I left off the story on Tuesday in mid 2013. I was working several jobs, Ali was crazy busy at her job, and our involvement at church was waning. We tried to leave, but found no open doors. We pulled back from leading a small group and discipling multiple people and just focused on us that fall. I was still teaching Bible at school, but that was about it. Capacity and morale were both low.
Toward the end of the year, we began praying about the possibility of me just going back to school to finish a Ph.D. A few things fell into place over the fall and by February, I was on the way to Louisville to take the entrance exam for SBTS. I ended up being accepted, and planned to start in the fall of 2014, working on a Ph.D in Christian Philosophy.
Unfortunately, the burnout that had been simmering since the previous summer, and left unaddressed, hit all at once. While we still hadn’t resumed leading a small group, I had still been doing a lot. I hit a wall that summer and just didn’t get much of anything done. I also began having increased anxiety about the Ph.D thing. I deferred until the spring semester hoping some recovery time would make a difference. It didn’t, and I withdrew in December.
At this point, rather than leading a group, we had eased into a coaching role for small group leaders at our church. I had also now been mentored by one of the elders at church for over a year. It was also during this season that I started teaching at SHIFT regularly. Many Friday nights through spring of 2015, I was teaching through Ephesians to a multi-ethnic group of UCF students. At one point, we had thought it might be something I could put more full-time effort into.
However, there was still a bit of disconnect and the timing wasn’t quite there. You’ll notice that Ali has faded into the background of things going on at this point. She had been struggling with working full time and me being unable to secure anything full time. Some of this changed when she was able to chaperone on the fall retreat for the school I teach at in 2014. She had two realizations then. One was that she was an essential reason why I was able to do what I did with the students there. The other was that she had married a youth pastor, he just happened to work at a school. I was the one primarily pursuing ministry, but I was dependent on her to do so.
A byproduct of this was that Ali got to know a few of the girl students really well. As work allowed, she would come by school and try to connect with them more. This continued on into the next school year, the one just completed, when she also chaperoned again. It was also at this point that she began getting together to meet with and mentor a couple of the senior girls.
By April, she was able to go on the senior trip as a chaperone. In part, this was because I was going, but she was going to have to pay for her own airfare. We had gotten a Southwest credit card when we thought I’d be flying back and forth to Louisville for Ph.D work. That fell through as you remember, but we continued to use everyday purchases to build up points, thinking they’d come in handy. When the opportunity came along for Ali to go on the trip, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the airfare otherwise. What had seemed like a dead end was really a setup for something else down the road.
It was on the trip that Ali began to realize that she could have a fruitful and significant impact on many of my students. She is more of a nurturing and counselor type than I am. While my students might like me for the most part, they might not open up to me about certain things that they’d be more comfortable talking to Ali about. This was especially true for the students that were in Ali’s van for the duration of our California road trip. She may have had more impact on them through the conversations they had in the van than I did teaching Bible for four years. But, in a way, I think the two complemented each other.
Before we had gone on the trip, I had offered a proposal to our church, recently renamed One Hope because of its independence from the CrossPointe movement. I hadn’t realized it until last fall, but a big reason it was hard to do much was because of the leadership structure. It’s a story too long for this post, but once we were independent, I could just submit a proposal to the elders for consideration. I did so for a position as campus ministry director and spiritual formation pastor as a way to unite two things I had been doing within the church. Because of financial considerations, the offered had to be tabled, but I was encouraged to pursue support raising and develop the newly created campus ministry director position. In the future, the staff opportunity could be reconsidered.
In light of all this, Ali and I felt that God was leading us to step out in faith and raise support as missionaries to students in east Orlando. That’s essentially what we are because of our connection in at least three worlds: local church, local Christian school, largest undergrad university in America. We would love to be able to do more at church, more at the school, and more on campus to reach and disciple students and young people in general in the 15-25 range. And we’d like to do it together. I don’t think either of us are effective alone as we both are together. But, that means raising enough monthly commitments to eliminate some of my side work, and ideally all of Ali’s work. While she has a secure job, her paycheck is heavily dependent on the generosity of others through tips. God has provided well through the generosity of others that way, and we are praying that he’ll continue to do so through this new avenue.