Overseas missions. Church planting. Raising third culture kids. These were among the very topics Ted and I discussed on our first date, not knowing we would quickly tie the knot just 6 months later. On our seminary campus, we were well known to be the couple who would succeed overseas as career missionaries. Our hearts for the nations were what brought us together. I was even the proud first recipient of the seminary’s missionary loan repayment plan.
We excitedly left beautiful Massachusetts on a cold winter day in February 2002 for a week-long cross-country drive in our 1992 Honda Accord to a foreign city named San Jose.
We would begin our 2-year Alliance missionary internship (now known as ALME) with the goal being to find ourselves overseas to learn a new language, evangelize to the lost, and ultimately church plant among the un-reached. We dreamed of how we would do this as a couple and with our future children. Every family member would be an integral part of our missionary service.
Fast forward 15+ years...we’re still in San Jose, a city that is no longer foreign to us, but a place we proudly call “home.” What happened?
“REMEMBER when…” these are the words we often use as we reflect on our 15 years here in San Jose.
REMEMBER when we were young and excited about missions...how God used that passion to bring us to San Jose?
REMEMBER when we had to keep dying to our own dreams to go overseas to submit to God’s leading to remain?
REMEMBER when we welcomed each of our four children, dedicating them to the Lord, that they would not live ordinary lives that succumbed to the cultural norms of this world? How we made a decision that they would be an active part of our ministry?
REMEMBER when we had to withdraw our names from the missionary appointee list of the Alliance? What were we thinking?
REMEMBER when God started to challenge who the truly unreached people groups are, and how we saw with our own eyes that they are right in our backyard?
REMEMBER when God used us to open a preschool, which would eventually plant the seed of the Gospel in hundreds of children and their family members?
REMEMBER when God asked us to step up as senior pastors of the church?
REMEMBER when New Vine, our church plant, was birthed?
How did this two-year layover in San Jose last so long? It’s a story only God can tell. We do not fully comprehend God’s way, but one thing I can confidently say is that we would have chosen no other path for ourselves.
One day, Ted received a vivid image of us paddling on a small boat against the ocean waves. We were struggling with all our might to paddle all the way across the seas to the mission field. God asked a poignant question, “Do you want to live life paddling to your own destination by your own efforts? Or, do you want to ride in MY boat and sail along the waves I have set for you?”
Furthermore, the message God kept impressing upon our hearts was, “Your primary calling is unto ME. Your calling is not about a people group, a place, or a specific ministry. Don’t forget that.” This picture and message haunted, challenged, and ultimately transformed us because death to our lofty dreams and ambitions was required.
Every season of dying to ourselves led us to the next step of kingdom gain. Each death refined our character and formed an unshakable understanding of who our God is. In our eyes, we felt like miserable failures in fulfilling our magnificent call to the mission field. Yet, God’s favor and hand were undeniably evident upon us and we have enjoyed riding on God’s boat even through all the humongous waves that often overwhelmed and swept over us. We would have it no other way. Most importantly, we live each day confident that we are His son and daughter. He defines who we are, not our position or ministry, nor location.
The best part of this story is that our “original” desire for church planting was never forgotten, for this was always God’s heart for us. It did not play out in the ways we had ever imagined, but perfectly through God’s design. As New Vine Community Church was birthed September of 2016, we had to take a step back and look at our lives and ministry from an eagle’s perspective. The Silicon Valley, the attractive hub of a plethora of nations, was our inheritance. When we could have claimed one people group overseas as our spiritual inheritance, we sensed God giving us a multitude of nations right here in San Jose. Wow!
As a daughter of God, a wife to Ted, a mother of four girls, and a woman in ministry, I often tell Ted that I have a truly blessed life. I have a unique role in the lives of my family and church where influence can be strategic and impactful. My family, along with numerous other New Vine families, made church planting a family endeavor.
All our children, from infants to teens, were at every church planting strategy and prayer meeting. Every empty building my kids saw on our drives were potential “Daddy, we can plant New Vine there” sites. Every new person we met were, “We should tell them about New Vine” encounters. Our church planting kids bravely went door to door with us, paving the way for strangers to welcome and greet us warmly. We even got to enter a stranger’s home and invite the presence of God into their space, for who can say “no” to a 5-year old doing the pee-pee dance?
Our Memorial Day outreach picnic really captures what was deposited to my children through planting New Vine:
“Daddy, how many people do you think will show up to our Memorial Day picnic?” was the question my four girls asked Daddy on our 30-minute drive up from San Jose to Mountain View.
“150” came out of Ted’s mouth, but in his mind, he was utterly fearful doubting if at least 10 people would show up!
We spent the next couple of hours with 30 others, setting up a beautiful picnic banquet for the Mountain View community. Time was ticking closer to 3:00...
“Daddy, it’s almost 3:00. Where is everyone?” No response from Ted. I just saw him pacing back and forth on the front lawn, probably making some deals with God to miraculously show up even for the sake of his own children!
Right at 3 p.m., people started trickling from every opening to the grass field. They entered, one by one, in groups, and in family units. We were so excited to see faces of people who opened their doors to us, just a week earlier, when we went door to door inviting people to a BBQ picnic.
After the hurried rush of welcoming and greeting our guests, we realized there were at least 150 people who joined our first outreach of New Vine Community Church. We were left speechless and in awe. People showed up. Most importantly, God showed up. He continues to show up at each New Vine gathering through strangers who consistently walk through our doors, through people surrendering their lives to Jesus, and through a strong spiritual family He is creating in our midst.
“REMEMBER when…” are the very words we wish to speak in our latter years, to recount God’s perfect way of unfolding His beautiful story in and through our lives. Our lives took unexpected twists and turns that we could not have ever imagined, yet it is a story of a truly blessed life because we chose to surrender to God’s higher and better ways. Indeed, there is no greater joy than being at the center of God’s will. This is our sweet spot…where God shows up.