I have presented in many venues, to many groups over the years. But last week, I gave the most important speech of my life.
Last week I attended a service to commemorate my parents’ retirement from almost 42 years of service in ministry. The organization they have served for most of their lives, Village Missions, held their annual conference with the final part of their last night in honor of my parents, John and Gloria. For 24 years they lived and ministered in rural areas in order to provide a church for those who did not have one. Later, they became District Representatives and traveled thousands of miles to the many Village Missionaries’ homes to support, encourage, and guide their work and to work with the churches.
This special service included a time to share. Not being one to ever pass up the chance to speak or use a microphone, I spoke. I spoke to them. And, I spoke to those who have shared their lives in ministry.
Even more than the speech I gave at Gram’s funeral, this was the most important speech I have given. For here, I publicly named the honor and influence of my parents who sacrificed so much to live their calling in missionary service. I grew up churches in which my Dad preached, and both Mom and Dad ministered to the community. So, I spoke. Through some tear-laden parts, I spoke.
Here is what I said.
Thank you for inviting us to be a part of this important event. Obviously, it’s one of those soul-biting, heart-clenching times, where we are very happy to have them [John and Gloria/Dad and Mom] back – They’re ours again, they’re not yours.
But, we do know the role they have played in your lives. My brother and I literally grew up in Village Missions. We attended numbers of conferences and functions. And, hearing about your lives as you have probably heard many more stories than we realize about our lives.
And we’ve learned many things along the way.
Some of you may have worked with them while they were in one of their fields, while some of you may have only worked with them as District Representatives. Speaking on behalf of my brother, his family, and myself, we thank you for being their community – their spiritual community, their extended family, and their support system for so many years.
Mom and Dad took the mission and the vision of Village Missions very seriously. They took the vision of serving a community, not just as a task, but as their life and breath of every day. That’s what my brother and I saw, and lived, and observed throughout our lives.
Whether it was harvesting with farmers or gathering pigs, which Dad had not trained to do – he was there, because that was part of the community. And the community surrounding the church was the community they were there to serve. And this group became the “living community” and the “breathing community” that continues the mission beyond their tenure. Whether it was Mom’s hosting of after school clubs or women’s meetings, and even Dad joining the fire department, each time, they were fully present in the community, drawing others into a more spiritual community through their relationships. Nothing could be more evident of that relationship than upon leaving the field in Minnesota. Here, the community put on the farewell dinner. The community came together in their honor.
I was asked, “What was it like growing up like this and moving to all these places?”
It was that community was wherever you were, with whomever you were with, and whoever that included.
We learned that family was our support and our source of grace, and that included not only those who were kin, but those with whom we shared our space at any given time and any place.
We learned to be flexible. As you saw the lovely “Barn Church” which I lived in for a portion of time in college, after it was no longer a church. And I also lived in a laundry room in the new parsonage that was being built. So we learned and knew flexibility.
And we learned a lot of things specifically from Mom and Dad.
First of all, they instilled in us a deep sense of work ethic, because they lived and breathed their work – their passion, and that lives in us through our work. Their work in life was a calling, it was their daily breath.
We learned to hold our convictions very tightly even though they didn’t always “jive” with some others. We learned that those convictions are the driving force behind our passion, our work, and our character. And we learned to hold them when they are the most inconvenient, because that’s when it’s clear that they are true convictions.
And, as I heard him preach over and over, my Dad taught me how to speak powerfully to people. Although I grew up thinking women could not be ministers, I’ve taken that passion, and I’ve presented for years, to multiple groups in multiple states. But this is the first time he’s heard me present.
Mom continues to show us the enduring love of family. So much so that when Jack was born, they sold their house, and moved within 10 minutes of him before that kid could walk. Now, they’d always traveled to see Nathan and me, but not one time had the house gone up for sale – until Jack was born. Now they live 10 minutes away from him.
And now, we are also seeing n how hard it is to close a chapter of their life that they have lived so faithfully for the majority of their lives.
But not everything is serious – there are many funny and memorable things. Probably the most memorable is that they taught us how to move – literally – to many different places. Six churches in all. As many of you know, Dad is nothing if he is not organized, precise, insisting on doing it once well… measure twice, cut once… Make sure it all fits.
He and Mom taught us how to move swiftly, in an organized fashion, with caution not to break things – and always make sure before you have folks come to help you pack your truck, you have pulled out your washer, dryer, AND refrigerator and scrubbed behind them so they don’t think you left a gross mess and you never cleaned your house. We were taught that the largest boxes SHALL NEVER contain books. And that, in our family, Dad’s primary job in the moving process was standing in the moving van to ensure that all boxes were in the exact right place so we didn’t break anything. They also ingrained in us the understanding that you only move in the hottest parts of the year. So I’m proud to say that between my brother and myself, we’ve moved as many times if not more than we did as a family – insisting that we move on THE hottest day and that Dad indeed is part of renting the truck, packing the truck, and driving the truck.
But as this chapter closes, I can’t say that I understand the feeling they have about how one’s life’s work, and passion, and belief shifts. I don’t understand that.
But I do know that in all these years, they have learned from, revered, and honored some of the most visionary people in this organization. These people shaped their vision which has led them to support you. I remember them talking so much about these influential people when I was young – The Reverend and Mrs. Duff, Dr. Jack and Norma Canady, their many District Representatives who served them, and the relationship with Stonecroft. They knew the importance of Stonecroft, Mrs. Baugh and Ms. Clark, and how all of you have shaped their vision.
I am reminded of the writing of Sir Isaac Newton who said, “If I have seen further, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants.” I think they would say that their work was only possible because of those who went before. And now they leave another layer on which the legacy can continue and reach higher levels.
And I think we can all say that we can see further because of their work.