His Yoke is Easy
Sometimes the Lord has strange ways of getting our attention and hammering home the lessons we refuse to learn.
In the month of March, we enjoyed a wonderful visit with Chris and Candi Spitters from the Church of God in St. Joseph, Michigan. They came to visit and helped us organize a retreat for our pastors, which turned out to be an incredible time of worship, connection, and encouragement for all involved, and we are grateful for everything we and our Costa Rican brothers and sisters were able to share with them.
During Chris and Candi's first few days, as we finalized details for the retreat, Abby also took them to different churches to share with the local leadership. In those sessions, Chris gave a preview of some of what he would share the following weekend:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).
It's a familiar text that had already become part of our story, but it's not easy to take to heart in the thick of struggle. Jason was in the U.S. for most of the Spitterses' visit, undergoing the first of two knee surgeries. It was the early weeks of an exhausting season for our family, with him living with constant pain, then recovering from the first surgery, and then waiting on what turned out to be several weeks for the arrival of a cadaver part necessary to do the second procedure. More on that story in our next newsletter.
After the Spitterses' first weekend, I (Abby) found myself in a bit of a funk one day, frustrated and exhausted, and, to be honest, complaining to the Lord. "Your yoke is NOT easy," I wrote in my prayer journal. "Your burden is NOT light."
I put my journal down and immediately headed out to pick up the twins from school. We live in a residential area, so I occasionally walk there, and I thought the exercise would do me good. Right between a large cemetery and a local school, there is a small gate that leads back to a field behind the school and nearby condo units. Every once in a while, though not often, we see cows standing at the gate, something that brings great delight to the twins on their way home. On this particular day, as I walked (and grumbled) up the hill past the cemetery, I noticed that the gate was open, something I had never seen before. To my great surprise, two calves emerged, with their heads yoked together, as two men guided them up the street. For about two blocks, I had to walk behind these yoked cattle, realizing with every step that the Lord was making his point loud and clear.
For a moment, I was disappointed that I hadn't brought my phone to capture the moment, but in not having a photo to take, I found myself instead watching the scene more closely. The men seemed impatient, yelling frequently and prodding the calves along with sticks. The calf on the right seemed resigned to its fate, steadily making its way up the hill. The calf on the left resisted, kicking, bucking, and dragging his feet, as the men grew increasingly more exasperated. "That's me," I thought. "Thank you, Lord, that you are more patient than those guys." Then I thought about my kids and realized how often I am more like the guy with the stick than our loving, patient Heavenly Father. It was a humbling, convicting thought.
As I continued to reflect on the scene, I also realized how often I find myself thinking of God like the guy with the stick. I recognize that He is much more patient, gentle, and loving than they are, but at the end of the day, it feels like He's the one who puts on the yoke, not the one who wears it. There are days when, if I'm honest with myself, I question whether an omnipotent, omnipresent God has any idea feels to bear the weight of human life and limitations. We buck and fight and resist because we have no idea what He has planned for us, and somewhere deep down we question whether we can trust him.
Then I thought about the calf on the right and realized that God is not just the guy with the stick. Jesus says, "Learn from me," reminding us that He came to earth, not to keep waving the stick at us, but to be yoked alongside us, experiencing all the pressures and limitations of this earthly life, all the while showing us how to be gentle and humble of heart and find true rest for our souls. We can follow His example in Scripture and also learn from Him up close and personally as He walks right beside us every day. His yoke is easy and the burden is light, not because we don't carry a heavy weight but because Jesus shoulders it with us. We are never alone.
As if that were not enough, he also places us in a community of others who walk alongside us, reminding us that we truly need each other. That truth became part of the next life lesson, which we will share in our next newsletter. Stay tuned! Summer TravelsWhile he was in the US, Jason had the opportunity to connect with several churches and ministry partners, which was an incredible joy and blessing. Thank you to all who welcomed him, fed him, and prayed for him as he traveled and waited for the call from the doctor's office.
Our entire family will return to the U.S. in a few weeks for our annual home assignment. We will start out in Tampa, Florida, as we attend the Church of God convention, host our Latin America team retreat, and participate in the first meeting of thGlobal Alliance of the Church of God. We will certainly hit the ground running (maybe not so much actual running for Jason!) but are looking forward to all that is in store! If you are going to be in Tampa, we look forward to seeing YOU!
After Tampa, we will be traveling to connect with several other ministry partners and family members in Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. If you live near one of these areas or along the route and have not connected with us about setting up a visit, please feel free to reach out!
A few years ago, Global Strategy opened the Church Planting in Amazonia project, as the Church of God in northern Brazil had set the ambitious goal of planting one new congregation in each of the states of their region where the Church of God did not yet have a presence. This was in addition to other ongoing church planting efforts. The goal was to plant five churches in five states in five years, culminating in the year 2023, the year the Church of God in Brazil celebrates its 100-year anniversary.
Year after year, teams of recent seminary graduates, working hand in hand with experienced mentors, arrived in new cities, many of them several hours away from the nearest Church of God congregation, and settled into their communities, going door to door, and inviting people to come to different events and get to know Jesus. The groups have grown, and some of the earliest efforts are now full-fledged congregations, which will soon be able to support a pastor's salary.
We have now come to 2023. The world has changed significantly in the past five years. Brazil was hit hard with the Covid-19 pandemic and experienced political turmoil earlier this year. The Church of God in Amazonia hosted the InterAmerican convention in September 2022, coordinating a significant amount of logistics for the arrival of delegates from more than a dozen countries and all parts of Brazil. Two years ago, the primary couple responsible for spearheading the church-planting effort was asked to move temporarily to another region to help the leadership work through significant restructuring. When they finished, they returned to Amazonia and soon afterward learned that their daughter's breast cancer returned.
Even in the face of these and other challenges, four of the five congregations have been planted, and plans are underway to reach the last state soon. In the most recent effort, five seminary students arrived in Apuí, Amazonas, at the end of March 2023. The day before Easter, the students went through their neighborhood and invited local children to an event. More than 60 showed up, and kids have continued to come to weekend services. On the weekend of April 30 alone, 14 people gave their life to Christ!
What most excites us about this effort is that the vast majority of the effort, commitment, and even financial resources have come from the Church of God in Brazil. Still, the encouragement of being connected with the U.S. and knowing that other people are buying into the movement has been a source of great encouragement.
We know that the Lord has much more in store in the coming months and years, so if you would like to be a part of this exciting initiative, click here.
Other Prayer Requests and Praises
- We are looking forward to hosting a team from the Church of God in Huber Heights, Ohio, the first weekend of June. Please pray for safe travels and great connections between the team and the local churches.
- Please pray for the Costa Rican credentials committee as we undertake the process of updating and rewriting the credentials manual and as we work with one of the congregations that has experienced a difficult pastoral transition.
- We are excited about having our team retreat, June 19-21, just before the Church of God in Tampa, Florida, and are very excited to reconnect with Chris and Candi Spitters as they share with our team and with the group from Cornwall Church that pours into our missionary children and families year after year during our retreats.
- Give thanks that Jason was able to have both knee surgeries that he has needed for a long time. Please pray for ongoing recovery, especially as we prepare to travel back to the U.S.
- Give thanks for disaster relief funds provided from Church of God Ministries Disaster Relief &Restoration to help respond to significant flooding in Peru and Brazil over the past few months. Pray for churches and families in both countries that were directly affected as they continue to recover and rebuild.