Encouraged to Thrive

Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 in Haiti Blog | Comments Off on Encouraged to Thrive

Encouraged to Thrive

by Doug Stevens, Vice President, TLC

Strengthening Ministry Marriages in Haiti

Pastors preach … and sometimes neglect to apply the truth of God’s Word to our own lives and relationships.  Such neglect is a threat to our own credibility as witnesses of the practical effect of the Gospel.  This is the case wherever there is a discrepancy between profession of faith and its everyday practice.  This is most apparent when it comes to the marriage and family of the pastor.  This should be a priority concern … whether we live in the US or Haiti (or anywhere else).

TLC Haiti is committed to encouraging Kingdom leaders in all areas of their personal lives and pastoral responsibilities.  Once a quarter, for the past 4 years +, we have sent teams to teach the Bible (book studies, surveys, theology) and provide leadership training.  In February we decided to focus on the marriage relationship of the pastor and wife (yes, there were also several pastors and their husbands participating).

This is always a challenging topic — because it is so personal, because the Bible is sometimes misused to support a presupposed point of view, because we can easily overlook or justify our lack of commitment, care and consistency in this relationship.  And yet a vital topic, with powerful implications for the health and effectiveness of the pastor, the entire congregation, and their outreach into the community.  Marriage is a wonderful laboratory for maturity!

Six of us led this seminar experience (it needed to have an experiential component!).  Joining my wife and I were Dennis and Kristine (a married couple), as well as David and Pam, two unrelated individuals with a heart for building up marriages.  These four are friends and part of a ministry called Empower International which takes a message that transforms marriages into third world countries.  We were the team that presented biblical principles we hoped would encourage pastoral couples to reevaluate their faithfulness to their call and to each other.

The first day in Port-au-Prince we discovered how difficult and demanding it is to convey this topic in a way that engages everyone, shatters false expectations, and is — at the same time — culturally sensitive!  We welcomed a large crowd of pastors and spouses (250) and did our best to present significant content and then release into productive discussion.  The first day felt like a failure.  We were trying to do too much in too little time — with all of the translation requirements and sensitivities to their background.

This was humbling but instructive.  God used this down day to force into a radical dependency on Him as we scrambled to reformat for the second day.  Remarkably, almost everyone returned. We consolidated our material, focused for better group conversation, and began to speak directly to the couples themselves.

This time it seemed like the Holy Spirit was running the day, and not our carefully prepared program.  There were moments of improvisation that invoked reflection and emotion.  At one point, we asked the men to stand and we asked for a pledge of love — the kind that serves sacrificially, as modeled by Christ.  Then we asked the women to stand and pledge to respond with respect in order to encourage their husbands.  The scene was inspiring.

From withdrawal to uneasiness to nervous laughter to face-to-face interaction … the room was abuzz with intimate connection.  There were smiles, tears, apologies, heartfelt expressions of affection, and genuine vows of renewed love.  We saw the results, felt it, and heard much more about it later from the core of Haitian pastors that work with us in these seminars.  God was healing and restoring a number of relationships and we were all thrilled with the change in the gathering.

From Port-au-Prince we travelled to Les Cayes for another round of teaching and facilitating, boosted by our experience in the capital.  More than 150 pastors and spouse convened on the first day and were led into a deeper consideration of related subjects that force all of us to take an honest inventory.

Do I really affirm the value of male and female as made in the image of God, as partners on His Mission?  Do I really believe in servant-leadership?  Am I willing to practice forgiveness and invest in God’s vision for our relationship?  Do I build up my spouse, drawing out his/her gifts, celebrating his/her calling and successes?  Will I repent of — and refrain from — any destructive behaviors that undermine us and sabotage our ministry?

Again, this project to lift up marriages — and honor Christ along the way — is as important as any we have.  That God would use us in this way is incredibly fulfilling and motivating for future involvement with these wonderful leaders.  They are so hungry for God’s guidance, so eager to conform their lives to His purpose.  They amaze me.  And remind me to confirm my vows as an act of worship and as an advantage for ministry.

The rest of the week was filled with wild rides on the roads, sweet fellowship and vigorous debate around the table … and off-line conversations with pastors about their families, churches, church-sponsored schools, conditions of poverty, confrontations with evil, hopes and dreams for the future.  Which are both heart-breaking and faith-building.

We will return!  Next month and at a least a couple of more times this year.  These leaders in Haiti are faithful all the time and in ways that defy explanation.  Your interest, prayers and support for this sacred and very fruitful work is a huge help.  Thanks for coming with us to love our brothers and sisters in this beautiful, broken land.