Volume 14, Number 2, November-December 2010
I moved to PABC in March of this year, and I made the decision to commit to serving here because I was convicted that it was God’s will for me to do so at this point in my life. The fact that I was convicted, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily mean that much—I’ve heard people on numerous occasions claim to do something because they believed it was God’s will: even if what they were doing, or intended to do, was clearly unscriptural. But I would like to share what led me to that conviction, not because it was anything particularly profound, but more because I am confident that it is not an experience unique to myself. By that I mean that God will, at times, use events in our lives to get our attention when, and if, a course-correction is necessary. In my case, God used an unstable financial condition to lead me to question whether the life I was living was consistent with His purpose for me. Given the nation’s current economic climate, I deem it likely that others may be struggling with this same question, and if so, perhaps what I share may have some value.
Success as a Personal Trainer, but...
I had been living in Austin, TX, working as a personal trainer, which was a career that in many ways was a satisfying one. However, in the year leading up to my arrival at PABC, it had become increasingly less so, for a variety of reasons. As I mentioned, part of that was financial: personal training is a non-essential service, or luxury expenditure; one which requires perspective clients to have both a need for it and a discretionary income sufficient to justify the expense. Beginning in 2009, fewer people were capable and/or willing to do so; even if they acknowledged that they would benefit from the service—and this diminished my income significantly. Be that as it may, God had always provided for my essential physical needs, and I had confidence that He was aware of my circumstances. But, because of this, I began to evaluate the difference I was making in people’s lives more closely. I became more concerned about whether I was having any lasting impact or not; because the satisfaction that comes from a knowledge that what you do matters would, for me, compensate sufficiently enough to justify persisting along my current path.
I also knew, however, that reversing my financial trend would require an increased workload—spending more time in what is termed “prospecting” for clients, without any guarantee that it would yield an increase in income. It was important to me to consider what this would cost in relation to the things that were of spiritual importance. Even without it, I found that far too often I had too little energy for a closer relationship to God—or, at times, simply a lack of desire to pursue one: because if I had free time, I wanted to use it to do what I wanted to do. I do not mention this simply to complain against my workload; there are many careers far more demanding than mine was. I say it, rather, because of the realization that many today are faced with the threat of losing their job if they aren’t willing to work overtime, and are made to feel guilty if they don’t do so joyfully: as if laziness alone were the only possible reason one might refuse. Pursuit of “success” has always been a heavy yoke: how many hearts have given out in its pursuit? For many today though, even just getting by requires that life become little more than ‘work, eat, sleep, repeat’, with maybe a little ‘play’ thrown in on occasion. This was not a path I desired to follow, and as I did not foresee being able to avoid doing so where I was at, I began to seek alternatives.
Then, in August of 2010, the gym where I worked closed for a week for maintenance, and so I went out to California to visit some of my family. During that visit I mentioned to one of my sisters that we were studying the Sermon on the Mount in the Sabbath fellowship I attended in Austin. My brother-in-law shared a book entitled Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, which he thought might benefit the study. Reading it affected me deeply. I value it because it helped me to more concretely understand the tremendous responsibility that God gives to those He calls; and to realize more fully just how much of my life was spent being primarily concerned with my own welfare. In addition, I received it at the perfect time, when I was most receptive to what I learned from it, because I was particularly desirous at that point to know if it mattered to God what an individual does for their career—in other words, did He have some specific purpose for me?
Finding God’s Purpose for Me
So what does all of this have to do with my conviction that it was God’s will for me to come to PABC? I had been praying that if God had something else in mind for me to do, that He would make it clear to me. A few weeks after I returned from my trip, I received an e-mail update about PABC and the thought entered my mind that this was my answer. Initially though, I was far from being certain of it—indeed I would even say I resisted the idea for a time. I enjoyed living in Austin: I had another sister and brother-in-law who lived there near me and I loved being able to spend time with them. Also, I had grown up in Michigan and was not at all keen on the idea of returning to experience what I will refer to understatedly as its “unpleasant” winters.
So I explored other options, while praying that if it was God’s will for me to continue with personal training, that he would encourage me to do so with an increase in my business. For brevity’s sake, I will simply say that the doors to the alternatives I considered did not open. Nevertheless, that fact alone was not enough for me. This was a major decision I was facing, especially since it was not clear to me how I would earn a living if I did decide to go. I wanted to be certain; and I was asking God for a sign. I thought it would come at the Feast, since I knew through the update I received in August that Norm would be attending the same site as I was. I asked God that He might make it clear to me what I should do, one way or the other, through a conversation with him. I did have the conversation, but it did not accomplish what I had hoped. After the Feast was over, I returned home perplexed and a bit frustrated with God. What did it all mean? Why did it seem like He wasn’t answering me?
Finally, one Sabbath evening, I happened to turn to the account in 1 Kings 19, where Elijah had fled to the mountain in Horeb. While he was there God told him His presence was about to pass by. Then a great wind came, next an earthquake, followed by a fire—all signs of God’s mighty power. But what does it say of each? The Lord was not in them. Elijah didn’t need another experience with God’s power at this point: God had performed many miracles through him in the past. He needed encouragement, and intimate communion with God, which came in the form of a still, small voice. And there, to me, was my answer! It occurred to me then that every time I brought the question of what I should be doing with my life to God, the still, small voice in my heart told me that PABC was where I belonged.
But I was, and still am, inexperienced in having God lead and guide my life in that way; so as I would go about my daily routine, doubts would invariably creep in and I’d be right back to asking for a sign. But now I understood why I hadn’t received it: it wasn’t what I needed. All the doubts I experienced led me to seek God much more diligently; and that was the more essential thing. Through this, I have also begun to realize that oftentimes it is the subtle, less obvious ways in which God works that form the foundation of, and strengthen, our faith in Him. Most importantly to me, it gave me increased faith that God did indeed have a purpose for me, and that He cared about how I used my time. I did not know, right then, what specifically I was supposed to do here; I just knew that I was supposed to be here and that I would learn things here that I would not learn elsewhere.
Faith and Purpose
Faith and purpose are of necessity interwoven. If you have a purpose without faith in it, you don’t really have a purpose at all. Conversely, having faith with no purpose to guide it is like having a car filled with gas, without having any destination. You may begin to drive and may keep going until you run out, but unless you choose at some point along the way, you’re not likely to end up where you want to be. How many Christians, who believe firmly that God worked in the lives of the saints, and gave them a purpose as recorded in the Bible, lack faith and confidence that He would be involved in and is at work in their lives; and because of this live without a clear purpose? It’s not my intention to attempt to answer that question, but I will say this, which I know with all my heart to be true: what a glorious and wonderful thing it is, the highest honor one can have, to be given a service to God, and to know that it is so; because any life, lived without purpose, is a diminished one. The ultimate purpose for mankind as a whole is to bring glory to God through service to Him, yet the service He may give to be performed varies according to the individual. So for anyone who may happen to read this, if you have not yet identified what God’s purpose is for you, I can only encourage you to make it a priority in your life to seek one from Him; and to be confident that He will make it clear—whatever it may be, in due season.
Which brings me back to PABC. The reason I have shared all of this is because I am here: and I infer that if it is God’s will for me to be here, as I believe it is, it then stands to reason that He has a purpose for PABC as well. Our Father’s will and purpose always has our greatest good in mind: so in all things we do, let His will be done and we (speaking of people in general, not just PABC) will prosper. This does not always hold true with regard to physical prosperity, but it most certainly does of our spiritual well-being. Therefore, it is patent that knowing and understanding what His will is serves our best interest. Since I believe this, and my purpose is now linked with PABC, I desire to be equally confident that what we are doing, as a group, is also consistent with God’s will, because our efforts will succeed only to the extent that they are so. As Servants’ News readers are already aware, PABC has sheltered homeless people since June of 2010. Since that time, we have provided shelter for 43 adults and 15 of their children; many for less than a month, some for as long as 10 months. It is good that PABC was able to fill that need for them while they were here. If we knew of a better alternative for these people, we could have sent them there, but we knew of none.
More than Helping the Homeless
During my time here, I have raised the question of whether operating as a homeless shelter is all that God has in mind for us to do. I ask it for several reasons. The first of these is a desire to maximize the use of the resources He has provided. Huron County is by no means a densely populated area, and Port Austin is not a year-round residence for most of those who do live here. It is quite conceivable that there might never be a time when there would be sufficient numbers of homeless to fill all the rooms we have available. If God was involved in the establishment of PABC (and I believe that to be true as strongly as I believe that it is His guidance that led me to come), and His sole purpose in its establishment was that we would serve the homeless, would it not be reasonable to locate it in an area where there are more of them; especially now, when so many are losing their homes? I am not saying there is no value in service on a smaller scale; I am merely considering the impact we have relative to what could be.
Furthermore, there are several other homeless shelters, about 80 miles away, so the need is being met, in some ways, by those who have more experience with, and resources for, doing so. Granted, we may be unique from the others in that we have a ministerial approach of sharing the Gospel. How much more of a lasting impact we had for the brief time some of them were able to stay here as opposed to another shelter, I cannot say: and the fact that I cannot contributes significantly to why I have raised the question. At this point we have only had two families and seven individuals who needed to stay longer than three months. A significant part of sharing the Gospel is demonstrating a better way of life, one that produces peace and joy, in a way that leads others to desire to have those things in their own lives. Changing lifelong patterns of behavior is not an easy thing, however, even for those who have the benefit of God’s spirit to help them overcome: how much less for those without it, especially if they aren’t inclined to acknowledge that any change is necessary? To be effective in leading others to desire positive change, one must begin by showing care and concern before moving on to correction. All of this requires that trust be built, and takes time; which is not always afforded us. That is not to say it is un-worthwhile to make the effort, and it certainly shouldn’t be avoided simply because it is difficult—with God nothing is impossible: and as long as there are homeless in the area who we can help, I believe we should continue to do so. My point, though, is this: if God has given us this responsibility and we are unique from other shelters solely or primarily because of this, would not the difference we make be more apparent?
Helping Those Who Need it Most
God is concerned to show His love and kindness to those who are less fortunate, and it is fair to say the homeless are so, even when and if their misfortune is a product of their own doing. But undoubtedly, they are not the only ones of whom this is true. Some have lost more than just their homes; and that through no fault of their own. I am referring to orphans, and abandoned or unwanted children. Some scriptures that highlight God’s concern for them are:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling (Psalm 68:5).
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17).
PABC’s original stated purpose was to establish a Sabbatarian Educational Environment for young people. This purpose, of course, has not yet been realized. When I spoke to Norman Edwards at the Feast last year, I asked him why he thought that was so. In short, he felt it was because the infrastructure was not in place for an educational program to be successful. But I consider another possibility to be a more satisfactory explanation. I believe it may well be that God withheld the provision of the necessary infrastructure at that time at least in part because the group SEE had intended to serve was not the one God had in mind for us to work with. By that I mean that I believe there is a greater need for providing an environment conducive to learning a Christian way of life for orphans, and abandoned, or unwanted children than there is for young adults who have already been raised in a Christian environment and who have the support of a family who loves them.
The question I would pose, then, is this: is there a need for this type of service today, and would PABC be capable of providing it? Regarding the provision, I am only speaking what is in my heart—to the extent that what I have said is consistent with God’s will, I am fully confident that He will provide the means to bring it to pass, because His will is never thwarted. If it is not from Him, then nothing will come from it, and we move on. Regarding the need, statistics are no longer kept specifically on orphans—they are lumped together in foster care statistics with other children who are away from their parents for either temporary or permanent reasons: parent(s) are incompetent, in the hospital, in jail, on drugs, too poor or simply unwilling to raise their children. Many children go back and forth between the foster care system and their parents, the average time away being 32 months. For the scope of this article I provide only the following, as a place for those who have an interest in pursuing it further to begin:
State Systems are Not Working
An article from October 10, 2002 in the Weekly (Google cache) provides the following statistics:
“The statistics may surprise you: Adoption is a $6.3 billion industry that is unregulated. Since 1971, United States citizens have adopted more than 265,000 children internationally. In 2001 alone, more than 19,000 children from other countries were adopted by U.S. citizens.
Orphanages are full in most countries, yet the welfare of these orphaned and abandoned children is not the top priority in the current system of adoption. The number of orphans worldwide is estimated at more than 13 million.”
In the US, according to Current Events:
“Old-time orphanages—large buildings housing large numbers of orphans—mostly disappeared in this country by the 1940s. They have been replaced by modern facilities known as “group homes” or “group residential programs.” Today about 30,000 children—a small fraction of the more than 500,000 kids living apart from their natural parents—live in group homes or group residential programs scattered across the country.”
To the extent that orphanages and group residential programs are staffed by individuals who genuinely care for the children, good can be accomplished. Nevertheless, state-run agencies, organizationally, are not concerned with teaching Christianity. Indeed, doing so may even be legislated against. As a non-501(c)(3) church entity, PABC is not subject to any such legislation, however; and therefore has an opportunity to serve in a way that others cannot. But even if Christianity was taught, there would still remain a need: as the above statistics indicate, group residential programs fill less than 10% of the need (30,000 out of more than 500,000). Adoption is potentially the best, as parents become legally responsible for children as if they were their own, but only about 50,000 children a year are adopted. The remaining 90%+ are left in the US foster care system—somebody is being paid to take care of them—or they are unaccounted for. (Source: http://adoption.about.com/od/statistics/p/2005stats.htm)
Foster care can be better than a group home, or it can be a whole lot worse. While many families accept foster children out of a sincere desire to love and help them, others do it only for the financial benefit they receive for doing so, and the children are essentially merchandise. Accurate statistics for abuse within the system are hard to obtain, because neither the abusers nor the government want people to know about the abuse, and the children are often scared into being quiet or are considered unreliable witnesses.
The result of poor treatment of children is runaway children. According to the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, about 1,680,000 children per year either run away, or are thrown away—asked to leave their dwelling with no alternate care arranged. Most of these children return home within a few days, but also most suffer dangerous situations while away. A few thousand never return. It is obvious that these children are not happy with their care. How many of these runaway/thrownaways are orphans or in foster care is not tabulated. (Source: )
PABC to Help Children in Need?
So again, is this a work that PABC should begin to pursue? One of the differences in working with orphaned or abandoned children, as opposed to homeless adults, is that they require a longer-term sense of stability in a positive environment. A seven year old orphan, for example, is not concerned about how soon they are able to move on and gain their independence by getting their own home. More time is afforded to truly make a positive and lasting difference. Moreover they are reached at a time when they are still receptive to learning, which is not always true of adults. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, as the saying goes. And, as noted earlier, from a standpoint of utilizing the rooms we have available, the need of Huron County’s homeless population has not increased to reach even half of our capacity. If we can do more by expanding our vision and outreach, shouldn’t we do so? Would doing so mean discontinuing our outreach to the homeless? Perhaps in time, but I do not think that it would, of necessity, be so; certainly not as long as we are able to meet the need. Assuredly, there would be other difficulties in pursuing this course, and questions will arise regarding them, but it would be impossible to address and answer them all here. So I will simply conclude by adding one final detail to my account.
The book I alluded to earlier, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, contained a brief reference to George Mueller; and from it, I felt compelled to read about his life. He was a Prussian minister who lived from 1805-1898. In 1835, living in Bristol, England at the time, he felt compelled to open an orphanage. He started with nothing, received no government assistance, and made no pleas for money—and God provided the means for him to establish an orphanage that would eventually house 2,050 children in six separate buildings and served over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. The reason he gave for taking his approach was that he wanted to show the world, with visible proof, that God hears and answers prayers.
What a pertinent idea for the times in which we live! Jesus told a parable to his disciples, recorded in the book of Luke, to convey that men ought to persist and not lose confidence in their prayers to God; that God hears and answers even though the answer may not come immediately. Yet at the end of it he asked, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)—indicating that in the days prior to Christ’s return, there would be little, if any, belief in the idea that God answers prayers. George Mueller saw a need for more faith over 150 years ago and we are that much closer today to the Lord’s return. Has faith in God increased since Mueller’s day? When I read his story, before I even came to PABC, I felt that my purpose would be realized through beginning again the work he did with orphans, and that I was to start here. It is for this reason that I have proposed the idea of expanding our outreach in this way. As I have already spoken of it to those of us here, and all are in agreement that it is an idea worth pursuing, Norm suggested that I write about it for the last issue of Servants’ News. Having now done so, I entrust the matter to God, being confident that if it is His will for us to do so, He will provide the way for it to be accomplished. &
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