Friday night was another one of those gatherings that come regularly but are generally unexpected – sweet times of fellowship with fellow Calebite co-workers from years gone by. I’m glad that my life includes lots of interaction with people from a variety of worldviews but there is something very satisfying about being with those who are called according to the same purpose. The Caleb Declaration was a lifetime commitment I made and it’s still really what I live for, though I know it might play itself out in different ways in years to come. The camaraderie of people who share that commitment is particularly sweet to me.
To a few of my readers, this may sound like a cult! But be honest, isn't that kind of community and purpose something you've always wanted? Few people experience this, I think. I wish more people could.
It’s not just people who were part of our old ministry that share that calling; there are lots others. Most of those who attending the conference I went to over New Year’s are among them. I hadn’t expected that, to have so much in common with everyone who was there. You get used to swimming upstream, to having people think you’re a little weird, and you sort of expect to be misunderstood. So it’s nice when you’re with people who get what you’re all about because that’s what they’re all about too, and you can help and cheer each other on.
Anyway, when a couple of our long-time coworkers – or research team alumni – are in town, I’ll get a call or email (or, just as often, make the call, or send the email) and it’s a party. Some of them have been goodbye parties, some welcome home parties, but most are just reunions. There’s always someone there who lives in another state or country now, someone I might not see again for a couple of years, and usually don't know how or when.
Stories from across the decades – and across the continents – are retold, and there is always someone there hearing them for the first time. Over the last couple of years some of these reunions have been painful or a real mix of pain and pleasure. The things we went through two winters ago, the events that scattered us, were just so traumatic. (I love what the African guy I met in Thailand a year ago, said. He had seen his ministry fall apart, too, and he told my friend E. and I, with tears: “God will not waste your pain!” Amen! I receive it, brother!) While many of us landed on our feet one way or the other, there have still been waves of shock and grief. So this, too, is the stuff of our stories, part of our common past. But not all of it.
Most of the stories are about the hundreds of people we knew in common, and what we’ve heard from them lately. We remember the projects we did, the trips we made together. One of the families that was there on Friday night went through the same "new staff orientation" as I did, back in 1994. I think I’ve spent time with them in four or five countries. The family that hosted Friday’s gathering also helped host our new staff orientation, back then. So we've been friends almost 15 years.
I don't really feel as bittersweet about these things as it might seem, because such reunions seem to happen all the time. I may not see a particular old friend for years, but I'm in touch with old friends every week.
As another member of the group Friday night pointed out, this way of life we have has given us so many privileges. I suppose people think that full-time Christian workers are suffering; we make a lot less money than our neighbors do, for example (at least when we live in the West – when we spend time in other parts of the world, as most of us do, we’re much more aware of our wealth). We “have to” raise support. People think this is some kind of sacrifice, but there’s another way to look at it.
We are blessed in ways that few others are. Not only do we have meaningful work that we love – a rare thing – serving full-time in kingdom-of-God work, but it is work that really fosters relationships. I have friends all over the world; I have friends who pray for me every day (this astounds me); I have friends who believe in me enough to find a way to stay on my financial support team for more than a decade. One family has given $75,000 to help with my ministry expenses over the past dozen years. Is that amazing, or what?
So, even though I sometimes feel like I’m on my own, vulnerable – single – I have this family-like network of people much bigger than just my network of relatives, current coworkers, and people at my church. (Although I’m blessed in those three areas too) Most of the people in my church have their family, and the church family, and that's it, probably. But it's like I've got this whole third thing that's way bigger. And while I know (if only from my own behavior towards others) that not everyone is going to notice or pay attention if I'm discouraged or in need or in trouble, someone will. God does seem to orchestrate things so that people like me are never working “without a net.” How cool is that?