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Having become somewhat habituated to living in a tiny West African countries where you can drive across the country in less than a couple of hours, our recent travels have left me a overwhelmed at how vast a country America is, and how amazing it is that we can so easily navigate across it. We’ve looked at different ministry opportunities in Louisiana, Texas, and Oregon. We’ve come away from each place with the feeling that we could happily live and minister in any one of them. As God unfolds his will for us, I’m thankful for the rich variety of experiences that we have had. We see God at work in so many places (could it be everywhere?), and we are blessed to be his co-workers–right now in Birmingham but, so it would seem, soon to be somewhere else.

Here are a few photos from our journeys.

Jeremy & Jonathan over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg.

We were thrilled to spend some time with our Togo teammates, the Hollands, in Abilene. Here Jeremy and J onathan hang out with their old friends Rebecca and Elliana. My first words upon entering the Hollands’ home were, “You have your stuff!” We can’t wait to get ours out of storage, but are grateful to the folks in Tyler, TX who are storing the things we shipped from Africa.

I’m afraid we may have overwhelmed the Albany, TX church with our “cheering section” who came to see us. The Baileys (left), former missionaries to Benin, now live in Brownwood. Andy & Rhonda Wilson (right), teammates from Benin, live in Albany, where Andy is assistant school principal. In addition, the Hollands (Togo/Abilene) and the McVeys (Ghana/Clyde), showed up at worship Sunday morning. It was a great West Africa reunion.

After beautiful West Texas, our next trip took us to the Pacific Northwest. We had a chance to see God’s handiwork, both in nature and among his people. Above is the Columbiana River just as it reaches the Portland area, and below is an aerial view of Mt. Hood. I do need to dispel any nasty rumors that you may have heard concerning the weather in Portland. We had beautiful weather in the 80s with clear skies for both flights. The view alone was worth the price of the air tickets!

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Old missionaries never die, they just  ……. (you fill in the blank).

What do missionaries do when they leave “the field,” and how does it go for them?  How can returning missionaries make a successful transition to some kind of career in the U.S.?

These are some of the questions that I’ve had recently and a D.Min. course requirement has inspired me to do a survey of returned Church of Christ missionaries and how their career transitions went when they returned to their “home” country.

Working for email addresses made available by Missions Resource Network, I sent out about 125 invitations to participate in the survey.  If you have served overseas for at least one year and are now living in the States, and if you did not receive a personal invitation to participate, you can still do so.

Click here to participate in the Returned Missionary Career Transitions survey.

Speaking of old missionaries, I hope to see a few in Abilene next week.  I just printed out our boarding passes for our flight tonight.  We will be in the area this weekend and I’ll be staying until Thursday for the ACU lectures.  If you’re in town, drop me a comment or give me a call at 256-226-0445.

I know that I’ve gotten too slack with my blogging when I actually get a request for an update. This particular request had to do with “tryouts,” which is a bit of a dicey subject since I never know how what I write might be perceived by the churches that we have or will be visiting with. Last weekend we started a three-week string of visits with churches—two for preaching positions and one as an involvement/outreach minister. We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit and expect to enjoy those that remain. It is fun to be with God’s people and see what he is doing in different places. It is a great reminder that God’s kingdom is much bigger than the sphere in which any individual can move. I expect God to show us where he wants us to settle, but this time of looking around is a good opportunity to get to know family members that have to this point been distant relatives and to see what God is doing through them, and how we might be a part of that.

With so much variety in churches these days (something I see as a good thing), it’s hard to know what to expect—even how to dress. One of my questions in lining up this past weekend’s trip was whether I should wear a coat and tie or if dress was more casual. I was told to definitely wear a coat and tie.

Friday afternoon, we knew that we had a five-six hour drive ahead of us, so we arranged to get Jeremy out of school a few minutes early so that we could get on the road. I was a little late leaving the church office because of a phone call, so I rushed to our apartment and immediately began loading the bags that Maureen had packed into our car. As I was about to lock the door, Maureen asked me if I had everything. I hesitated, trying to think of what I might need that I did not have. It seemed that there might be something, but I couldn’t think of what it was.

We picked Jeremy up from school, and hit the interstate. It was early enough that traffic was not bad and we were enjoying cruising along. About an hour from Birmingham, a random thought popped into my head. I looked at Maureen and said, “The suit.”

We hopped off at the next exit, started heading the opposite direction, and lost about two hours on our trip for the sake of a suit.

I did tell the story Sunday morning. I figured the church might as well know who they were dealing with.

I’m not sure that they did get a very realistic picture of our family, however. Some space alien must have kidnapped my younger son and inhabited his body. The kid that was with us actually behaved during church. When I had explained to him that there would not be children’s church and that he was going to have to listen to daddy’s sermon, he responded, “But that’s no fun.” What an ego boost. He did make it, however, with only minimal squirming.

The whole idea of a tryout for a ministry position isn’t really very biblical. I’m not saying that it’s wrong, just not biblical. I mean, how often did Paul “try out” before he preached somewhere? He usually just showed up, started preaching, and waited to see if they were going to welcome him or stone him. I think I prefer tryouts. Once I find out where we are going, I’ll have a “no stoning” clause put in my contract.

I’ve also hesitated to post recently because I just can’t seem to come up with good responses to Steve Duer’s book tag. It seems that somehow I mistakenly give people the impression that I’m a man of letters. I do read a fair amount, but have a horrible memory, so that I can’t just pull up content or even the title of a book I’ve read off the cuff unless there is a specific trigger for the memory. I’m probably sharing Denise’s problem of short-term memory loss. Sorry to disappoint, Steve.

As partial compensation, I’ll throw in a couple of related quotes from books that I’m now reading, The Mind of Jesus by William Barclay, and Participating in God’s Life by Leonard Allen and Danny Swick.

“There is a kind of rationalism which kills wonder. When wonder is dead, wonderful things cease to happen. We might well receive more miracles, if we stopped insisting that miracles do not happen, and began expecting them to happen.” (Barclay, p. 70).

“So when we glibly pronounce that God can work in the world and in our lives but only in a ‘non-miraculous’ way we speak in categories created in the seventeenth century, not in biblical categories. Such a way of speaking, in fact, became possible only in the split apart world of the Enlightenment. Specifically, the Bible recognizes no dualism between nature and super nature, the world of scientific laws and the world of Divine intervention. Therefore, it makes no sense biblically to define a miracle as ‘God’s suspending the rules of nature’—there were no such rules. Instead, life is imbued with God’s activity, sometimes in dramatic, extraordinary ways, other times in more mundane but no less ‘miraculous’ ways.” (Allen & Swick, p. 121)