For almost a year, we have been communicating that we would be leaving Allendale. Many people have asked us, “Is anyone going to come and take your place?” The short answer is, “No.”
We have been praying for someone to move to Allendale, particularly someone from Grace Church. One of the biggest ways that we got to support Grace Church’s work in Allendale is by being “feet on the ground.” The biggest impact we had here isn’t what we’ve done ourselves, but how we were able to connect and support others.
While we would have loved someone to have moved here this summer (and we did talk with a few individuals), I think it could be a good thing that no one else is coming here immediately. Some of the benefits of not having someone move here as we transition are:
It was last day of working at the Boys and Girls Club, a program that I helped re-launch at the beginning of 2011. Just weeks earlier, I made a decision to leave that job, even without knowing what I would do next. (PS — God did come through for me with these four jobs.) But I did know that my wife and I were committed to the well-being of children in Allendale County.
On this final Club day of the semester, the children led a special Christmas-themed program, in which we invited parents and organization leaders. The children did a fantastic job, of course.
Near the end of the evening, one of the organization leaders spoke to the audience. She thanked me for my work that year, and wished me the best. But what she said next infuriated me, and it was only by the grace of the Holy Spirit that I did not react immediately.
She said, “Mr. Joey is moving on to bigger and better things.”
I’ve always felt bad for the prophet Jeremiah. First, he had a terrible nickname. Many theologians call him “the weeping prophet.” Terrible for a grown man. It’s like saying, “Jeremiah the Crybaby.” Ugh.
Second, I get why he was so weepy and sad. He faithfully preached, but few listened — and definitely not the ones who had the power to change the course of the nation. He preached God’s message of judgment and repentance, but was ignored (at best) and persecuted (at worst).
God sent him to call the people back to Himself, and the ruling authorities sent him to a dungeon or a deep cistern. His faithfulness to God was met with ungratefulness from the people.
Unfortunately, his prophecies came true. Judah did not repent before God, nor surrender to Babylon. So God kept his promise to destroy Jerusalem and to send the people of Judah into exile (Chapter 39). Jeremiah’s ministry was to help the people return to the Lord and to His ways. And from my perspective, he was an utter failure.
That’s why I feel bad for him. If I was him, I would be frustrated and worn out. I’d probably weep, too.
(OK, how many of saw the title of this post, and are now singing with Peaches & Herb in your head? Or out loud? You’re welcome.)
Last month I was having lunch in the local elementary school, and I was sitting with a school staff member and with a mom who helped lead this year’s spring break camp. The mom was telling the other person about when she volunteered at the camp in 2013.
“I was touched by the spirit of love that was in that place. Those volunteers from Greenville, they showed so much love that it filled the air. I know that all Christians should love others, but I’ve never seen it like that.”
Did you catch what she said, or what she didn’t say? Not once did she mention how much better the campers got at soccer, or how great of a job I did leading the camp. (That’s OK. Really. Sniff.)
What encouraged and inspired her was the love shown by the families and teenagers from Grace Church (Greenville, SC).
Beyond the Camp
We have loved being a part of the Spring Break Camps, but it’s not because we really care about teaching kids soccer, or doing arts and crafts, or playing games. Those were fun bonuses, but not the goal.
As we are coming to the end of our season in Allendale, it encourages us to hear that we will be missed in this community. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear, “We are going to miss you!” or “Are you sure that God wants you to leave?”
It’s nice to feel loved.
But this question (“What will be the impact of you leaving?”) also burdens us. Because when people ask that, they usually mean:
- Who is going to come in and continue your work?
- Did you finish what you wanted to accomplish?
- What’s going to happen with all the things you’ve started?
While we don’t think we’ve done anything too amazing by living in Allendale, we are glad that we’ve been able to do some positive things here. We have not come up with any novel ideas. We just saw needs and opportunities, and jumped in.
I wanted to be a chemist since I was in elementary school. Originally, I wanted to work in forensics (and this was before CSI made forensic chemistry so popular), but in college I found myself drawn to bio-organic synthetic chemistry. (I use fancy, technical words to make myself look smart.)
After graduating, I did research and synthesis for a small pharmaceutical company. I left that company within three years, and went to work for Michelin, in their chemistry lab. Some folks in the pharma industry said I was making a mistake by leaving that field, explaining that pharmaceutical research is more profitable, intellectually challenging, and cleaner than petroleum chemistry. They were mostly correct, but I didn’t hesitate or think it was a mistake.
Years later, I left Michelin to join the staff at our church. Again, some thought I was crazy, but that was tempered by encouragements that I was “becoming a minister” and “answering God’s call” (their words, not mine). Some family and co-workers thought it was a mistake, or at least a waste of my education.
And in 2010, when I was transitioning off of staff at Grace, I thought I would go back into chemistry, but God had other plans. I soul-searched, and I was humbled. I realized that one day I may go back into chemistry, but even if I didn’t, the years of education and experience in chemistry would not have been a waste.
A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of Elevate Spring Break camp – how it came to be and what we’ve done with it. I hope that you see that this event may have originated from us with a simple thought and question, but that it was made a reality by a larger community.
A few months ago, as we were reflecting on our 3+ years in Allendale, my wife remarked, “We really haven’t done anything too difficult here.”
She’s right. For all the times when people try to give us credit or praise, or when people ask us what legacies (programs, initiatives, leaders) we are leaving behind, we have to remember why we moved here:
- To be a part of the community
- To work with kids
- To be “feet on the ground” to help others get connected
And we have to remember how all of this started. It started in January 2010, when my wife and I went away to discuss the life adventure that God had for us. We left that weekend knowing our mission from God: