Here’s a recent self-portrait while sitting in my car, where I spend a lot of my time.
Some of my subscribers and regular readers may be wondering, “What happened to the guy who once wrote this blog?” It’s been more than a little crazy since we returned to the states in late May 2009. I started working really long hours at an AT&T call center, then they decided after five weeks of training and five weeks of OJT that I didn’t have the right kind of statistics for a long-term position. And I was fired! It was my first experience and, sadly, I was ineligible to draw unemployment benefits since we had lived overseas over the previous five years.
Thankfully, another promising position surfaced during that first job and it s-l-o-w-l-y simmered on the back burner over many months. I thought it would never come to fruition, but after four and a half months of unemployment I began working on November 23, 2009, as a special investigator retained by the U. S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government’s HR department. I’m doing background investigations, primarily for the Department of Defense (DoD) that lead to security clearances for members of the U. S. military and defense contractors. The most common background investigation looks at every place a person has lived, worked, or attended school over the past ten years. Every single day I get to do my part towards insuring a strong national security. An average week consists of interviewing people and gathering background information from courthouse records, real estate leasing companies, high schools and universities, all sorts of job sites, and neighborhoods.
Things are settling down slightly, so I hope to resume a little more writing than the past eight or nine months. That’s not an ironclad promise, but an aspiration. I have a lot to share, but not nearly as much time to write, which is very frustrating for me. Thanks for hanging in there! I’ve been amazed that my blog stats have not wavered very much at all, which means that a lot of new people are finding the content that I’ve built up over time. Hopefully, they’re enjoying what they find. Anyway, gotta run!
There’s been a massive shift in our lifestyle over the past six weeks! We left a relatively quiet Welsh town and the typical 37.5 hour work week with five weeks of vacation each year. We walked almost everywhereâ€”to work, to the doctor’s office, to church, to the Chinese takeaway, and to local shopsâ€”and if we wanted to travel further, we often used public transportation (bus, taxi, or rail). You could literally not own an automobile in the UK and do quite well most of the time.
Now it seems like we’re back on the treadmill, staring at the possibility of 50-60 hours per week with two weeks vacation.Â I was offered employment back in February with the provision that I could start anytime within a six-month window. So three weeks ago I began my five weeks of training and then I’m looking at eight additional weeks before my probationary period ends: at that point I’m eligible for company benefits and a 28% pay raise. Great, huh? Unfortunately, most people never make it to the ninety-day mark. They either quit or get fired. Several long-term employees have admitted that very few people from their training class are still working for the company after twelve months. A senior manager told us yesterday that there’s a 100% turnover rate per year, meaning that our 1,200-person workforce will turnover once a year. I hope to be the exception to the rule.
Thankfully, I’m in a recession-proof businessâ€¦a massive call center that offers customer service and technical support for one of the largest wireless phone companies in the United States. Cell phones have become a necessity, especially the prepaid “throw-away” phones that require no deposits, no credit checks, and no personally identifiable information. If you want to activate your phone under the name “Bugs Bunny,” then it’s perfectly fine with us. We don’t want to know who you are or what you’re doing for a living as long as you pre-pay our company for the services we provide.
And once I complete the initial five weeks of training, the opportunities for overtime abound. I met a young man yesterday who’s working 80 hours a weekâ€”earning his regular pay for 40 hours and overtime for the other 40 hoursâ€”so he can work his way through university and complete his masters degree. HeÂ earned nearly $6,000 for the month of June. If you want to put in extra hours, there seems to be an unlimited supply for the taking. Since we have not received any income over the past six weeks, that looks like an excellent way to get caught up even if only for a couple of months, assuming I survive the training course and the probationary gauntlet.
But it’s this maddening pace of life that I dreaded most when we began talking about returning to the states. People here seem unable to slow down and enjoy life. One really dangerous outcome of this sad reality is the massive amount of car crashes, road rage incidents, deliberate disobedience concerning traffic lights and speed limits, and the downright rudeness of those who drive the streets and highways of our cities. We’re not very nice when we get behind the wheels of our automobiles, especially the big SUV’s with macho-sounding names like Armada, Nitro, Expedition, Commander, and Rogue. Six thousand pounds of machinery with 300â€“400 horsepower engines can do a lot of damage if the person driving is not having a good day.
I was hoping to bring a little Welsh serenity back to the states and share it with others. Hmmmmâ€¦ I’m not so sure it’s possible, especially if I get caught up in this frenetic pace along with everyone else. For those we left behind (and others living in idyllic towns and villages all over the UK and Ireland), I sincerely hope you appreciate what you have on a daily basis. It’s a precious thing, often not valued until it slips away.
In less than sixty days, I plan to be back to the United States after spending five years in the United Kingdom (UK) as an independent missionary and I have no plans to return to my previous life as a lifetime, died-in-the-wool Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) loyalist. I’m not going back as a church planting strategistâ€¦not as an SBC pastor or church planterâ€¦and not even as a member of an SBC church.
And it has nothing to do with my previous employment and experience in denominational life, in spite of what some may think. Yes, I have been hurt and disappointed and wrongfully treated, but then who hasn’t? As the saying goes, “Join the club!” You cannot be engaged in meaningful ministry without making yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding and there’s often nothing you can do to defend yourself.
This may come as a shock to many life-long friends and family, but I believe God is leading me to follow Jesus into places where no one else is going and in ways that few evangelicals may understand, much less engage in. That may sound like I’m putting myself on a pedestal, but I honestly don’t mean to do that. Living and serving in the completely secular culture of the UK has radically altered my priorities and assumptions about what it means to follow Jesus, something that previously seemed so easy to do within the utopian Christian bubble of “come and see” evangelical churchianity. For those who may be avid readers, the following books have shaped my thinking and plans for future ministry.
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While it may seem that American evangelicals have completely penetrated the middle class culture of the Deep South, I can remember being startled that only 10% of the population in the traditionally “Bible Belt” counties of western Florida attend an evangelical church. The SBC represents the largest single grouping with approximately 5% attending their weekly services on a regular basis; and I would be willing to guess that the numbers have declined even more over the past five years.
I love Bill Easum’s open remarks in Unfreezing Moves: Following Jesus into the Mission Field:
Faithful congregations follow Jesus into the mission field to make disciples who make a difference in the world. Jesusâ€™ command to â€œGo make disciples of all nationsâ€ (Matthew 28:19) describes the heart and soul of any authentic Christian community of faith, because it is Jesusâ€™ Last Will and Testament. Faithful congregations intentionally go out from the congregational mission post to make disciples; congregations that omit this purpose are unfaithful. No individual, congregation, or denomination is excused from this mandate, because disciple-making is the reason the Church exists. Take disciple-making away and our congregations have no justification for existence.
In the closing story to St. Lukeâ€™s Gospel, as well as throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we encounter a series of â€œroad stories.â€â€¦In every instance Christianity is depicted as a movement away from the center of religious institutional, professional life into the fringes of the mission field.
Once again, God asks Christians the question: â€œWill you follow me again into the mission field?â€ If we wish to be faithful and claim the future for Jesus, we must quit trying to save our institutions and be willing to follow Jesus into the mission field, even if it means abandoning or sacrificing our institutions. The basic purpose of Christianity is to be with Jesus on the mission field. Every faithful hero in the New Testament joined Jesus on the mission field. The purpose of Christianity has nothing to do with health or growth.
So consider this a brief update of where I’m heading for the immediate future. While I do have some specific plans in mind, it’s going to take some time to get reoriented to American life, including getting settled into new employment and a host of other things. I’ll keep you posted as details unfold, so that you can either pray for God’s provision and/or for my sanityâ€”not sure which is the most pressing issue right now. The future is exciting! We can always look forward to life when we’re learning to rest in God’s love and mercy.
For those who find William P. Young’s fictional book, The Shack, disturbing or offensive, I would ask you to browse this list of recent comments on the author’s blog and ask, “How can God touch the hearts of people all over the world with a book that I believe is theologically flawed, biblically inaccurate, or completely heretical?”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you may be tempted to respond like my dad when I would beg to do something all my friends were doing: “Well, if everyone jumped off the bridge, would you jump, too?” I may have used that line a few times with my own four children. But remember the words of Scripture that “in an abundance of counselors, there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14, ESV). And right now, I would say the overwhelming response from fellow believers (not heretics) all over the world is amazingly positive. So I’m just encouraging you to think again, to put aside any rigid theological constructs you might embrace and simply read The Shack with a fresh pair of eyes, asking God to reveal Himself to you through the fictional story of William Paul Young.
I just got off the phone with my father after he finished The Shack (I asked him to read it after I did so we could discuss it). My father is also a Pastor. He was raised in a culture steep [sic] with legalism but it was never prominent in his heart. In fact, he is the most gracious man I have ever known and has always encouraged me to err on the side of grace. By nature, I tend to attract to legalismâ€”grace is far harder for me to grasp though I cannot blame my precious family for this. Because of this, The Shack shook me up in many ways though I was so deeply moved by it. I wanted dad to read it as a â€œdoubleâ€ check. Verdict is in. He is buying more copies to distribute. I end this post unstumbled and touching the Son at Calvary.
Is it possible? Have you ever considered yourself to be attracted to legalism by nature and, conversely, offended by the lavish, unfathomable grace of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I know that’s the natural tendency of my own heart and mind, having been raised under “hellfire and damnation” preaching in the Deep South, then soaked in Reformed theology until completely pickled (well, almost). Those times when the Spirit of God has moved over my soul in powerful times of refreshingâ€¦well, I must admit that I’ve sometimes reacted with embarrassment or suspicion that I was just going soft, so to speak.
This book, like Mel Gibsonâ€™s movie The Passion of the Christ, is the most powerful revelation of Godâ€™s love that Iâ€™ve encounteredâ€¦ except for those times He spoke to me and gave me peace beyond understanding. Iâ€™m going back through The Shack with a highlighter and am letting God speak to my heart about His love and His will for my life.
The Shack edifies scripture, but doesnâ€™t compromise it. While the Bible can sometimes seem sterile, The Shack reveals Godâ€™s love and wisdom in ways I can comprehend. True, the book is but a pale shadow of an indescribable God; but God truly is using this book to inspire and to communicate His love for every one of us.
I’m not afraid to admit that I wept through The Shack, so much so that I would read it alone so my wife and family wouldn’t see the tears and hear the loud, convusive sobbing that often overwhelmed me in certain passages of the book. And though I’ve read the book half a dozen times, I still find myself moved to tears and deep humility when I read specific conversations that take place between the main character and the three manifestations of the Trinity. It has done something in my own heart and soul that I really can’t explain; and the tangible results have been a deepening relationship with my dear Father in heaven, the Lord Jesus, and the incomprehensible Holy Spirit.
So I do hope you’ll read through some of the comments on Paul Young’s blogâ€¦the unsolicited outpouring of joy and thanksgiving from our spiritual family scattered to the four ends of the earth. These brothers and sistersâ€”and myself includedâ€”believe that God is using a small paperback book to bring healing, understanding, and even salvation to those who might be seeking the type of loving father they’ve never known before.
My wife and kids are always saying, “I really don’t know what to get you for Christmas!” They usually go on to explain that they don’t know what I need; and now I know that they can just use Google to find out. I’m not usually into this sort of thing (whatever you call it), but I ran across the idea here and decided to try it. Really funny!
Google your full first name (not your nickname) and the word “needs” like this: “William needs” and then post the first 10 things that Google finds. You may have to go to the website and do a little reading. Then tag 5 friends (not including the person who tagged you) and pass it on.
Here’s my list:
- William needs a doll (so that’s why I often feel so conflicted?)
- William needs help (especially when considering need #1)
- William needs more funds for crackdown (how could the Washington Post be wrong?)
- William needs to lead a healthy, happy life (if I had known this, I would have stayed out of “the ministry”)
- William needs money to pay for castle-building (it’s just what we do in Wales!)
- William needs to transfer U.S. $15 million (will you take a check?)
- William needs a drummer for his new band’s videos (I told you I got a new gig during my recent trip to Floridaâ€¦the beans are spilled now!)
- William needs a haircut (so true!)
- William needs a show name (hey, my fans demand it!)
- William needs advice (after all my other needs are filled)
HT: Jeromy Johnson @ A Mending Shift
God’s guidance and provision have been unmistakable over the past five weeks; and it seems that I’ve been able to accomplish everything I had hoped in this trip to the states. As you know, I like to make lists, so here’s a summary of my original goals:
- Housing â€” It took some time because the rental market is flooded right now in Pensacola, but I leased a little 2-bedroom house in a great location.
- Employment â€” I have received a firm offer of employment with West Corporation, a huge corporation (1,100 employees in their Pensacola branch alone) that handles inbound customer service for AT&T and Comcast. I have up to six months to review the various training events, companies, and shift patterns before deciding where/if I fit into their company. Continue reading
Two weeks have passed so quickly, but I’m thrilled to report that I now have a lease and keys to a small 2 bedroom, 2 bath house in Pensacola! It’s within a mile of Interstate 10, adjacent to a major shopping mall, two miles from our oldest daughter’s home, and sits on nearly an acre of land (lots of room for our grandkids to play).
Tomorrow morning, I’m flying to Little Rock to load my second daughter’s household goods into a UHaul (for my British friends, it’s a “hired removal truck”) that I will drive back to Florida over the weekend. Friends and family will help us load and unload on both ends of the journey. I’m a little concerned about the weather, near freezing, in Little Rock and slippery roads on the way back. Thankfully, forecasts are projecting mid-50′s for Pensacola the next five to seven days. Please pray for safe travels as I drive the big truck and my daughter follows in her car with the three grandchildren. Continue reading
Thanks to everyone for your prayers, e-mails, and encouraging comments regarding our announcement to move back to the states. We believe God has confirmed over and over that we’re moving in the right direction. Some of you have asked, “What can I do to help?” Here are some very practical needs that we have right now:
- A house or apartment for our daughter & grandchildren. We may live with them for awhile until we get on our feet, but Sheri and I will eventually need our own place.
- A dependable automobile that I could borrow until the first of February. After that, I’ll have use of the car that my daughter is using in Little Rock: we bought it three or four weeks ago through Craigslist.
- A cell phone that I could re-activate (pay-as-you-go) or just borrow until the 18th of February.
- Furniture & appliances. We sold everything when we moved to Wales five years ago, so we’re coming back empty-handed. Our daughter has everything but a refrigerator.
- Donations toward our moving expenses. A 20-foot shipping container is $5,000 USD and, while we do not have furniture, we have lots of books and other personal belongings that need to be shipped back to the states.
- Employment for myself, my daughter, and my wife.
If you live in Pensacola or the Florida panhandle, please get in touch with me via e-mail (my last name @ gmail.com) and I will contact you as soon as possible. It would be great to re-establish contact with you and I would also love to share our experiences in Wales (especially if you are a church leader and need a missions speaker in the future).
Nearly five years ago, we moved to the United Kingdom to work alongside evangelical churches in the valleys of South Wales. Wherever we find ourselves, we have always made it a point to settle into a place with a long-term commitment; and I have truly felt at home in the UK, hoping to gain permanent residency (for which we are eligible in May 2009) and dual citizenship a year later. But two critical issues have arisen over the past year that cannot be ignored any longer and they both center on our stateside family: one of our daughters and my father who just celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8, ESV). This is not some obscure passage buried within an Old Testament prophecy. It is clear, precise, practical, and stated with apostolic authority, so I take these words seriously. We have often been challenged to reevaluate our priorities in the light of Scripture and this passage has come to mind again and again amidst the struggles of the past year.
Our daughter left her husband nine months ago and sheâ€™s finding it extremely difficult to make it alone with three precious children under the age of six. She separated herself from his abusive behavior twice before, but he always managed to convince her that he had changed and that things would be different. And things would be differentâ€¦for about six to nine months. Continue reading