Dodging Irma

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Everyone in South Florida immediately tensed up when we caught wind that Category 5 Irma was headed straight for Miami. You could feel the hysteria in the air. Everyone started making gas runs all over the city. Then it dawned on me that our rental house did not have hurricane shutters. My best friend – who had just gone through Harvey – called to warn me to get out of South Florida as soon as possible. I wanted to stay, but I knew in my gut that I needed to evacuate my family.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30 am to evacuate to Atlanta. It was a long 13 hour day of driving. As we rolled into South Atlanta, a beautiful African American elderly lady, saw our FL plate and extra gas cans, rolled down her window and said, “Welcome to Atlanta, we’ve been praying for you!” We all teared up with her expression of love.

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God used Irma as a mini “hurrication” for our family. We welcomed the fall weather, after fleeing the Miami heat. Our older girls stayed with their friends the entire time – we barely saw them for a week! Gary & Holly Campbell graciously allowed us to evacuate to their home and took great care of us.

Sandi and the girls were refreshed by worshipping with our Perimeter family. I even had the privilege of attending the particularization service of Christos Community Church, which is now the first multicultural, PCA church planted by a Hispanic pastor (Rev. Alex Villasana). It was a joyous morning!

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Christos Church voting to become a particularized (local) church.

After the storm had made it through FL, we said our goodbyes and began our trek back South. From Atlanta to Orlando was the worst part of our travels. When we left Atlanta last Tuesday, my GPS said our ETA would be 4:30 pm. I began to think, “Great, we’ll have time to relax by the pool at our Orlando hotel and eat dinner somewhere.” Well, my dream of sitting by the pool died when I-10 merged with I-75 southbound. The rest of the way was like a slow-moving parking lot averaging between 30 mph. Gasoline was hard to find. Most restaurants were closed. We rolled into Orlando at 11:30 pm. Thankfully, we had no problems as Waze detoured us around one accident after another, weaving around fallen trees on back roads. We finally arrived back home in Miami on Wednesday after Irma made landfall.

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Almost all our trees fell, and thankfully none landed on our home. Our once full Mango tree is damaged but not down. And that’s how most of Miami feels right now. As one mayor put it: “We didn’t dodge a bullet but a canon.” God had mercy on our city!

MangoTreeAlthough we’ve been in Miami for only a few months, I can honestly say that it is one of the most divided cities I have ever lived in. Many Miamians have said the same. My main prayer request is that God would use post-Irma to open doors that were once shut. We are already experiencing this by getting to know our neighbors. One, in particular, had our house key, called every day and took care of our home while we were gone. We are so thankful!! Please pray with me that God would open many doors and form many new friends in the post-Irma cleanup.

Thank you for all your messages of prayer and concern. We are so thankful for your friendship!

 

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The restoration begins.

 

 

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One Principle That Will Help You Make A Big Decision

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Making big decisions is very stressful! Being uncertain about your future is especially tough if you are without a job or have an end date in your present job. We received some great advice that has helped us a ton on when to pull the trigger on important life decisions. Honestly, I don’t remember from whom I heard this principle, (a friend? a podcast? a book?) – if you are reading this now and you gave me this advice, please let me know so I can give you props and properly thank you.

Here’s the principle on making big life decisions:

God usually gives 60% clarity.

This “60% Rule” is an application of Proverbs 3:5-6

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.”

God gets you over the 50% mark so that you are not constantly waffling back and forth between several options. However, He typically doesn’t give you too much clarity. Now, there are exceptions when the Holy Spirit gives exceptional clarity to someone with an exceptional calling (75% and above). For most of us, though, God gives about 60% clarity.

Why does God do this? Think about it. Greater clarity means greater control. God is in control of our future, and He wants us to trust Him with it all. If I’m honest I really I love control. Because we are made in the image of God, we are responsible for controlling many things as we trust Him for all things. My problem is that I frequently grip too tightly to my future plans with closed fists, demanding God to give me 100% clarity. That’s why Proverbs 3:5-6 hangs in our living room.

In His kindness, God only brings 60% into focus so that I would remain focused on Him. He is the Good Shepherd. He will open doors in His timing. “I may not know my way well, but well do I know my Guide” (Martin Luther). Sandi and I are quick movers and usually get ahead of God. I once shared this struggle to one of my mentors and he told me, “God is seldom early but is always on time” (Clint Wilcke).  Only God holds our future, so we need to loosen our grip and hold our decisions with open hands.

I usually get anxious when I don’t know what details will result from my decision. I begin to play out hypothetical worst case scenarios. In those moments, I have to stop and ask myself, “Has God given me 60% clarity on which road to take?” If He has, then I can confidently trust Him with all the unforeseen details and repent of acting as God by trying to control all scenarios of my life. It’s so liberating to trust God! 

Listen to this stirring quote by the German philosopher, Goethe, as he offers what happens when we step out in faith with 60% clarity:

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy. There is one elementary truth, and if you ignore this truth it will kill countless ideas and splendid plans: the moment one definitely commits oneself,  then God’s Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events come from the decision, a whole host of favorable incidents, meetings, and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” (adapted from Next Christians by Gabe Lyons, p. 126)

I’d love to hear from you! Is the 60% rule helpful to you? What big decisions are you making in life right now? I’d love to hear and pray for you.

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Making a Big Mid-Life Decision

Next week Sandi & I will travel to Miami for a one-week assessment to see if we are a good fit to plant in South Florida. If you remember from our last update, we were suppose to go in early March, but they moved the assessment to April. We are very thankful for Sandi’s parents driving all the way from Louisiana to take care of our girls in ATL.

The need for gospel centered, missional churches in Miami is huge. The challenge is also immense. I’ve been told by many that South FL is a graveyard of failed church plants. That’s why we are interested in partnering with Redeemer City-To-City as well as with Perimeter Church in ATL to form a solid support network. Next week is all about whether or not our family is up for the challenge to plant in the rocky soil of Miami.

This month I (Allen) turn 40. Reaching midlife has made me reflective. I can honestly say that in the next few weeks, Sandi and I will be making one of the biggest decisions of our adult lives. Just this week, I read an article by David Brooks in the NY Times on Middle-Aged turning points. Brooks quotes the theologian Karl Barth about reaching midlife:

“The sowing is behind, now it is time to reap. The run has been taken, now it is time to leap. Preparation has been made; now it is time for the venture of the work itself.”  

We truly feel that our entire life up to this point has been preparing our family for something like Miami. From all the short-term mission trips I took as a child, to living in Guatemala post-college, to raising bi-lingual daughters in a Peruvian urban city for nearly a decade – we are ready to make the leap.

So please pray for us! There are 3 requests that I’m asking God:

  1. For clarity about the Redeemer City-To-City partnership in Miami. Are we a good fit?
  2. For confirmation in our hearts. Is God opening or closing the door for us in Miami?
  3. For conviction. Is God calling us to Miami in a way that if we don’t go, we will be disobedient to his will?

We covet your prayers next week as we go through assessment. And we so appreciate your friendship and interest in our family as we make this life decision!

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Multiculturalism

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It’s no secret that the social topography of America is rapidly changing. According to the Census Bureau, the United States will be a majority-minority nation by 2044. That means that Hispanics, African-Americans, & Asians will out number White Americans. And all to often, the church lags behind the cultural trend. Our denomination (PCA) is a prime example; we are 80% white with only 14% Korean pastors, 1.2% African-American pastors, and very few Hispanic pastors.

In Atlanta we have a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve. Perimeter has created a great laboratory to learn how to do multicultural ministry. For one, I’m part of a church planting cohort that represents every major ethnic group in America. Sam (left above) is a 2nd Gen. American Korean worship leader, Dereko is an African-American fire fighter, and Jorge is a Columbian pastor. I am so honored to develop friendships with these great guys so that I can learn from their stories, perspectives, and struggles. My stereotypes will only be broken down by forming meaningful relationships with people different than me.

Perimeter Church is also leveraging it’s resources to learn more about multicultural ministry. Recently, my boss, Bob Cargo, invited key Hispanic leaders from all across the country & abroad to discuss key issues. Leaders came from Miami, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Tijuana Mexico, Cuba, Atlanta and Birmingham. It was very enlightening as I heard about the complexity of doing Hispanic ministry among first and second generation families.

Finally, where we live helps us envision what’s to come. Our county (Gwinnett) has just recently become a majority-minority county. Over 50 languages are spoken here – one of the most diverse counties in the country. Where we are, America will become in several decades. We are truly living in the future! My hope is that God will use our cohort and context to helps us better grasp how to do ministry in a multicultural world.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that God would guide our family to the right place to plant a church. We are learning to trust God as we wait for Him to lead us. For those who know us, this does not come naturally for us! In the next few months, we will be exploring some potential places to plant.
  • Pray for Sandi as she recovers from shingles. People of her age & good health normally don’t get shingles, but her doctor said the inevitable stress of all our transition and uncertainty has probably lowered Sandi’s immune system. We are thankful she is on the upswing and has the support from an amazing discipleship group at Perimeter who daily reminds her to rest in God’s truth. 
  • Pray for Rob. I met Rob at one of our daughter’s volleyball games. After he found out that I was a pastor, he opened up and shared that he and his wife had recently separated. He believed that God had sent me to him. After sharing the gospel with him over lunch later that month, he became a born again Christian and wants to join the church. Please pray that Rob would be able to reconcile with his wife. He says she is not a believer, so please pray for her as well.

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Living in Suburbia

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We’ve been in Atlanta for a little over two months. This is our first time to live in the suburbia. I thought that the suburbs were mainly a white-flight area, with repetitive model homes, and strip malls everywhere. Why much of that is true, what I didn’t expect to see is so much ethnic diversity.

My suburbia-stereotype was blown apart when I visited our bank last week. As I stood at the ATM, I noticed that I was the only white person among a Pakistan teller, an Afro-Caribbean family chatting in some creole dialect, a Latina señora making a deposit, and two Middle-Eastern women in hijab head-coverings. Wikipedia says that our county “is the most racially diverse county in the state of Georgia, and one of the most racially diverse counties in the country.” I thought of the suburbs as primarily white, but according to a recent study, almost 60 % of Pan-Asians, half of all Hispanics, and 40 % of African Americans live in suburbia. The cliché is half-true: “the nations have moved to the cities of America” – its probably more correct to say “to the American suburbs.”

I don’t know what all this means for our family’s future in church planting, but I’m praying that God would lead us to take advantage of this unique opportunity in American history. The need is tremendous! We’ll see where God leads.

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Family Update 

  • Our biggest news this month is that we officially have our first teenager in the house. Abbie turned 13 on 9/2. I’m so grateful that God has entrusted us with such a caring, generous, missionary-minded daughter who truly loves Jesus and others. I wish I could be more like her in so many ways.
  • Sandi & I celebrated our 16th anniversary last month. We took the Marta Train to Decatur to enjoy a night out on the city as we reflected over our many adventures. I appreciate more every year what a special woman God has given me who continues to follow me no matter how difficult the change.
  • School is in full swing. The older girls love Perimeter Christian School. I’ve been impressed that they are learning much of what I learned in seminary. Their teachers truly view their job to equip our kids to enter pubic high school as gospel missionaries. Abbie & Adeline have also joined their school’s volleyball team and love it. Mary Allen is in an elementary school right down the street and has become an avid reader. And little Eva is still at home as Mom’s daily sidekick and turns five at the end of this month.

 Prayer Points 

  • Future Church Plant. As I introduce myself at Perimeter as a Church Planting Intern, the next question is always: “So where are you going to plant?” To which I reply, “We don’t know yet.” Some follow with a question, “Where would you like to plant a church?” And I usually say, “Somewhere hot. Somewhere urban. And somewhere multicultural.” I’ve begun networking with key leaders to investigate where God might be leading us. We are anxious to find out our next steps, so please ask God to help us be patient for His timing.
  • Wisdom Developing Relationships. We have opportunities all around us. Many of our neighbors are unbelievers. Also, we are helping launch a new worship service at Perimeter, and we will be hosting a small group in our house. Also, our girls are in discipleship groups. Please pray that we’ll have wisdom in deepening relationships that will result in friendship that last longer than our internship.

Thank you for being our friends as we prepare for church planting.

 Grace and peace,

Allen & Sandi Smith