A familiar irony: Coaxed to leave the path of security

Arnold Derstine, Franconiaassembly08-107.jpg

My call to ministry has similarities to my first experience with a high ropes course as a young adult leader nearly 15 years ago. My great fear of heights kept my feet firmly planted on the ground as one risk-taker after another shimmied up the tree to accept the challenge. I was content and quite comfortable in my role as “encourager,” coaxing others on from the safety and security of the solid ground below. Yet in spite of the overwhelming sense of panic and fear that gripped me to think about trying it myself, there was a still small voice deep within me calling and inviting me to step out and do it. After relentless prodding by the group I reluctantly stepped into the harness and cautiously shimmied up the tree. Somehow perched high above the ground desperately clinging to anything I could hold onto I was able to see with more clarity. It was clear that I prefer to be in control and that I tend to choose the pathway to comfort and security. However, as I cautiously eased my grip it also became clear there is greater freedom, life, adventure and potential when learning to trust God by surrendering my control.My journey in ministry began innocently enough as I accepted a three year term on our congregation’s Mission Commission in 1992. I was immediately given the task of being the point person in developing a relationship with our sister church in Puebla, Mexico. Within six months I was making my first of many trips to Puebla. In the following years my world view was challenged, expanded and reshaped by my interaction and relationships with our brothers and sisters from Mexico. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the “me generation” values that influenced my life and I began to more fully open myself to God’s leading and direction. Yet even this new openness did not prepare me for where God was leading.In the fall of 1996 our church leadership began to discuss the idea of sending a family from Franconia to Puebla as a next step in our sister church relationship. Although I felt a sense of God’s call the very first time I heard the idea I resisted by tightening my grip. My excuses for not considering a move to Puebla seemed valid and logical. Neither my wife nor I spoke any Spanish. I lacked training and formal education. I thoroughly enjoyed my occupation and had invested nearly 15 years with the same company. Our stage of life as parents with young children seemed to suggest this just wasn’t the right time. Truth be told, when I honestly allowed myself to process the possibility of pulling up roots from all that was familiar for the uncertainty and unknown of Mexico it seemed more terrifying than the experience with the ropes course several years earlier. Yet at the same time, with familiar irony, there was another voice deep within me encouraging and calling me to loosen my grip.After months of prayer, discernment and seeking counsel we came to believe it was God calling us to let go and set out on a new journey in Mexico. Mexico was a place of growth, learning, exploring and having our gifts affirmed. Our faith was both stretched and strengthened as we learned to minister and be ministered to in a new context. As God graciously transformed our lives we were blessed to see other lives powerfully transformed as well. Many times throughout our eight years in Mexico God would again invite me to surrender my control and more fully trust in God’s grace and goodness.In the fall of 2005 we returned to Franconia for a time of discernment, feeling God had released us from our ministry in Mexico, but not yet knowing what was next. With much prayer and counsel from trusted leaders and our discernment team we accepted our current assignment at Franconia Mennonite Church where I serve as an Associate Pastor with a focus on Mission and Outreach. Today I get excited about ministries like Celebrate Recovery and our Spanish outreach which open doors for the church to share God’s love with our wider community. I’m convinced there are many people outside our church walls who long to know Jesus and desire to be part of a life-changing community of faith. Yet I suspect that these persons too have fears and insecurities that keep them holding tightly to what seems most familiar and comfortable. So I continue to think of myself as an encourager coaxing others on in this journey of faith. However, I too continue to learn as I go. I’m learning that God’s love and God’s path often call me to let go of the comforts and familiarity I seek so that his blessing can flow through me. I’m learning that God is still encouraging me to loosen my grip. But I’m also discovering that in the process there is greater freedom, life and potential that God always meant for us to enjoy.

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