For years it has been pounded into our brains that we are able to control the circumstances in our lives. The moment something seems out of control, we are supposed to force it back under our dominion using our personality, our money and/or our influence. Someone said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." That statement may bring us a smile, but real life can leave us trying to micro-manage every detail, preparing for every surprise. To be caught unawares without a way to fix our unforeseen problem is just not acceptable to most of us…
…until something spins out of control and we don’t know where to turn.
Last Thursday, 28 of us touched down at the international terminal of JFK with no knowledge that our plans had already been jettisoned. Veterans of this route commented at how our flight from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to NYC took place in record time. We were on the way home with full hearts and tired bodies, ready to clear U.S. Customs, change terminals and climb aboard the plane that would take us back to Arizona. Everyone seemed to have a spring in their step and a bit of excitement in their voice as we made our way through re-entry into the United States. A few of the group began receiving messages, though, that our flight from JFK to PHX was cancelled. What could that mean?
An hour or so later, we were huddled in the departure area of our airline, waiting for Lyndsee, who led the trip with her husband Mark, to find out our options. As she discussed those options with airline employees, they were ferried back to our group who stood waiting. Long story short, most of us were stuck in New York for the next two days…with nearby hotels booked up…and with the airline telling us that they wouldn’t pay for our rooms since the flight was cancelled due to weather. Out.Of.Control!
At least, out of OUR control!
Someone in our huddled group suggested we pray. We gathered in a large circle and thanked the One who IS in control that He had a way through this. We also thanked Him that He had a purpose in this, though we had no idea what that purpose might be. After the "Amen," my wife Cathy asked, "Do we have any churches in this area that might be able to give us a floor to sleep on?" My mind went into gear…
A couple of years ago, a guy named Fausto contacted me. "We are in San Luis, Mexico (about 20 miles from Yuma) for a week of ministry," he said. "I wanted to contact you because I am originally from the Dominican Republic and I became a Christian through your partner church there." Fausto and I became Facebook friends and I would hear from him occasionally. Sometime in late 2013, Fausto and his wife Debbie contacted us to let us know that they were moving to San Luis, and would be serving in leadership of an orphanage there. Their first weekend in the area would keep them in Yuma and they planned to attend one of our weekend services.
It just "happened" that I used a sermon illustration that weekend (the sermon was planned before I knew that Fausto and Debbie would be there) about something that happened when one of our teams had been in the Dominican some years ago. Amazingly, the story I told was about an event that was a game-changer in Fausto’s life. Only God could have put all this together. After that service, Fausto told me with great excitement how that day in Puerto Plata had changed things for him and what joy it brought them that I was sharing the story.
As Fausto and Debbie began their Mexico work, we saw them quite frequently. A few months into 2014, that ministry was going through problems and they came to us to talk about it. Our hearts were broken when they told us that they needed to go back to the East Coast. Within a few weeks, they were back at a ministry (run by the same foundation that runs the San Luis work) in New York City.
…My mind went into gear and I remembered Fausto and Debbie. It turns out that New York School of Urban Ministry houses and trains people on short-term mission experiences to the city. AND it turns out, that our flight snafu was on a couple of nights when some groups had left and others hadn’t arrived, leaving them with plenty of available beds. They opened their hearts to us and made a way for us to stay there at a cost so low that we were overwhelmed.
What seemed out of control was actually a way for us to establish some future ministry possibilities, even working with Dominicans in NYC. In addition, most of our group got to see some of the major sites in Manhattan, a first for many. In fact, one of the ladies told me that her day in the city was a "dream come true."
Being out of control used to drive me to serious anxiety, and that’s not an exaggeration. Over the years, I have discovered again and again what a joy it is to simply yield to the One who loves us; the one who is really in control. He always has a way!
The grace and love of God have been on display during "Life Repurposed," the Stone Ridge Church Summer Sermon Series. It continues this weekend. If you can’t join us, catch the podcast!