When we first arrived in Lovington a little over 7 years ago, we would gather with a small group of people—the handful that remained a part of the church at the time, and we would talk and dream and pray about what God might be calling us to. We prayed for children (there were none). We prayed that we would reflect our community demographically (we were way too white and way too old). We prayed that we would impact teen pregnancy (our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation). Those are some of the things that have guided our focus and driven our ministry, and will continue to be essential to the identity of our church into the future.
But there were other things that Jaron and I prayed for as well. In life and ministry, it sometimes seems that we rarely get to reap the harvest of the seeds that we plant. However, in the past six months, we have gotten to see some of the most beautiful answers to those prayers. It’s as if God is putting a giant bow for us on the package of our time in Lovington. For indeed, these have been great gifts to us in our time of transition.
We prayed that we would see couples get married.
In our community, as in many others, couples have children at very young ages and then begin co-habitating. They may co-habitate for decades. Often, these relationships are mentally and emotionally destructive. We longed to see couples enter into covenant relationships where they seek to serve each other as Christ served the church and where their lives begin to serve as small snapshots of the Kingdom.
A couple of years ago, a 21-year-old guy walked up to the church with his small daughter in tow. “My girlfriend and I would like to get married. I came to this church as a kid. Could we get married here?” Long story short, that young man and his wife are living a different narrative these days. He has a great job. She chooses to stay at home with their now kindergarten daughter and their one-year-old baby boy. He’s the newest addition to our church board. She started teaching children’s church this fall. They’re both youth sponsors loved by our teens. Their lives are snapshots of the Kingdom. For this we have prayed.
Six years ago, I had a little boy in my second grade class with a mama who was only 22 years old. He had two younger siblings. He also had a step-father figure living with them that I never saw. Our hearts were broken for this family. After the boy had graduated from my class, the mom and her boys gradually became a part of our church family. She was working and putting herself through college. Fast forward to 2015. That seemingly absent father figure isn’t absent any more. He’s a teacher and a coach now. He’s learning how to be the man and father God desires him to be. I believe he’s going to learn to be a great husband too. She’s a teacher and a rock star mom who doesn’t shy away from tough conversations with her three boys. It hasn’t been easy. At times, the journey has been downright painful and messy—for all of us. By the grace of God, one of our last Saturdays in Lovington will be spent celebrating the marriage of that couple. For this we have prayed.
We prayed that children would feel called to ministry.
This summer at church camp, one of our soon-to-be fifth graders came up to me. “Ms. Elizabeth, how long are you and Pastor Jaron going to be in New Zealand?” he asked. “Well, we’ve agreed to five years, but I really don’t know, Buddy. What are you thinking about?” His next sentence brought tears to my eyes. “I think I want to be a pastor like you and Jaron.” Of course. “Don’t ever forget that,” I said. “I think that desire is God calling you.” This kid asks the best spiritual questions. He points his parents to Jesus when the darkness seems to be overtaking them. His heart is tuned to the heart of the Father. And God is calling him. For this we have prayed. P.S. He’s the middle child of that couple that is getting married in a few weeks. It’s redemption at work.
We prayed that we would get to send high school graduates from our church to a Nazarene university.
Jaron and I both believe in Christian higher education. We both experienced first-hand the benefits of spreading ones young adult wings surrounded by people whose life goal is to help you fulfill God’s call on your life. We both have deep, God-honoring, and long-lasting friendships from those days. We were both given opportunities to test our leadership skills, learn, and have tons of fun. We prayed that we might be a part of shaping young men and women who will live out God’s call on their lives with confidence.
This fall, we sent the first student from our church to Southern Nazarene University since Jaron graduated in 2005. The SNU community has embraced her. She’s blossoming. We couldn’t be more delighted. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for her, or for the other teens and kids from our community who may follow in her footsteps in the years to come. For this we have prayed.
We prayed that we would be able help expand our people’s worldview.
We have long had a sense of the importance of short and longer term mission trips as a means of expanding ones view of God and the world. There’s something really powerful that happens when all of the comforts of home are stripped away and you spend a week or two serving others. We prayed that our people could experience the Kingdom far beyond our own city limits.
On October 19, Jaron will be leading a team of seven people on a 12 day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the past few years, we’ve heard our missionary friends tell their stories of life in the Congo. We’ve given money first to build a school, and now a church and a district center. We’ve built a partnership. And now, we’re sending a team. We are busting at the seams with anticipation with the way this will shape the team members and the life of our church moving forward. For this we have prayed.
These stories represent some of the deep desires of our heart for our people. We are so grateful God has seen fit to tie up our time here in such beautiful and hopeful way.