It’s a new year. I, for one, love this season. I love the expectancy of the blank page and waiting to see what God will do. I love making plans, dreaming dreams, pondering what the year ahead will bring. Some of all those plans works out, others not quite so much. Because, without fail, God seems to like to interrupt my well laid plans and make sure each year is full of surprises.
2015 was no different. I sought God and made great plans. Most of it panned out. And the rest of the year was filled with surprises. Here are just a few of them:
We went on an exploratory trip in January 2015 to see if this was somewhere that God would have us to be involved. Three of us went assuring each other it was more of a learning trip; we weren’t making any commitments. It was an opportunity to see what God was saying. Less than 12 months later, we have work in 4 countries, with 5 partners, and training happening in approximately 1500 churches. SURPRISE. Yeah, we didn’t write that into any of our plans. However, God brought together everything we needed, opened doors we weren’t anticipating and left us slightly breathless. This coming year we are better prepared. We have just employed a new West Africa coordinator to help us work better with the French speaking world (none of us spoke French). We’ve got a bunch of potential partnerships lined up and we’ve made time in our calendars to invest in this part of the world.
Yeah, we didn’t put that in our plans either. In fact we rather naively never thought through how we would respond to a disaster in any of the areas where we work. And then it happened and we had to work it out – FAST. I remember waking up in Portland at 5am on Saturday morning, peering at the notifications on my phone (yes, I am that sort of girl) and realizing now wasn’t a good time to hit the snooze button. I needed to work out how to find out if the team were safe and how we should be responding. Right from the first minute I was left amazed at what the team on the ground was doing. Hundreds of churches that had received training through the TCT program started to gather money, food and clothing to take to those who were affected. Unlike many programs who went where a four wheel drive could go (which is rather sensible if you have loads of things to deliver) these churches consistently went to the most difficult areas to get to. They strapped relief supplies onto their backs and walked past blocked roads to areas desperate for help, in many cases helping to dig when they arrived.
Through our efforts together with Disciple Nations and our on the ground partner, hundreds of houses were built. Churches and Christians were the center of the efforts and areas that before had had no Christian witness have now become welcoming to Christians. In one area they donated back some of the materials to build a church for their community. Repeatedly, communities told us they were so grateful. One man who works for a much much larger NGO, shared his amazement. As he said, when they go to the communities they help, they just get lists for more help, not special gifts and recognition for what was done.
Churches & Christians Engaging with Disabilities
So often we have an idea of what we want to do and we almost seem to be ahead of our time. We are knocking on doors, trying to find those interested in joining us. Then suddenly God swings open the doors and we can’t keep up. Such was the case with In His Image’s desire to be engaging with churches. Over the last few years there have been a few limited opportunities. We weren’t expecting any different this year. But early in the year a group called Engage Disability held a conference challenging churches to take on this issue. The In His Image Director, was one of the speakers. Since then, God is opening doors and there is a real sense of change in churches’ response. Thank you God for good surprises!
Our team has close to doubled in size in the last two years. That’s a surprising amount of growth. And we didn’t have a whole bunch of systems. We just didn’t quite anticipate all that we needed. Whether it was a database, contracts, different ways of working or relating, or a million and one other things, we have been left trying to keep up. Fortunately we also have a great team, great partners and kind donors, so for the most part it’s been smooth. But, phew, it’s just a lot of growth. This year we will be focused on getting systems and structures into place so that in the future we can run like clockwork. (You can always hope, right?)
I hope you have also had time to reflect on the previous year, celebrating what God has done and smiling at the surprises. Here’s to planning for the year ahead, knowing He will never cease to surprise us!