"Blessed are those who trust in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of Baka [weeping], they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, til each appears before God in Zion." ~ Psalm 84:5-7
As the previous post describes, our decision to leave Jacob's Well was not easily made. Rather, we wrestled for a couple of years to reconcile competing and conflicting impulses. If the Christian life is indeed a pilgrimage, then we felt like we were in that stage of the journey described in Psalm 23:4 as "the darkest valley" and Psalm 84:6 as the "valley of Baka," "baka" being the Hebrew word for weeping. There certainly didn't seem to be a simple or obvious solution to our struggle. Then, in the spring of 2009, a few critical things unfolded very rapidly. Though far from a quick or painless fix, through these developments we saw a path leading, if not up and out the valley, then at least further down the road we had been wandering along.
It began in April when I received a message from a friend I hadn't connected with in awhile. I first met Meredith Wheeler when he was the pastor of a large church outside Philadelphia. He had heard me speak at an Emergent conference in San Diego sometime in 2004 or 2005. Following that session, we visited for a bit. I was surprised to meet him again in the foyer of Jacob's Well one Sunday evening before our worship gathering a couple of months later. I believe he was on sabbatical at the time, traveling around the country to observe how different communities were seeking to be faithful to the gospel in our changing cultural context.
Meredith and I continued to connect periodically over the next couple of years. At that time, I was a member of the board of directors of Biblical Seminary outside Philadelphia. On one of my trips there, Meredith picked me up at the airport and drove me to the school an hour away. This gave us the opportunity to get to know each other beyond the brief chances we had enjoyed thus far. Because of that growing connection, I shared with him my fears about some health struggles my oldest son was facing when I ran into him the next year at the same conference in San Diego. Following that encounter, Meredith began to send regular emails asking after Mabry and telling me of his ongoing prayers for him and our family. Though it may not seem like much, those messages meant the world to me, reminding me that we were not forgotten. I am glad to say Meredith became a good friend. He is an amazing person whom God used to reach out to me at a couple critical junctures of my life. Eventually Mabry got better. As such things happen, though, Meredith and I slowly lost touch.
When I saw his name appear in my email inbox in April, 2009, I was thrilled. I learned that he had recently moved to New Zealand, accepting a position as the Head of School for Mission and Ministry at Laidlaw College in Auckland. Once there he added Vice Principal of Operations to his list of responsibilities. Beyond sharing news of his transition, he inquired whether or not I would be willing to come with my family to New Zealand to teach a three month course at the college. He also wanted to know if I could recommend someone to fill an open lecturer's position in the School of Mission and Ministry. True to character, he concluded that message asking about Mabry.
I was excited by the thought of visiting New Zealand with my family and reconnecting with Meredith, however it was mid-Spring by then and he needed someone in July. I gave my regrets, but told him that I would like to talk again. I was due for a sabbatical in 2010 and thought New Zealand would be a great place to spend it. We agreed to stay connected and begin planning for the next year.