The Beautiful Journey
A number of years ago when we first bought our house in Canada, I thought we needed a houseplant to mark this new era of a settling down, establishing a sign in the road of our journey. The plant I chose was called a money tree, but it is a type of Bonsai tree with big leaves that sprout out the top of it’s twisted trunk of above ground-like roots. I loved looking at it, cause I could imagine the growth journey each of those roots took, to spring up, supporting one another and becoming this strong trunk that sprouted new life, each twisted portion of it embracing the other. And through the seasons, even when I thought the plant would die (mostly from my negligence), another leaf would sprout out of a new sprig of the intertwined trunk. I loved it and we would joke with the kids that if the tree had leaves, we would have money. If it didn’t, we probably wouldn’t either. It wasn’t prophetic or anything, but as I ponder it now, it sure does speak to me about how God joins us together with others in this path of life, and ministry as we grow through seasons of pain, strength and abundance.
Sixteen or so years ago, Marc and I joined a ministry much like this, that would become the root system for us in our growth and ministry. We attended our very first Ministers Fellowship International Conference in Portland and I vividly remember that first evening, the thrill of worship in such a powerful, packed setting with a fervour of passionate people that were collaborating to serve the Kingdom of God. I wanted to press in. Asher was born that year, our first child and he was just months old. He loved being held, bounced, danced with. He loved when I was standing, holding him. That was all good until it was time to sit and listen to the Word. He would squirm and push and squeal. So, I was pacing in the back while all the more mature participants without children tugging on them intently sat and listened. I did not want to cause distraction nor did I want to miss what the speaker had to impart. Then Sheila walked up to me, a bright, flamboyant, gorgeous haired woman with a big smile. She asked me if she could hold my baby, and I think I was just a little too eager to thrust him into the arms of this stranger. But there was something about her that I knew I could trust. And it allowed me to listen, and forget for a few moments the demand of a grasping baby. Just at the end of that session we were challenged to seek out two or three people we didn’t know yet and go for lunch together. I thought it natural and probably best to get to know this vibrant woman. Marc and I joined Rod and Sheila Stutzman, along with two other young, eager couples that seemed to beam with the same passion and drive for young ministry that we did. Don and Christa Proctor had become the pastors of a church in Roseville, CA and Rob & Cindy Litzinger were going to plant a church in California that would take off like wildfire. Our hearts all immediately connected and the bonds formed then and there that would become roots of intertwined ministry and friendship for the years to follow. In fact, that very day Rod invited Marc and I to come back home with them to Prosser, WA to speak that Sunday in their church. We gladly accepted the invitation.
Each year we would all join together at the MFI conference to share stories, inspire one another and invite each other to come visit our ministries, stay in each other’s homes and walk together through the trials and joys of ministry. It was easy to be friends and understand and support one another through so many things. We traveled to CA many times, and they came to Haiti too. With Rod and Sheila, I don’t think we have missed a year to visit them in Prosser, WA. Our families have grown together, and I learned so much from her over the years, a homeschooling mother of 7 kids and pastors’ wife, juggling raising a large family and building a church family. And every year we would go to visit Prosser, without fail it would be a monumental weekend or moment in their ministry. And each time they would also come to Haiti, or call us because God spoke to them, it would be a pivotal moment in our ministry too.
Our first time visiting Prosser, their church was meeting in an elementary school gym. It required so much labor to tear down and set up each weekend. But the reception and enthusiasm of the people to serve God and grow together as a church was amazing. And they shared their vision to build a church one day. They had a property that they had hoped to develop at some point. In 2007, God had spoken to us in Haiti that we were supposed to buy more land, a piece of property on the main road and 3 times larger than the one we already had. Many people told us this land was for us. But we did not have the money. The owner was asking $300,000 US for the twelve acres and we had very little income in those days. Our ministry was just a few years old and all we had we poured into our technical school and residence building. A pastor friend came to visit us one day and told us he believed we were supposed to buy that land and that we should make the owner a ridiculous offer. So after some prayer, Marc called the owner who lived in Florida and he made him a very ridiculous offer. Not for half, not for even ⅓, but for ¼ of the price at $75,000 US AND he asked that he give us 3 years to pay it off. We were taking a leap of faith, not knowing where we would get that kind of money but 3 years sounded reasonable- to us. The man said he would call us back. He did some research about who we were and what we were doing in Haiti. He called Marc back a week later and agreed to accept our offer because he wanted to give his contribution to the work we were doing! We were floored. Not even a few weeks later, we got another call, this one out of the blue from Rod Stutzman. He said he’d been praying for us and God had told him that they were to sell their property (which they got $88,000 US for) and give half of the money to us and half of the money to another ministry they supported in Bulgaria. We again were floored! This little church in rural Washington state gave us over half the amount that we needed for this piece of land. In the next three months, we raised the remaining half from donations by other churches and we paid off the land in under 6 months! God had done a miracle for us and Pastor Rod and Sheila and Prosser Community Church were a huge part of the investment, intertwining hearts with ours even deeper. Just a few years later in Nov 2009 they sent a team of core people to help us complete the work in our brand new technical college. They did the finishing touches laying tile in all of the upper story and painting walls. It was an exhilarating time as we installed a brand new computer lab and opened full time classes, filling the building with over 300 students.
One month later, Jan 2010 the most devastating earthquake in Haiti’s history hit, destroying the tech school building we had just finished. It was a very trying time and seemed like it didn’t make sense. But God spoke so clearly to us at that time that he would take what we had spent our first 7 years of ministry building as our tithe and make it new again, as well as expand and grow the ministry. And we have seen that miracle unfold over the ten years that have followed. He has exponentially expanded our ministry what seemed like to us as overnight. But he was testing our faithfulness and if we would carry on. When God calls you to a vision, it must be fulfilled because that is all you see. Pastor Rod & Sheila understood that. They saw the vision too, for their own area and somehow we both understood what was required. The next time we came to visit them in Prosser, they would be experiencing some of their own trauma as they lost almost half of their church in a split. They had not experienced a physical earthquake, but it was a shaking all the same, a laying bare of all they had built to test their foundation and prove if they too would stand. We embraced and upheld one another. We understood each other’s pain on a spiritual level, a level that required each of us to dig deeper and seek God for what HE was actually doing when we did not understand.
Fast forward a few years later to 2011, we finally finished the wall around our new south campus land that they had helped us buy, and we invited Pastor Rod and Jim Reimer, who endured the earthquake with us, to come for a dedication of the property. After so many years of opposition we had to complete this wall, it was a real celebration and we prayed over all 12 corners- yes, 12! That is another story in itself but we felt God allowed that as another marker showing His faithfulness despite serious opposition. Then 3 years later in 2014 they returned again along with 50 other friends, family and partners to celebrate the Grand Opening of our brand newly reconstructed technical college as well as our new medical clinic. God was blessing us abundantly and we were so thrilled to share it with internal friends who’d played such a big part.
It was during this time God began to do some big miracles for Pastor Rod and Sheila in Prosser. At the same time they were facing severe opposition in the form of lymphedema attacking Pastor Rod’s body, God GAVE them a new property. In 2013, while he began his first chemo treatment in the hospital, they signed the papers for an abandoned retirement home with so many rooms, a full industrial kitchen and cafeteria, complete with onsite housing for a caretaker and staff that needed substantial renovations to turn it into a functional church facility. But God is in the business of miracles. Since they had given away all the money they had invested into their original property, there was no money for renos, let alone further construction for a new sanctuary. One day a pipe broke in one of the onsite residential homes, flooding the whole unit & extensively damaging it. Up til then, the city had refused a permit for the house to be made into a parsonage for the pastor’s family. But when the insurance came in to evaluate the damage and submit a permit for it to be fixed, the city had a change of heart. They were now allowed to remodel the residence to make it a single family home large enough to house the Stutzman tribe of nine AND they had all the money to do it from the insurance claim.
Not long after, their pastor friend from Bulgaria was visiting, preaching Fire! Fire! And guess what? The next morning, the property caretaker found a fire had started from an electrical short in the center of the main building. The firefighters were called out and the roof broken open to put out the fire. Again, this looked like a tremendous loss and they questioned what God was doing in all of this. The whole center part of the building collapsed in and was not repairable without being completely rebuilt. Well, guess how that insurance claim turned out? To the tune of $880,000 US to repair and rebuild the center of this building, into a brand new, raised roof sanctuary and foyer. Now they had the money to do everything and more to transform this old shell of a retirement home into a beautiful, life-giving church! God’s promises and returns are always huge dividends! He asked them to give away $88,000 and He gave them back $880,000 and more!
Sunday was an amazing day for us to join them in their Grand Opening celebrations. This new decade, new day, after seven years of renovations and construction, God answered and has begun to fulfill their vision too.
We are honoured and blessed to see how God has intertwined our lives and allowed us both to witness these interdependent miracles! Miracles happen in relationship! And the money tree grows and thrives when the roots bind together in unity! We are sure God is not done yet. As we continue to press on in relationship, we can’t wait to see what new growth He has in store.