Learning to say yes when God changes your plans....
by Barry Long
Change of Plans
Have your plans ever changed when you least expected them to? When our family moved to Shallowford Free Will Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, I had no plans to move again. I loved the church, the people, and the pastor. God really did some amazing things while we ministered there. We started a Junior Youth Camp for the North Georgia Association and saw many young people accept Christ as their personal Savior. In my mind, everything was going as planned.
All of that changed one day when a friend called and asked if I would consider becoming a home missionary. When I answered yes without any hesitation, it shocked both of us. After some time in prayer and fasting, Jessica and I knew God wanted us to start a church in Colorado.
The Journey Begins
We set out on one of the most challenging journeys we have experienced in our Christian lives. Don’t misunderstand. We met really great people on itinerate and made many new friends. Our struggle came in raising monthly support.
Because we really knew only a handful of people in Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, I opened the Free Will Baptist Yearbook and started calling pastors I had never met. I asked them to let me speak in their churches and present our plans to start a church.
We began traveling to various churches throughout the region but received little or no monthly support. I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing wrong. My heart began to break because I didn’t think I would ever get to Colorado. Some friends suggested that maybe it wasn’t God’s will for us to go to Colorado after all. Their words were agonizing. How could something that burned so strongly in my heart not be God’s will? I pleaded with God for answers. I could not believe that God would give us this burden and then make it unreachable.
During a trip to Kentucky, I spoke with an area pastor. He shared a story that occurred during their building program. They had worked all day trying to get trusses put up before a storm arrived. They finished the work and went home. The next day, they were devastated to learn that the storm demolished everything they had built.
After surveying the damage, he met with an insurance adjuster. They were determined to start over. What the pastor said next spoke volumes to my heart. One man asked, “Have you ever thought maybe God didn’t want you to build this church?” Without missing a beat the pastor replied, “No, I just thought Satan didn’t want this church built because it would be used for God!”
It’s interesting how God puts the right people in our to serve His purpose. Those were the words I needed to hear! Satan was not going to make the journey easy, but God would sustain us!
A Bump in the Road...Literally
My wife Jessica and I talked all the way home about this important lesson we had learned. We laughed and cried, excited because we knew we would make it to Colorado. Then the devil struck again. We pulled off the interstate to get something to eat. As we left the restaurant, our van was hit broadside. The impact was so great that it pushed the driver’s seat into the rear passenger seat. I was pinned in the van and couldn’t move. Rescue workers strapped me to a board and took me to the emergency room.
Our van was totaled, my collarbone was broken, and my emotions were running wild. I thought of my kids. If they had been with us, they might have been killed. Satan began to attack. “You know this is the final straw. Look, just another setback. Home Missions isn’t going to let you go now. All those supporters are going to give up. It doesn’t look as if you will make it to Colorado.”
In that moment I began to weep. All I could think about were the people in Colorado. But my fears failed to materialize. Home Missions reaffirmed their stand, and my supporters continued. God never fails. He is faithful to care for us.
On Saturday, July 17, 2010, we left our temporary home in Alabama and began the long journey west. Jessica and the kids were excited because this would be their first opportunity to see our new home. God had helped us find a place to live just when we needed it. Jessica and I realized that the house would be the starting place for the new church and the place where our kids would grow up.
The morning after we arrived, our kids got up early to explore their new neighborhood. They had been on the road with us for a year and a half, and they were ready to make some friends. They did. Now, our doorbell seems to ring nonstop, our house has become the central hangout for the neighborhood kids, and we love it! We are building relationships with each of these kids.
I once read a statement that said, “People should not be just another notch on your spiritual belt.” Building relationships puts you out there, makes you vulnerable and approachable. As the saying goes “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That has been our heartbeat since moving here. We want people to know that we genuinely care about them.
Breaking the Ice
In preparation for coming to Colorado, I read numerous books on church planting and spent time with seasoned missionaries, but nothing really prepares you for being there. Some days I still find my heart racing with excitement. I want to be sure we plant a successful Free Will Baptist church of which God can be proud.
Photo: The Barry Long Family.
As we prepared for our first Bible Study, we considered the various ways to invite people. You only have one shot at making a first impression, so how could we get them to the door and let them see us as neighbors? Jessica came up with the idea of handing out chocolate chip cookies. After hours and hours of baking, we handed out chocolate chip cookies and invitations. The cookies were well received, and they opened the door to some great conversations with our neighbors!
Perhaps you have heard the old saying, “Sitting on pins and needles.” That’s how we felt as we waited for our first Bible Study. What if no one showed up? I couldn’t sleep the night before and finally went downstairs to read my Bible and pray.
That afternoon, Jessica and I prayed and waited for 6:30 p.m. to arrive. I asked Jessica what she would do if no one came. She said “I’m gonna cry!”
To be truthful, I probably would have, too. At 6:28 p.m. the first person arrived, and before long, our house filled with 20 people. After we served the homemade barbecue sandwiches we had prepared I watched and listened in amazement to all the people God had brought to our home for the first Bible Study.
Afterwards, we heard things like; “I have surgery next week. I won’t be able to attend. Now I wish I hadn’t scheduled my surgery for Tuesday.” “You guys have brought that southern hospitality to Colorado.” “Your family moving to our neighborhood was one of the best things that has happened to our family.”
Jessica and I thanked God for what He had done. We knew it was nothing we had done. It was all God! Our next three Bible studies averaged 23 people. God has made it clear that He is going to build His church here, and we are thankful to be a part of it. God has blessed us with some great people. They are excited about the church and anxious to be a part of what is happening.
We realize there will be mountaintops and valleys in the days to come. We do miss our families, but we know that we are at home! We are exactly where God wants us, doing exactly what He wants us to do! I don’t always have the answers, and sometimes I can get very anxious about the plans for the church. But as one writer put it, “God has a plan for my life, and that's all I need to know.” It feels good to be home!
About the Writer: Barry, Jessica, Austin, Abby and Braden Long are home missionaries starting a Free Will Baptist church in the Denver, Colorado area. Learn more at www.homemissions.net.