Where do I begin? I want to tell you a story but its contents sound like the work of fiction or fantasy. Our story could begin with the frustration and discouragement of a young missionary family questioning the plan and schedule for their return to Uganda. It could begin with an energetic young man with a dream for a church plant. It could begin at the end, with a miraculous, record-setting partnership between a missionary family and a sending church. The problem with these ideas is this: these beginnings are not really beginnings and that ending is not really an ending. The story did not begin with the missionary family fundraising to return to Uganda. The story did not begin with a young church growing up. The story will not end with an incredible partnership. There are chapters before and chapters after. The Author is at His desk, pen in hand, with a divine plotline only He can imagine.
On July 27th, 2014 Jade and I drove down to southwest Ohio to meet some new people. A couple weeks earlier I received a phone call from Pastor Aron. As I took a break from packing up tools in our preparation to leave the country, I spoke with Aron about his church, our future and how we might help each other. Resonance Church was only a few months old at the time but he wanted to make missions and outreach a fundamental part of their young fabric. The visit in July was a good one, maybe a hundred wide-eyed Christians in attendance, a generous financial commitment and a promising young relationship between two hopeful ministries in their rookie beginnings.
Over the course of our first term in Uganda, both Tasha Bailey (a leader of Resonance on their core team) and Pastor Aron visited at different times to take part in the work. Jade and I had a feeling that they were a part of something in Ohio that was going to take off. We were right, but we underestimated the “take off”.
On November 12th, 2016 Jade and I drove down to southwest Ohio to meet some old friends. The kids were with us this time and we were driving down on Saturday, not Sunday. The plan was to pal around on Saturday night with their core team and avoid the 3-hour drive on Sunday morning. Little did we know, God planned for worship to begin Saturday night and continue through Sunday morning into the afternoon. The Resonance Church core team gathered together in Pastor Aron’s home for tacos. With the wood fireplace, old country home floors, kids stomping around upstairs and genuine laughter bouncing around the rooms I felt my tank fill up a few notches. They made cake. It was our oldest daughters birthday and they had a cake, ice cream and sang the “happy birthday” song while Aron strummed a mandolin. They had small personal gifts for our family. I watched their whole group look in our eyes as we received their loving gestures. They cared. We listened as they told us how they felt about us. When they finished, I spoke for our family and we told them how we felt about them. It was love. They gathered around Jade and I as we sat in the middle of the living room on the carpet and they prayed for us. Words were filled with confidence in God and thankfulness for all that He has done. They prayed specifically for our family with a knowledge proving their concern and enduring participation in our ministry. I felt my tank filled a bit more.
We arrived at their church the next morning and as I drove into the parking lot I began wondering how the stories about this place could be possible. Record numbers of 470 last week? Seventeen baptisms in the last two weeks? How is this possible with a church in a strip mall? How can they do this without a fellowship hall or Sunday school classrooms? What is attracting people to this place? Before I was even out of the van I began to realize how special this situation was. I thought, “Only God writes like this”.
As Jade and I entered the building we immediately noticed something different. It was hard to make progress because everyone wanted to talk. Everyone. It wasn’t just “welcome to church” or “thanks for coming”. They wanted to have a conversation! We made it to our seats. In the moments before we were to speak, from the row in front of us, Pastor Aron crawled over the back of his chair like a jungle-gym leaning and reaching to lay hands on Jade and I in prayer. He finished and went to the front for a short introduction. At his word we hopped up onto the stage and the interview began. His questions were knowledgeable and full of concern, not just for Jade and I or our family but for the Gospel, for lost souls and for the hope of success in ministry in Uganda. We laughed and cried with them for the allotted time and then we closed with a few comments on our financial standing and goals. Jade said, “We would love to see 30 people commit to $25 a month before Christmas.” Pastor Aron replied, “Congregation, I think we could see at least ten of those right here today.” They clapped. The first service ended and ten families handed us cards with monthly financial commitments.
As the second service was beginning I entered the sanctuary and found Pastor Aron at the back. I leaned to his ear and said, “You had ten in the first service, buddy!” He laughed in shock. I leaned in again, “Jade and I have had a private prayer that we might be able to reach 90% of our total budget by Christmas. Your church has given us a real boost toward that goal.” He shook his head and said, “amazing”. Second service much like the first. God moved; amazing things and a huge encouragement to all. At the final “amen” Jade and I returned to our table in the back and did everything we could to keep up with the response. Five, six, seven more cards. Eight, nine. I looked at Jade. She was crying. Ten. Eleven families. We didn’t know what was happening. Twelve cards. Thirteen. We were now at twenty-three total new monthly commitments! Fourteen. By the time we got the table packed up in the van to head out for lunch we had twenty-four families join us in the work being done in Uganda. I closed my door and looked at Jade in the passenger seat. She just shrugged. I said, “Well, that was…” but couldn’t figure out how to describe it.
For lunch, we met with the core team one last time to celebrate and get food in our bellies before we started our drive back home. We talked about future plans, stories from the morning and hopes to get together again sometime soon. As the meal came to a near close, Pastor Aron said, “Well, there’s something else we want to tell you.” He went on to describe how much they valued our partnership and the role that we play in each other ministries. Then he doubled the churches support. As Jade and I tried to process yet another wave of shock we all pulled out our phones and started doing the math. Their core team was eager to see what had happened to our 83% funding and how close we were to the 90% goal. I punched in the old number, add the new numbers, divide by the total and bingo, exactly 90%! The table cheered. We laughed and celebrated and thanked God for writing such incredible stories. Before we left, we gathered outside together for a group picture so we could all remember the moment.
As I sit here days after the events, quiet in my living room by myself, I think about the moment we entered that church. I walked down their strip mall hallway in a daze, studying and straining to see what was happening. At the end of the hallway was a beautiful wooden wall with a sign crafted to welcome and identify their body of believers. With no sense of the events to come our family gathered in front of their sign to greet them. In all this we see the hand of God gripping the pen, writing His heart onto the people of the planet, giving grace to the hurting and power to the helpers. He’s always written and He’ll continue after our roles have concluded. It’s His story. May He be praised.