More Stephens

So it happened again recently, another Christian brother expressed that it was “unwise and unloving of me to move my family to New Bedford because it is both unsafe and undesirable.” This isn’t the first time I have heard this. In fact, I have had many “locals,” both inside and outside the church express to me the same sentiment. In these moments I find myself with a range of thoughts and possible responses. Typically my response is something gentle like, “Well, where the Lord calls us we have to follow.” But internally, I want to say so much more. And at the core of what I want to say is that when I put my faith in Christ and repented of my sins, I also handed over all of my desires to him, which includes even the personal safety of my family, for whatever that means.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking around this city with rose-colored glasses. In fact I see the brokenness and despair of this city in ways that I don’t think the city sees it. But I wonder, has God really forgotten New Bedford? Now I know that the favorite pastime for people who live here is to hate the city. I get it. We all love to hate where we’re from, until we reach a certain age when we then look back to the glory days and see our home towns as not so bad. That’s not a New Bedford thing, it’s a people thing. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Well, the answer is yes. But to see it, requires you to have faith and belief.

In Hebrews 3, the writer gives a strong warning against unbelief in the life of the believer. Unbelief in what? Unbelief in the upward calling of who God is, what he has said, and what he has called his people to. He tells them to not be like that generation who saw his provision and knew his plans, but when things got hard they turned back because relief from their temporary discomforts meant more to them than the promised future rest that God had promised them.

“Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called ‘today,’ so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. For we have become participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start. As it is said: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Hebrews 3.12-15

In this passage, it points to a time that God rescued his people from slavery, responding to their cry for help. The way God did this was by doing some pretty amazing things that the Israelites got to observe. And sure enough, after a period of time, after seeing God crush Egypt with plagues, after being led by the very presence of God in smoke and fire, after walking through a parted sea on dry land, and after God feeding them miraculously from the sky, the people grumbled and complained. They began to doubt God, and even said “Let us elect a new leader and go back to Egypt.” Can you imagine?! Well, sadly enough I can.

We too have seen God move in unique and unexpected ways. Even so specifically that our entire family can say with confidence that, “God brought us to New Bedford,” and even to the very house we live in. And yet, if I’m honest, we still find it really easy to question the Lord’s thinking and plans.

I could be wrong, but it seems as if everyone wants to be a Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, or a Peter, boldly preaching at Pentecost. But interestingly enough, nobody wants to be a Stephen, who was martyred for his faith. And the few that do, often get stones lobbed at them of discouragement and despair. Trust me, they have enough discouragement and despair in and of themselves that they are battling with, there is no need for us to add to it. Now be sure, I don’t feel like a Stephen. If faced with the same situation as he, I would most likely run for my life without getting far, because running is not my area of strength. But, we need Stephens!

If you were to ask me to evaluate New Bedford, I would tell you this… I think that it is a beautiful city, with much to offer and has even more potential. Each passing week my family discovers more hidden gems that help ease our transition. I also think that it is a city that is spiritually and socially bankrupt, and desperately searching for hope. One thing I am sure of, and that is establishing a Gospel-exalting church in the city is a step in the right direction.

But the question remains, who will come and be a Stephen, and is that a wasted life? Who will come and live among the people, labor in the fields, and pray for a harvest? Who will come and live by faith and belief, trusting that God can build his church here? Who will come believing that God, by his Spirit has the ability to change the spiritual landscape of an entire city? Who will come and give their life, for the next thirty of forty years for the sole purpose of loving those who have not heard and do not know… to see them hear, respond, and receive the good news Gospel message of Jesus Christ? I long to see fruitful days like Mary and Peter, but it’s going to come at the initial cost of the fruit of Stephen. What was his fruit? The willingness to lay down his life for the Gospel. At the end of the day, I feel better about raising my family in New Bedford and being totally dependent on the Lord in all the ways, than I do striving for the American Dream and modeling for them a life of comfort and self-sufficiency in a gated community. If we left to go back to the comfortable, we would regret it.

So to my brother, yes our city does come with some hardships and concerns. They were all weighed carefully and considered in deep-abiding prayer. And the conclusion, for us anyhow, was that following the Lord in belief and holding fast to his promises for the possible-future spiritual glory that this city could experience, far outweighed the temporary discomforts that we would feel and experience as a family. This is a life well spent, and I would invite you to move back to New Bedford, and join us. Come and be a Stephen, Mary, and Peter with us!

Sincerely, your new friend