Wednesday, October 12, 2011


In March, 1993 our family said our goodbyes to our extended family, stepped on an airplane in Minneapolis, Minnesota and traveled to Uganda. We were confident in God’s call for us to move to Kampala to plant a church. As we made that journey there were many elements of our future we could not anticipate. Our parents saw one clearly. Our children’s grandparents would miss our children’s first words, steps, school performances, athletic and academic successes, and first dates. Our children would grow experiencing life with at times only photos and distant communication connecting them to their grandparents.

God was kind and brought three transitional years (which felt like crisis) between 1993 and 2011 that allowed our parents to see our children experience life (1996-1997; 2004-2005; and 2009-2010). However, there are many details our parents have missed. (Our old Uganda drum in Sophia’s dorm room may be the eyes of God in our family’s journey.)

On Tuesday, 27 September 2011 our family made a choice that God was calling us to return to the United States for a season. It is one of the most difficult choices we have ever made. This blog post is our public chronicle of this God journey.
The last few weeks have been ones of grief. Perhaps the greatest grief we are currently experiencing is the realization that like our parents there will be events in the lives of our spiritual children that our physical eyes will not see. Each time I meet a single friend from our Great Lakes Region I wonder if I will miss their graduation, wedding, professional success, and births of their children. I anticipated feasting, celebrating, and dancing with them at each moment. Now we wait for heaven to experience all the celebration that God intends.
(Also, I’m seriously willing to do anything I can in the next 8 months to usher my single friends along in life.)

Home is a distant longing that represents a portion of what it means to be made in the image of God. A few places have been our home and will always feel like home – Western Kenya where Jana grew up; Northern Minnesota where Dave was shaped by his grandparents into a lover of created beauty; Harding University where Dave discovered; Abilene Christian University where we met and discovered more; Minneapolis, Minnesota where we experienced our first taste of full time ministry, Kampala, Uganda where we made many mistakes and gracious friends; Oklahoma City where we processed our call to Rwanda and gathered support; and Kigali, Rwanda where God has nurtured our discoveries into fruit. Thus a transition of return to the United States does not feel like going home. Heaven is that day. Yet because of our hope in heaven it is a must for us to return to America for a season. God has called. We must obey.

During a season of intense wrestling with God our family had the privilege to listen to Glenn Pemberton teach at the Quail Springs Church of Christ from Old Testament Call Narratives
. It was transformational. (Glenn has a book, "When God Calls: Will You Trust Me Now?" that puts the oral teaching into written form that we highly recommend.) . Some memorable parts of Glenn’s teaching included that there would be a community crisis, a summons, a resistance by the called, a reassurance from God, and then a choice of the called to obey in trust. The stories always showed the weakness of the called but the Divine Sovereignty of the Caller, Yahweh God.

For the last two years a crisis has been brewing. God has been with our initial hope of planting an English based a-denominational church with a good children’s program. In fact, he’s done more than we ever could have anticipated. The ministry includes Kigali International Community School (KICS) and a host of partners and projects. ROC Partners that was originally formed to purchase the property from where we currently do ministry now has five missionary family units (Bryan and Holly Hixson, Brett and Keli Shreck, Rusty and Onawa Linden, and Jamie Boiles plus our family. ROC has become a missionary sending organization. Yet ROC is not mature enough to adequately shepherd all the responsibility God has given. We’ve wrestled with what is needed, read history, and listened to the counsel of friends and family.

For our family the season of our children becoming adults has loomed.

Over furlough in December, 2009 we saw old friends from Uganda; Godfrey Lutalo, Tabitha Mugabi, and Robert Ndamadgye. All have roots in the mythical land of our earthly home of Western Uganda and Rwanda. All now live in Dave’s childhood home of Minnesota. While visiting with them we discovered that 30,000 people with Great Lakes roots like us live in Minnesota. A dream began to do a church plant among Great Lakes Diaspora in cities such as Minneapolis / St. Paul, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., or Dallas / Fort Worth.

As Sophia prepared to enter Wheaton she requested for Dave to spend three weeks nearby to help her adjust. Jana assigned Dave the job to spy out the land of Chicago as a potential furlough hub in 2013-2014. The task included finding housing, school options, church options, and friends.

Before we arrived in Wheaton, Jana’s parents Gaston and Jan Tarbet found a home for us to stay with Denis and Ruth Gibson. We paid a minimal fee, but the wisdom of the Gibsons was priceless. Ruth directed us to Repeat Boutique where we loaded up on free clothes.

Ruth also directed us to the Missionary Furlough Homes Foundation. Dave made a phone call and went to view the homes. As he entered he was surprised to find old friends from our region, Jon and Jenny Davis, World Venture Missionaries to Uganda. Reconnecting with them was delightful. Missionary Furlough Homes provide 4 bedroom furnished duplexes located just two blocks from Wheaton College at a very affordable rent for one year furloughs. Besides renewing friendships Dave gathered information about schools and living.

From there Dave checked out schools. He went to Lowell Elementary where Timothy may study, Franklin Middle School where Ruth may study, and finally Wheaton North High School where we anticipated Ethan would study. At Wheaton North Dave met a Godsend of a guidance counselor, Scott Lilly. He was a believer and supportive of missions. He gave us a gem of wisdom. If we were to furlough in Wheaton we need to arrive in June. We need to find a local church quickly so our kids will have a youth group to have friends with at high school. Also, if Ethan was to play soccer for Wheaton North he needs to be in their camps in June. This was truly priceless information.

On a Sunday evening Dave visited a Liberian Fellowship in Wheaton. While there he discovered that there were networks of African Diaspora planting churches in Chicago. We would not be alone.

On a Saturday afternoon he went to a hospital to visit Rwandan friends of CCR members, Rindiro and Stella; Marcel and Clementine Urayeneza. Clementine was having pregnancy complications. (She has since delivered a healthy boy.) While in the hospital with Marcel and Clementine it was all the delights of pastoring. Several Rwanda Diaspora families came by to visit. Dave met William and Claudette Rugyegye, the nephew of CCR members, Geoffrey and Ann Rugege. It was a joy. If we furloughed in Chicago we would not be alone.

Also, while in Wheaton we looked up an old acquaintance, Janelle Avery (an aunt of an old Harding University friend, Scott Harris.) Janelle’s husband Allen once spoke to an African Missions Fellowship that Dave attended at Monte Cox’s home in 1989 on Spiritual Gifts from Romans 12 that was transformational in Dave’s life. (Maybe as influential as Glenn Pemberton’s teaching on calling?) Allen passed away about a year ago and Janelle retired to be with her children and grandchildren in Wheaton. We had coffee and Janelle shared her journey. When their children began college the Averies grieved. Then with the blessing of their supporters they began a three year furlough. During that season they lived 18 months in Wheaton and Allen began work on a Doctorate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dave pondered Janelle’s advice and journey. In the back of our mind was the need for an extended furlough for our family and ROC maturity. He decided to only speak about it if a key supporter and friend raised the issue.

A few days later, Dave drove to Trinity to explore a doctorate. He went out of respect for family, friends and advisors, but was not enthused. While at Trinity he met several wise men with gray hair. One was Dr. David Siever who was on the Dissertation Committee of one of Dave’s ACU mentors, Gailyn Van Rheenen. In a short conversation, Dr. Siever showed Dave that his biggest pastoral responsibility at CCR in the coming years would be equipping. Dave thought, “I want to be near this mzee.” Dave had another conversation with Dr. Martin Crain the Head of Trinity’s D.Min. Program. Dr. Crain laughed with Dave and prayed for our family. Dave found himself in tears with Dr. Crain, and thought, “I want to be near this mzee.” A challenge remained that Dave only has a 36 hour Master’s Degree from ACU. Trinity requires at least a 72 hour Masters of Divinity to enter their doctoral program. Dr. Crain asked Dave some questions and thought his experience may create academic credit. After trading emails it appears Dave only needs 9 masters’ level credit hours to enroll in Trinity’s doctoral program. Dave is very thankful for his experience as a missionary sent by Churches of Christ that though tumultuous academically gave him many precious experiences.

Between the explorations of a year furlough with a hub in Chicago, Dave and Sophia traveled to Dave’s parent’s home, on Lake Reno, Deerwood, Minnesota for Labor Day Weekend. They were joined by Dave’s brother, Mark and sister, Patty. The three siblings got an afternoon together to simply fish and visit. Conversations drifted towards extended family anticipated transitions. Mark and Patty are believers. They are professionally accomplished. They are succeeding as parents. They have been supportive of us as missionaries. They’ve never asked for us to return from Africa. Yet as the conversation went on Dave recognized a season was coming in which for his extended family it would be helpful to be in America. The best possible way to honor Dave’s parents may be to return to America for a season.

Finally, Dave journeyed to Oklahoma City to touch base with friends at the Quail Springs Church of Christ and ROC before returning home to Rwanda. He sensed he needed to have some informal time to listen well with old friends and advisors. Dave felt that ROC was near a crisis moment, but was not sure what his responsibility. He stayed with Tom and Sue Gooch, and planned to have lunch with John Osborne.

During lunch on Wednesday, 14 September Dave sensed that John Osborne had something deep inside to say. Then John Osborne had the courage to ask our family what circumstances and friends had been whispering. “Would our family respond to this crisis by leaving all that was known and comfortable for the glory of God’s kingdom? “ It was a summons. We all knew that ROC needed maturing and was unable to adequately shepherd the ministry God had given us. John added that he knew our family’s heart was in Rwanda. He knew the cost of this request. Dave knew that in the history of great mission’s movements frequently a vision bearer from the mission field would need to spend several years in the sending nation to prepare for God’s next intended kingdom advance. He had little desire to be such a vision bearer, but recognized that he was just a soldier or servant with little choice in the matter. He must do what God required. Dave asked for a few days to consult with others and particularly Jana, our kids, and our CCR leaders before making a decision.

As Dave and John finished lunch, Dave decided to go by a fellow ROC board member, Steve Clark’s office. He shared John’s request. Steve had a memorable quote. “ROC has been treading water for two years. If you dread water long enough you will drown.” Steve and Dave both knew the season had come in which ROC must move forward embracing all God intends for her as a missionary sending organization.

After visiting with Steve, Dave went home to Tom and Sue Gooch’s. Again, there was a search for wisdom. Sue as always made the profound simple and humorous. Tom reminded Dave of a season in the fall of 2004. During that season Dave had been praying for someone to move to Rwanda to plant an English based church with a good children’s program. Finally, Dave concluded that God had called him to be the answer to his own prayer. We were called to be the ones who would plant an English based church in Kigali with a good children’s program. Tom’s counsel was that Dave had spent a year communicating the opportunity in Rwanda for ROC. Maybe, Dave was the answer to his own prayer again. Was Dave called to be the one to mature ROC so she could take on coming opportunities in Rwanda?

A few from ROC planned to spend Thursday, September 15 together. The one in that upcoming Thursday meeting who had not heard John’s idea was Bob Peterson. On that Wednesday, Dave went to the Quail Springs Church of Christ, and found Bob with other Quail leaders. Dave shared John’s idea and asked for prayers. David Odor, Dan Archer, Lynn Brooks, Steve Dye, and Bruce McIntyre joined Dave and Bob in our informal seeking of God’s will.

The next day, Steve Clark, John Osborne, Tom Gooch, Bob Peterson, and Dave spent the morning and a good portion of the afternoon praying and thinking through the implications. There was consensus that this must be pursued and weighed.

Dave had skyped Jana each of the 40 days he was away from Kigali. From the beginning of the conversation about this possible transition she said, “I am at peace with this.”

We spoke to our parents, Lloyd and Lois Jenkins and Gaston and Jan Tarbet. We sensed their eagerness for our return, but relinquishment to the will of God. Jan Tarbet shared that she had recently had a dream of our family returning to the United States. The neighborhood she saw us live in was much like Wheaton. In her dream, Timothy and Ruth were thriving. Like called ones in the Bible we pondered if God was speaking to our extended family through dreams.

On Monday, 19 September Dave returned to Kigali by flight. From there he spent a week seeking the counsel of our family and CCR leaders.

For our children this was a traumatic calling. If we left Rwanda during the summer of 2012 Caleb would spend his senior year of high school in the USA. Yet, as we surveyed reality it would also be difficult in Kigali. Our close knit circle of friends; the Mwunvanezas, Finnerties, and Sasakis children would likely also be gone that year. Also, though we had thrown our lives into developing Kigali International Community School (KICS) it had not matured yet in a way that met Caleb’s academic prowess. Maybe, God was calling us to return?

For Ethan he faced a similar situation as Caleb. His best friends were leaving and the academic year 2012 – 2013 would be lonely. Also, like Caleb his academic and athletic prowess was not being nurtured fully at KICS. Maybe, God was calling us to return?

For Ruth and Timothy there would be a great loss of friends. Also, they were just a bit young to hit the points of transition that would be so difficult for Caleb and Ethan. Maybe, now was the season to return?

We spoke to our ministry colleagues. The general counsel was for us to hear God’s voice and follow Him.

Moses Mbabaali asked if CCR had reached the point we desired. The answer was no. We saw much to do. Yet, another part of the equation was, "How strong could CCR become if ROC was not mature enough to shepherd her church developing personnel?"We remembered the counsel of Dr. Siever. We needed to focus on equipping. Also, Steve Clark had mentioned to us in the USA that maybe we needed to be like Paul and be away for a season for equipping to happen.

Eddie Mwunvaneza had similar concerns. His instincts in hearing our return were simply, “No. The time is not right.” Yet as we looked at all the marks of God in this short journey it seemed as if this was God’s leading. There were many counselors who pointed us in this direction. ROC would soon reach crisis if someone did not lead in maturing her. Our instinctual objections of housing, school, friendships, and children’s adaptation were met with assurance. The season had come to obey in trust.

On Dave’s first Sunday back in Kigali from the 40 days away he watched our community. They were doing well. Yet, there he saw families with his own eyes that could not enroll their children in KICS simply because the property was too small. Families we loved were in crisis. Maybe, the best thing we could do as Kigali pastors was to accept God’s call to return to the United States to mature ROC?

Finally, we made a decision on Tuesday, 27 September. God had called us to return to the USA for a season to mature ROC as a missionary sending organization. We sent an e-mail to the ROC board informing then we had accepted the call. We called our parents. Dave spoke to his mom, and she wept. God willing after 19 years in Africa we would return to the USA for an extended season in June 2012. We hope this season will only last 3 to 5 years.

Now we grieve as our parents grieved. We will not see all the earthy joys we anticipated. Yet, this is God’s call. It is His work. We are but willing servants. Heaven is home. A day will come when all we love will gather and celebrate. Until that day, “Here we are. Send us.”

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