I was born in Texas City, Texas (near Houston) and moved to the Hoosier State in 1979 on my thirteenth birthday. Forty years later I am moving back to the land of my birth. It feels a little like coming home—barbeque, Blue Bell ice cream, Houston Astros baseball and miles of Texas highways lined with bluebonnet fields. I want to say thank you Indiana! Of course, I’m using ‘Indiana’ as a personification for the many, many people in Indiana who have loved me and my family over the past forty years. So many teachers, pastors, coaches, classmates, mentors, friends, elders, parishioners, and neighbors have touched my life in ways I will never, ever forget. A few friends have offered to host a gathering for those who want to see our family off, and we are working on a good time to do that. (Given our schedule, it will probably be late summer or early fall.)
I met Stacy Suzann Quackenbush in Indiana. I was 13 when I first saw her and she made my head turn! We started dating when I was 15 (she was 16) and we fell in love almost immediately. I attended middle school, high school, college and grad school in Indiana. All three of our boys were born in Indiana in the same hospital room, delivered by the same doctor. I played lots of basketball and baseball and even learned to golf in Indiana! I loved two churches in Indiana and gave thirty years of my life to pastoral ministry in Indiana. My oldest son, Fleetwood IV met his wife in Indiana. He fell in love with her and so did our entire family. I learned to love ‘The Region’ with all of its diversity—from the steel mills of Gary to the cornfields of Kouts—and I especially loved living so close to Chicago and Southwest Michigan. I even learned to embrace the winters! I became a Bears fan, a Bulls fan and a Cubs fan. I’m still not quite sure who to cheer for when the Cubs play the Astros. I know it sounds strange to some people, but it was my dream to grow old in Indiana and be buried somewhere in Valparaiso, perhaps in one of those places I have wept with the people I loved as they laid their loved ones to rest.
But, I’m not the storyteller. God had different plans for me, my wife, our family and the people we have loved and lived with for many years. I don’t fully understand God’s mysterious ways, and I’m most certainly not in control! Are any of us? I am learning to trust the Storyteller more even though it’s not easy to do. I begin every morning with a Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer, pausing over each phrase. Still, I sometimes find it hard to pray, “THY will be done” when I really want MY will to be done. I’m reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day.” For me, trusting the Storyteller has to begin all over again every day.
I’ve shared so much of my life with so many people over the past forty years that I thought it would be good to take a few moments to share with you what I’ve been up to this last year. My very first priority at the outset of my ‘ministry sabbatical’ was to spend a lot of time with my family. It has been a real delight to be with my high school sweetheart this last year without the many demands and distractions I have had as a pastor. Stacy and I have really, really enjoyed our time as life-long friends. It’s amazing how much you can still learn about each other after more than 35 years together! I have been able to spend time with each of my three boys (all of them grown now but still needing mom and dad) and my daughter (in-law)—what a delight she has been! I also became a grandfather and have enjoyed every moment with Vesper Joy! When I hold her everything just seems right in the world! I’ve been able to see my parents more often—both of whom are getting older now. My dad said to me this week as he struggled to stand up, “I’m not getting old. I am old.” We both laughed. The time with family has been really good for us all.
In addition to spending time with family, I have been spending time doing some intentional soul care. Most pastors will tell you that this is one of the easiest things to neglect in pastoral ministry. There are many reasons for it I’m sure—and in recent years a number of good books have been written on this systemic problem. (David Paul Tripp has written about this in Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry and Louie Giglio shared his own struggle about stepping away from ministry during a lengthy bout with depression in The Comeback: It’s Not Too Late And You’re Never Too Far.) I have never wavered from my commitment to Christ or my commitment to my family, my flock, or my friends. But I have needed a safe place to talk to wise, experienced spiritual guides about all the things going on in my heart. The heart can be a complex place. As Augustine observed, “Who can map out the various forces at play in one soul? Man is a great depth Oh Lord; You number his hairs, but the hairs of his head are far easier to count than his feelings, the movements of his heart.” It is sometimes hard to know why our souls are cast down (Ps. 43), or understand the motives of our own hearts (Prov. 20.5) or explain the source of suffering. Is it from God, or Satan, or are we the cause (Job1-39)? I’ve received some really great soul care by some sage pastoral guides who have walked by my side in love and truth. I’m thankful for the work God has done (and continues to do) in my own heart through His people.
I have also had the opportunity over the past year to work on some academic projects, and I have really enjoyed it. Those who know me are not surprised by how much I love books, archives, and libraries. I used to be embarrassed by my bookishness, but I’m starting to just embrace it! I published some original research (from archival work in Kenya and England) in the Dictionary of African Christian Biography and gave a paper on the mission moratorium debates (ca. 1969-1979) at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. I am currently working on a project for the Encyclopaedia of the Bible and Its Reception (Berlin) and preparing a paper to be delivered at Yale in June on missions and diversity of custom and belief in World Christianity (I really do like this stuff!). I am working on a popular introduction to World Christianity to be published with the centre I work at in Cambridge. The organization I am currently working with has encouraged me to write and has asked me to help revise their church history curriculum and work on a few other projects. Most of my scholarship is in the area of missions, history and theology—which dovetails beautifully with my work. For those of you who have asked, I am also contemplating a revised, printed edition of Lectio Divina—a practical devotional for every day of the year from Genesis to Revelation. (This was something I wrote and made available on-line for the congregation I served in NWI.)
Finally, I have been making a transition to a new vocation. I won’t share the full story here, but after I left Calvary Church I was having a hard time seeing myself pastoring another church—though I was open to anything God had. I considered many different possibilities in the church and in the academy, some of which were very interesting. I had just returned from Cambridge where I was working on a few projects and exploring some possible opportunities in education. A friend sent me a text and said: “Would you be willing to have breakfast with the president of Global Action? I think you would love him.” I had never heard of Global Action, but it didn’t take me long to realize that God was doing something special. Global Action is a non-profit that is focused on equipping pastors and Christian leaders in the non-Western world and they were looking for someone to help them grow. I met the president, who has since become a good friend and within a few days Stacy and I were on a flight to Red Lodge, Montana to meet the board. We were impressed by their mission—as well as the board and staff. They offered me a position and we said, “We’re all in.” My primary role as the Executive Vice President is helping our organization grow so that we can train even more leaders around the world. This means doing a lot of different and interesting things, working with people from all over the world (including our US staff), and even serving as one of the lecturers in our program—which I love to do! We also have a London affiliate that I’m working with which works out beautifully for my ongoing scholarly labours at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. And Global Action is now working on expansion plans in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Central Europe and the Caribbean. (Did I mention that I’m excited!!!) Few things make my heart beat faster than being in the classroom with young leaders who are living out their faith in hard places. It’s pretty awesome.
So why are we moving to Austin, Texas? Well, did I mention that there’s barbeque and Shiner Bock, Blue Bell ice cream, Houston Astros baseball and miles and miles of bluebonnets? And I do travel a lot—we will be living 20 minutes from an airport that connects me to the world. Can you believe Austin is growing so fast that it now has daily nonstop flights to London and many other places around the world! There’s also Austin Stone Community Church which has become our new home. Did I mention the weather? But if you really want to know why we moved to Austin it is to spend more time with our granddaughter Vesper Joy! (Oh, and Fleet and Molly and my parents too!) I should also say that I really, really miss the church family I led for over 20 years in Valparaiso. My heart is not yet fully healed from being apart from them. We will be back in Indiana to see anyone who wants to see us and we promise to let y’all know!