West Franklin Family,
I have been known to poke fun of Arkansas, a state I lived and pastored in for nearly 10 years. It’s unfortunate. Though some of the stories and stereotypes are true, were it not for Arkansas. . . well, I don’t want to think about it. MUCH of who I am and who we are (as the Pearson family) is due to wonderful Arkansas influence. Sometime around 2008, God called Katie and I to adopt a child internationally. I was pastoring Wynne Baptist Church. Previously, this church had never had a pastor adopt internationally. There were not many (if any) interracial families in Wynne. To declare to a church in rural Arkansas that we were called to bring a child home from Ethiopia was, well, foreign.
But Wynne Baptist prayed. And supported. And fasted. And loved. And prayed. And asked. And cheered. And encouraged. And prayed. One guy committed to pray and fast for us several days in a row. One Sunday night, to celebrate my five years as pastor, the church presented us with a huge sum of money to help pay for the adoption. The support we received from our local church family was, well, I don’t have the words.
God called us to El Dorado, Arkansas before the adoption was final. Three years into the unglamorous and excruciating adoption process, God called us to First Baptist Church in El Dorado. The week we moved from Wynne to El Dorado was the week we learned our child was ready. Yep. Go back and read that sentence again. The week we moved to El Dorado was the week we learned God had placed Birtukan (Birti) into our lives. Whereas Wynne Baptist got us to the adoption, First Baptist allowed us to begin figuring it out. There isn’t enough room on the internet to describe the emotions and behaviors and surprises that go into the first couple of years of bringing a four year old from Ethiopia to Southern Arkansas. But the people of First Baptist gave us space and allowed us to be real and raw. They embraced us as a family when we weren’t even sure who or what our family was. Food. Prayer. Cheers. Encouragement. Love. Newspaper articles. Clothes. Housing. And, did I mention food? The support and life-giving affirmation and encouragement we received from our local church family was, well, I don’t have the words.
God willing, tomorrow morning (during the 10:30 am service) I will baptize Birti. She placed her faith in Jesus earlier this summer. For the past 6+ years, the people at The Church at West Franklin have, like the previous churches in Arkansas, embraced and welcomed us as we are. You have taught Birti the Bible in Sunday School. You have helped her process biblical realities. You have prayed for her. You have shared the Gospel with her. You have allowed her to be Birti, the little girl God created. Were it not for the local church that you, West Franklin, are – we would not be witnessing a baptism tomorrow.
As a matter of fact, were it not for the local church, well, I don’t even want to think about it.
Wynne Baptist embraced and prayed and supported and loved and got us to the adoption.
First Baptist embraced and prayed and supported and loved and allowed us the gracious space to figure out life as an international and interracial family.
West Franklin, you have embraced and prayed and supported and loved and helped reinforce biblical and Gospel truths into our lives.
Birti’s trust in Jesus and subsequent baptism would not be possible apart from the local church being the local church. Prayer. Food. Financing. Encouragement. Cheers. Fasting. Teaching. Prayer. Love. Embracing. Laughter. Acceptance. Prayer.
I’ve heard it said that it takes a village. That’s true. For us Pearson’s, it takes a church. Thank you church family(ies). If not for you. . . well, I don’t want to think about it. Don’t ever – EVER – underestimate the enduring power of a local church.
Because He Promises to Build It and Keep It,
I look forward to seeing you tomorrow with my Bible open to Jonah 3 – “I’m Not Convinced People Can Really Change!”