We took a trip with the kids last week. Notice that I said “trip” and not “vacation.” My friend Wendy reminded me that traveling with a 2 and 5 year old can rarely be considered a vacation. My husband and I love to travel, but having children certainly changes the experience of traveling. We haven’t stopped doing it, but we have adjusted our expectations. We also plan trips without the kids so we can enjoy the things we loved about traveling together in our first few years of marriage.
I have been trying for literally years to visit dear friends who live in Arkansas. They live about 2 hours from Springfield, Missouri, which is where both my sisters live along with their families (the only 5 cousins that my kids have right now). I work on getting to Springfield with the kids once or twice a year so they can know their cousins and spend a little time together, but it is challenging because I often go without my husband. Since I no longer work outside the home, spending more time with my family was something I wanted to do with some of that time. I have been to Springfield a few times when I fully intended to drive down to Arkansas for a half day or so to see my friends. However, when traveling with little ones, unexpected things happen, mostly pure exhaustion and survival mode kicks in quickly. So I have never been to visit my friends Jim and Sharon Brewer and Bill and Natalie Burchit in Arkansas until last week.
Nothing makes me believe in the local church and its ministry more than my youth pastor. I’m 37, so I suppose I don’t have a youth pastor anymore, but 23 years ago a new youth pastor came to our church with his family, and vividly recall my little 8th grade self being so excited to meet them and willing to do anything to be around Jim and Sharon Brewer (yes, I even showed up for cleaning days and baby-sat their sweet little kids).
It is impossible to quantify what these 23 years have meant to me personally. I know that in that time, his life and his ministry have touched hundreds and thousands of lives, but I know intimately how much my one life has been changed. At age 10, my parents chose to change churches to attend one with a vibrant youth ministry. I can’t imagine the direction my life would have gone if they had not made that choice. Most of the kids in that church had been attending there since birth (or it felt like it to me). I had a couple of friends, but I don’t recall feeling really included or important until Pastor Jim arrived. I felt like I had a clean slate, a chance to not be the invisible “new” girl, a chance to show that I loved God and wanted a place to belong during those turbulent high school years.
I showed up to church whenever the doors were open and volunteered to help any time that I could. High school was not an easy season of my life in many ways, but my memories of church and the group of friends I made there remind me that God has always been on my side, watching out for me and providing what I needed even when I did not realize it.
Pastor Jim always believed in me. I did not have a lot of confidence in myself outside of my academic performance in school, but Jim did not seem to notice or go easy on me, anyway. 🙂 I loved playing piano for the youth services, but I will never forget the fear that struck my heart when I walked in half an hour before church started one Wednesday evening and he told me to choose the songs and get ready to play that evening. I don’t like last minute surprises, and it was definitely one of my first experiences of being put on the spot and feeling the pressure. I look back and that and many similar moments, and I realize the impact those times had in building my confidence by just knowing that he believed I could do it.
After I graduated from Bible college, Pastor Jim made it clear that he would love for me to come and work for him at the church he had recently begun to serve as senior pastor. The idea did not appeal to me. Well, moving to a small town in Iowa did not appeal to me. Being close to Jim and Sharon again sounded great. Three years after I graduated, some very close friends were all moving away and leaving the job I was working at the time, and I decided to check back with him about working in Waverly.
I moved to Waverly. I worked for Jim for three and a half years, and I learned so much in that time. Jim still pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to do things that intimidated me A LOT. Jim and Sharon left Waverly and I stayed (I was close to being engaged at the time). It has been almost ten years since he left Waverly, yet any time I pick up the phone to ask him a question or get his perspective on a situation, I am reminded that he believes in me, he is for me, and he has no doubt that God has a plan to use my life and He is not finished with me yet.
I don’t know if you have ever followed a leader like Jim. In my 37 years, I have come to believe it is quite rare to have the leadership skills, humility, and love for God and others that I have seen in him for over two decades. He is the real thing, and I can only pray that I might possibly have an impact on a few lives in the way that Jim has impacted mine.
The local church is a challenging, frustrating, amazing place to serve. Any time I wonder if it is worth the struggle, I am reminded of 8th grade Angela, 10th grade Angela, college Angela and the difference it made in my life to have a youth pastor who loved, who cared, who invested, who had fun, who prayed, who believed, and who became a senior pastor who did all the same things for this staff pastor. And now still, he is my friend who is in my corner, the corner of this stay-at-home mom who can hardly see through the fog of laundry, tantrums, dishes, and errands to remember that God is not done with me in ministry yet.
Ministry matters. People matter. Every life that you reach matters to God. And to that precious life, you may be the life preserver that keeps her afloat or the wings that help him soar beyond what he can imagine.
Thank you, Jim. Is thank you enough? It never feels like enough. But I could never be more grateful to God for bringing Jim and Sharon Brewer to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1992.