Homeless for a Year

What is it like to not have a home for a year?

We have moved around 15 times since September. With a toddler. Add that last part and what could sound kinda fun sounds like quite the opposite. There have been fun and enjoyable parts, but they have been the exception to what has been a chaotic, stressful, and generally depressing year for me.

We are Americans living long term in England, planting a church. We needed to leave England temporarily as we were applying for new visas. This past September we moved to America for what we thought would be nine weeks. When all is said and done, it will have been over a year. We still have a house in England that pay rent on, all our stuff is there, our car, our friends, our church, and my job. When I packed I only brought a few clothes with me, I thought it was going to be a short trip!

A few of the places we've lived since September.

A few of the places we’ve lived since September.

Now as far as the history of displaced people go, we’ve easily had it the best that anyone has ever had it in the history of the world ever. We aren’t fleeing because of war or threats, we have churches that love us, friends that take us in, we aren’t lacking in resources like money (though it is crazy expensive to not have a home!). We’ve been cared for. People have asked how we’re doing and have given us real help. All of this caveat isn’t to say that it’s been easy, but it does put it into perspective. The typical experience of someone who cannot get to their home is far more dramatic. We’re thankful that we’ve been cared for and that we have a support network.

Not having a home means living out of a suitcase. It means travelling with minimal stuff because you can only fit so much into a small rental car. It means having to buy all the grocery basics over and over again. Because we’ve been living in England, we used the NHS for anything health related. Being in America we’ve had to buy short term health insurance a few times over. Thankfully we haven’t been seriously ill, otherwise it would be quite expensive for us. It means kind of imposing yourself on others at times to take you in. We’ve had to buy clothes that we know we have in our house in England, but don’t have access to. It means our two year old son saying, “I want to go home,” but really just referring to where we’ve left last. It means being very needy and not having very much to give.

There have also been surprises, though. Being in America longer has allowed us to see family more than we would have. We have connected with more churches in more meaningful ways. Moving 15 or so times is hard, but that also means 15 or so people have taken us in. That’s not the easiest thing to sign up for! Even though it’s hard living as a needy person, the other side is that people have been very generous to us with their space, their time, their money, and their prayers.

There are a few larger areas where I’ve been challenged this year. The biggest one has been not having a real community of people that I’m consistently around. I’m also in a somewhat unique position in life that others sometimes don’t easily identify with. I’m lonely most of the time. Thankfully there have been a few people who have been great friends to me, but in general, this kind of life means loneliness.

My plans have been challenged. I am generally an ambitious person; I love to work, especially when it’s something I really believe in. But being back in America, we’ve struggled with answering the question of “What’s our purpose here?” Surely it’s more than waiting to go back and surely it’s more than just raising awareness for Redeemer, right? We don’t know the answer to this one, maybe there isn’t one. Combining loneliness and lack of purpose is a powerful agent of despondency. I can easily stay there if it not for my faith.

My faith, however, has also been challenged. Do I trust God? Or does God have to give me immediate reasons to make it easy for me to trust Him? Those are two very different things. Isn’t faith the belief that God has our best in mind even when we don’t feel it? At times I’ve doubted that God is actually good, or at least that He’s good to us.

But here’s the real question this post (and our living situation) is getting at: How does my faith allow me to live in this kind of environment? Empty religion would be of some help, it would help me cope. As would a myriad of other things, like counselling, hanging out with friends, doing fun things as a family…these can all be good things. But by themselves, they allow us to merely cope with it all. I want to do more than just cope with life.

Jesus intentionally left his home, being in perfect community with the Father and the Spirit. And on earth his family had to leave their home. Jesus is a refugee. Later in life, He was generally a wanderer and alone. He was constantly misunderstood and ridiculed. He wasn’t taken seriously but was taken for granted. Knowing this He still chose to come. The Object of Faith came to the faithless, and gave them the gift of belief.

And what did Jesus get for this cosmic immigration? He got to be publicly tortured to death while those closest to Him abandoned to Him. More than that, He bore the brokenness of the world upon Himself. That’s not something I pretend to completely understand.

Why would Jesus do this? The Bible says He did this because there was a joy greater than His suffering: us. So now those who are homeless look up to the One who deliberately left His home for our good, knowing full well what awaited Him in ours. Those who experience chaos look up to the One who endured the chaos of the cross. He takes up our chaos upon Himself.

Jesus received death for coming to our world, but He also obtained a people. His people aren’t defined merely by death anymore though, they get to be defined by Jesus’ new life, His resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection brings hope to us, a hope that was once out of reach. He brings us in to His world, where all things are being renewed. This is the hope He gives to His people.

Those who are looking for a home now realise that home isn’t a place, it’s a Person. This Person has promised that He’s always with us and will never abandon us. That’s a home that can’t be denied, no matter our living situation.

When I think about Jesus, in the way that Bible teaches, I realise that He is good. More than that, He is good to me. In ways that supersede, but also include, our current chaos. He is in the boat, with me, telling the storms to be calm. I am just another hungry person in the crowd following Him, and He turns a boy’s inadequate lunch into something that feeds us all. Though I’ve abandoned Him many times, He has never abandoned me. More than that, He gives me the gift of a new hope that He won. It stops me from obsessing with the problems in this world, but also renews me to re-engage this world and its problems with supernatural power.

This may not always feel true or feel real, but it is true and it is real. And it’s precisely when we don’t feel it that our faith comes in to inform us what is real and true.

So come what may: home or no home, lonely or known, with money or penniless, in success or failure, Jesus is always at the centre, calling me to follow Him in all of life. This is how I can survive living without a home. Jesus is good to me and always will be.

Five Days in Korea

It’s crazy the places that church planting will take you. I just came back from a five day trip to Seoul. I was invited by SaRang Church (SaRang means love in Korean, by the way) to their missions conference because they want to partner with Redeemer. I met Pastor Sam Ko, SaRang’s Director of Global Ministries, in Manchester this past November and he was very enthusiastic about partnering with Redeemer.

A photo/essay overview:

Continue reading

Between Home and Somewhere Else

Have you ever felt like “home” was a concept and not a reality?

Sunny RoadWe haven’t lived in Manchester long enough yet for it to feel like home and sometimes it feels like we are living “somewhere else”. We are in between home and somewhere else. Some days are hard, some more than others. For us, this is just a reality that we live in at the moment. It can be hard to live in a place full of reminders that this isn’t your home, a place that feels like somewhere else. Hopefully as time goes on and we grow in our connections to people here it will feel more like a home.

This is not a feeling reserved for people who move to different places, for refugees, or wanderers. A full length album of mine came out of this search for home, and I was living in the culture where I was born and grew up. We all ache for home.

It is in this ache that we find this truth: we will always be living in this world, between home and somewhere else. Like Abraham, we are searching after a city whose architect and builder is God. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are caught between where we came from and where we want to be.

What a wonderful hope we have as part of the Father’s family. Our hope is that all aspects of our homesickness, and there are many aspects, will all find their home in the gift of God Himself when we are finally with Him. Finally at Home.

We Ought to be Overwhelmed

There is a good side to being overwhelmed even though it almost always has a negative connotation in our culture. In spite of my own reactions, I believe we ought to embrace being overwhelmed. See, in my own life, I mostly try and avoid this feeling and for many different reasons. In my modern world I have complete control over pretty much everything and this feeling of “being overwhelmed” is unnerving. I try and avoid it or dominate it, really whatever I can do to undo it. But I think I’m missing out on something important because of this. Continue reading

The Importance of Feeling Insignificant

The first day I moved to Manchester (almost two months ago now!) I walked quite a bit around the city centre. I was halfway trying to just stay awake, halfway powered by the adrenaline of having just moved to a new continent. I wanted to take in as much as I could. Plus it was a nice day without rain and I knew I had to take advantage of that.

crowdI was struck that day, as I have often been since, of my own insignificance. I passed hundreds, probably thousands, of people. Buses full of people. Cars struggling through the city traffic. People on the street hurrying to their next destination. All of these people could care less about me. I’m nothing important, especially to them. As the taller buildings in the centre loomed overhead I realised in a new way how insignificant I truly am. Continue reading

Top Three Reasons American Missionaries Leave the UK

Americans have not always had the easiest of times moving to the United Kingdom. One would think the transatlantic move would actually be somewhat of an easy transition, given the similarity between the two cultures. It surprised me to hear that the average stay of an American in the United Kingdom, in any type of industry, was about two years. That’s hardly any time at all. Why is this the case?

Weekend BusLet me start right from the top and say this post is not a result from a large scale survey or replicable experimental model. It comes from my conversations with Brits who have experienced Americans in their culture, Americans who have lived there and moved and Americans who have been able to reside there long term. Basically, anecdotal evidence. So this really is just my perspective but I’ve had quite a few conversations with people from the above three categories (due to an obsession to learn as much as possible from them), so hopefully this information is somewhat on track. Either way, here’s what I have found. Continue reading

Last American Thanksgiving

My last American Thanksgiving was a normal Thanksgiving. There wasn’t any kind of grand revelation or overflow of emotion. It was a typical holiday well spent.

Last American ThanksgivingThese normal rhythms of familial celebrations will soon be disrupted, though. Next year, living in a new country with a new child surrounded by all sorts of new people, we will most definitely feel the loss of normality. I have fond memories of driving to our grandparents’ house as a child, seeing aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying each other (as well as annoying each other). Our child won’t have those kind of memories, and there’s a type of loss in that. And especially the longer we stay in England, which is indefinite for now, something like Thanksgiving will be more foreign to our British child. Continue reading

Lecture: Discipleship in the Arts

A couple months ago I was able to speak to a group of church planters in South Carolina through the Carolina Greenhouse. It was an honor to talk to these leaders about discipleship in the arts. It’s fairly brief, and includes a section of the Q & A. You can listen to it below, and download it here.

I also created a sample reading list, you can download that, too.

What does it mean to support a missionary?

A big part of my current role as a missionary is raising and maintaining support. That word “support” gets thrown around a lot, what does it mean? And more than that, what does it look like?

To find the answers to these questions we can look to another missionary who had a church that supported him. Paul, the author of Philippians (and many other New Testament books for that matter!) wrote a support letter to a church. We can learn a lot about what it means to support a missionary in this letter, especially in the last verses, verses 14–23 of chapter four. Paul outlines what it means to support a missionary, here are some takeaways from that text.

1. Support is a partnership in God’s mission.
In 4:13 Paul says he can do all things through God who strengthens him, but in the very next verse he writes, “yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” God could have provided for Paul is any way He wanted, but He chose to do so through a community of believers who believed in his mission. The Philippians shared in Paul’s trouble. They were truly partners, not just in name only. They were active sympathizers. I’m sure this meant they shared prayers, encouragement, affections, time, money…everything that a real community shares together.

These partners, Paul and the Philippians, were participating together in God’s mission. Verse 22 throws a side glance at this mission, where Paul writes that believers from Caesar’s household greet them. How could people of Caesar’s household become believers? Through Paul’s mission work, the same work the Philippians are a part of. God is doing something and we get to be involved, some in going, some in sending. Both roles are necessary and need each other.

2. The practicality of support doesn’t make it any less spiritual.
Paul is in prison when writing of this letter. That meant he needed clothing, food and money. These are really basic needs and don’t feel very “spiritual”. But this is what Paul needs and this is the trouble that the Philippians shared in. Most of the time writing a check or sending gifts don’t feel very “spiritual” but they are necessary. But this everyday kind of living is how God normally works, isn’t it?

Baptism, the sign of a spiritual re-alignment and God’s adoption is simply the submerging in or pouring of water. The Lord’s Supper, the symbol of Christ’s broken body and his blood, is merely bread and wine. Christ’s parables of the kingdom of heaven were agrarian based, literally earthy.

Support is practical, yes, but support is more than a euphemism for money. There’s clearly a spiritual aspect. Paul calls is a sacrifice and offering to God in verse 18. Giving to Paul was a way the Philippians could give to God. This is no less true today.

3. Giving is how we grow.
In verse 17, Paul isn’t so much concerned with the actual giving as much as he is concerned about their growth. This pastoral turn teaches us that supporting a missionary isn’t just about the missionary, it’s about the supporter, too. Remember, this is a partnership is every sense of the word. The generosity of the Philippians is evidence of the Spirit’s work in their lives. Generosity is hard because it requires faith and trust in God. Generosity isn’t hard because we have to give up stuff. The giving up of stuff itself isn’t the issue, it’s the underlying question: will I be provided for? Paul anticipates this question in verse 19 and gives us God’s promise that He will supply our needs.
The Christian, perhaps more than anyone else, has the foundation to be the most generous. Because our supply is according to Christ’s riches, we know we will always be cared for. To live as if that’s true means to live generously with all God’s given us. Not just money, but our time, our prayers, our affections and relationships, everything.

This letter to the Philippians doesn’t just teach about support, it also gives encouragement to the support they have already given. He praises the generosity of the Philippians as he teaches them about it. I can imagine Paul’s heart swelling with love and pride over this church that supported him when nobody else would. I can imagine Paul running through his head the names of the people in that community, and as he does so he feels the love of God. These people have shared in my trouble, they have given to someone who will probably never see God’s work through Paul with their own eyes.

I can imagine Paul’s situation because I often find myself there. When I think of everyone who supports us through prayer, finances, places to stay when visiting, etc., I am truly overwhelmed. The line I often use is you all believe in me more than I believe in me. Thanks to everyone who is sharing in our trouble, who share in God’s vision of seeing more churches planted, who want to see people come out of the darkness and into the light.

We are in this together and it’s a joy to be here with you all.

As Paul wrote years ago in verse 20:
To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.