On Thursday, I am leaving for a mission trip to Taiwan. When God does something amazing, it is incumbent on the recipients of that amazing work to recount the goodness of God. I want to share what has happened and how this has all come together.
Our primary work this time will be serving at the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship, a gathering of evangelical missionaries from all over Taiwan. We will be leading the youth ministry for the week. Ben and Deserai (my son and daughter-in-law) will also be leading the music and worship time at the morning sessions for the adults and I will be teaching two or three (depending on attendance) seminars during the week. Our theme is “serving the servants.” Being a missionary is hard work and often isolated and lonely. We want to be a blessing to those who expend themselves in serving. And, as a former missionary’s kid in Taiwan, I have a burden for the young people there. We will also be making contact with some of the Chinese and Taiwanese kids we made contact with at the English Camp two years ago, to try to follow up on their spiritual development and to share the gospel again.
Two years ago, when we went to Taiwan the last time, God worked powerfully among us, but in a very different way. The Millers were in a different place then financially, and I committed an act of faithful folly. Believing that God had led us to go, I charged over $16,000 on my credit card to pay for tickets and insurance for a team of 9 from our church (10 total). We left on a Thursday, and two days before we left, I received the very last of the money we needed to go. It was amazing.
This year was very different. We had sunk every penny we had and a most of our credit card balance into buying and renovating Ben’s home, so charging the tickets like last time was simply not an option.
Let me go back to the beginning. At the end of last year, my friend Dan Robinson, an IMB missionary, the principal of Morrison Academy and a friend from high school emailed me and asked if we would consider coming back this year. They had asked for 2011 as well, but that just didn’t seem to work and so we said no.
This time, I had that sense that this was something we should try to do. Dan had specific requests. This had to be a team of no more than 6 people, because of some other things going on at Morrison. Ben and Deserai were fairly important for the musical aspect of things. I approached a few others to gauge their interest in going. Immediately, that Wednesday night, I had my team of people who enthusiastically signed on. I had sensed that this was God’s leading, so I emailed Dan and told him we had a team coming.
But a few weeks later, we had our first crisis. The others on the team, in the light of day, were having some doubts about going. The last time, when they went, they were younger with part time jobs and less financial burden. Leaving town for a couple of weeks was easy. Now, things were different. They were grownups with grownup responsibilities. Ben, for instance, teaches music lessons, and if he doesn’t work, no money comes in. So, they had to think about not only the cost of the trip but the lost income as well.
So, I told everyone to go home and pray and come back and give me word as to whether they were in or out, whether God was leading them to go or not. A couple of weeks later, Ben and Deserai came to me and said that in spite of the financial hardships that the lost income would create, they believed that God was leading them to go and they would commit to the trip. The other couple sensed that it was not the right time for them to go.
Bethany (our daughter) joined the team, and later a friend of hers from school, Bethany’s roommate next year, committed to being part of the team and we were back up to 6.
So, back around January, we were at an interesting place. We did not have the money to pay for plane tickets or our personal expenses on the trip, but we had a small, committed group who believed that God was leading us to travel to Taiwan this summer. We had a team, we had a plan, but we had absolutely no possibility of paying for this.
Time fades memory and I do not want to forget these things. I want to remember the goodness of God.
I checked on tickets to Taiwan, the biggest expense. They were going to be at least $2000, perhaps even $2500 per person for our six member team. That meant we would spend from $12,000 to $15,000 on plane tickets. We would need about $500 per person for living expenses while there. That’s a lot of money. I have to admit that I despaired more than once about the possibility of going.
My hope was that we were actively trying to refinance Ben’s house, and we thought that we had refinancing in place that would clear off most of the debt and give us the ability to find a way to buy the tickets. The bank officer said that the numbers all seemed to be in order and we thought we were on our way. Then, it all fell apart. Even the bank officer wasn’t really sure why, but the underwriters balked at the refinancing and we were back to square one. It was now about 2 months till we were to leave and we had little money and needed to buy tickets.
I came to a point of despair when the refinancing came through. It had been the most discouraging year of my life in financial matters and I was ready to throw in the towel. I was at the point of contacting Dan and begging him to forgive me and not hate me forever for backing out so late in the game. There was just no way this thing was going to happen.
But, at my point of despair, I suddenly had an absolute sense of assurance that the Taiwan trip was still on in God’s heart, even if my heart was giving up. I am not sure exactly what day this moment of despair came, but I would guess it was in the first couple of weeks of May. But, once God reassured me and I made the commitment to the others in the team, things began to move quickly.
Of course, I had already done one fundraiser – the weight-loss challenge, which had raised most of the cost of my plane ticket. The church was very generous. I also began to sell off one of my most valuable assets – my library. I realized that I have many of the books in my library on my computer as well, and I used the electronic books far more than the physical ones. I have sold somewhere over $1500 of my books to go toward expenses. We had plans for the Variety show (and my wife’s incredible lasagna dinner) and for the garage sale, which together raised most of another plane ticket. And, the agreement with the girl who was coming from Ohio was that she would pay her way and she sent me a check for $2500 for her expenses.
Now, here’s where things got interesting. I started checking tickets for the flights to Taiwan. There were essentially three levels of tickets. There were slightly less expensive tickets that got us to Taiwan on Saturday at a really horrible time and had awful connections. There were tickets for about $2100 that had bad, but not quite as bad connections and still got us there at a bad time on Saturday morning. Then, there were tickets for over $2400 per ticket that would get us there on Friday night. These left from Omaha on Thursday morning.
Because of the extreme jet lag (Taiwan is literally half-way around the world) it is important to arrive a day or two early to adjust a little before we really get started with ministry.
I was a long way away from getting any of the tickets, much less the desirable tickets!
One Sunday morning, a couple of our members told me they wanted to talk to me. They came into the office and sat down. He said that God had provided some money for them and they wanted to make a donation. That was cool. Then he told me the amount. That was even cooler. It was a large amount.
A couple of Sundays later, a member asked me after church was we still needed to make the trip. I told him an estimated amount. Miraculously, that (very generous) amount showed up a couple of days later.
God Can Work through Delta Airlines!
So, it was time to buy the tickets. I had enough to purchase the mid-range tickets, but I was going to try to find a way to swing the better tickets and continue to hope God provided. He did. Let me tell you how. I began to research tickets on line and lo and behold, the most desirable tickets had gone down $300 per ticket. The best flights were now the ones I could afford! Listen to this, folks. I had $13,000 bucks and the cost of the desirable flights was – wait for it – $12,995.20.
Amazing coincidence, right?
But there was one more dip in this roller coaster ride. I went to pay for the tickets with my debit card and learned something. Debit cards have unalterable limits on them. You cannot charge $13,000 on a debit card. At least, I can’t. So, I called Delta and they told me I could go to the bank on Tuesday and try to figure something out. They could not hold my tickets.
Tuesday morning I checked online and to my dismay, the tickets had gone back up $300 to their original price. I was upset. But, after spending most of Tuesday morning going back and forth between the bank and Delta, we developed a plan. First, somehow, Delta found our invoice from Monday in their archives and agreed to honor the price. We were back within our budget!
So, Jenni and I went and got a cashier’s check from the bank and drove to Omaha to purchase the tickets. (That was the only way we could do it!). But we had the tickets.
One more thing happened this week, which I want to tell you about. Aubrey, Bethany’s roommate and the sixth member of our team, had a crisis. She applied for her passport a couple of months ago, and it never showed up. She waited and waited. Finally, she began to call the passport office and they told her it was in process, but that they could not tell her when it would come.
Tuesday, she got some discouraging news from them. It looked very much like she would not be able to get her passport and would not be able to go with us. That is a big problem for a couple of reasons. We really need her on the team, and we also bought non-refundable tickets. I was really upset. You’d think by now I wouldn’t panic, but I did.
Jenni and I prayed together on Tuesday night, asking God to work to open the door for Aubrey to go with us. Again, as I prayed, I had a strong sense that things were going to be okay. On Thursday, she called her senator’s office and asked for help. Evidently, that was the right call. By the end of the day she had her passport number and they overnighted the passport to her. She has it with her!
So, Wednesday night, as soon as our congregational meeting is over, we are headed to Omaha to catch a flight to Taiwan on Thursday morning. Barring unforeseen expenses (and, of course, these are unforeseen) we have what we need to go.
As I have told the team, we are the recipients of a powerful work of God. It is now incumbent on us to give top effort and to do great job serving God’s servants to the people of Taiwan.
I hope you will pray for us as we go.