You need me...right?

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Every year about this time, we have our annual Staff Retreat to plan the upcoming year. We have a notebook with dividers for each team member to fill with his notes. One by one, all six team members go over their areas of responsibility in order to review what has been accomplished in the current year; then we give suggestions, ideas, and a specific plan for the upcoming year. How can we grow? Expand? Reach more?

This year, to save money, we didn't leave town for our "retreat." We retreated to Garris's bedroom (the toddler son of our partners, Nathan and Jennifer)! We met for three days, discussing, planning, scheduling. We finally have a 2011 calendar that will work! Now it just needs to be bathed in prayer and carried out.

One item of discussion that differs from any pastoral staff retreat in the U.S. is furlough. When a team member goes on furlough, he must present a plan in which his duties are covered for the 3 months or so that he will be gone. Robbie and I leave next week, so it was our turn to discuss furlough at this particular meeting.

As I went over who would teach my class, print bulletins, and mentor my disciples, my heart began to ache. How can I leave? What pastor and pastor's wife leave their church for three long months? What about finishing the new building? How can I not be here to decorate it at Christmas for the first time? What about my October ladies' meeting? Will Miriam, my mentoree, be okay while I'm gone? What about my 2-5 year-olds class? Will they wonder where I am? Understand why I had to go?

But as I looked around at the faces at the table, I knew. Nothing would change. Dallita will teach in my place at the ladies' meeting, and it will go smoothly. Jennifer can handle the rowdy 2-5 year-olds, probably much better than I can. The bulletin will be printed and on the table every Sunday morning. They could handle it.
I love being part of a team. I was a part of many teams growing up: basketball, volleyball, fast-pitch softball (my favorite!). When I made the varsity basketball team in 8th grade, I was thrilled! It was a dream come true. I only played in four games the entire season, and most of the time I went in just a minute or so before the final buzzer sounded (When it was too late to mess anything up!). But I practiced hard all summer, determined to be better. In 9th grade, I started every game! Looking back, it was probably more because of how many starters we lost rather than my improved skill, but it was thrilling nonetheless...I felt needed by the team for the first time! I was important!

Team Honduras is the best team I've ever "played" for. But I have come to realize, that I am not really needed. It's a privilege to be on this team. And if I don't come through, if I throw in the towel, God can easily use another in my place. I don't play because I have to. I play because I get to.

We've also discovered a few wonderful benefits to these long absences by each team member. First, we appreciate each other much, much more after we have had to cover their duties for a few months! There are so many things we all do that go unnoticed and unappreciated until someone else has to fill in. We love and respect each other much more as a result of these furloughs.

Second, there is an openness and a humility because we have walked in each other's shoes. If Dallita has a suggestion about how to improve the Ladies' Ministry, I don't think: Well, wait a minute! That's my area! It's none of her business. She's taught ladies' meetings in my place many times. She knows that ministry like I do. I listen to her ideas, because she's done the job, too. And I benefit from the fresh perspective.

Any missionary will tell you that leaving his field to go on furlough is difficult. But every missionary must acknowledge that he has a split ministry. I minister to the people of Iglesia Bautista El Faro, but there are also those State-side that we are responsible to minister to over the next three months. Pray with us that this furlough would be safe, effective, and God-honoring.
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