-giving activities for me; I'm rarely drained by teaching, preaching, or writing, especially if it's for equipping and encouraging church leaders and the emerging generation. If nothing else, I'll just get a job at Starbucks; it's a right of passage for the millennial generation, right? But I hope to be back in full-time ministry before the end of 2015. Pray that God would guide us to a gracious and Jesus-following church community in the Portland area where we can find community and rest.

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