Psalm 91:1-4 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
A few months ago while Amazon browsing, I saw a book by Andy Stanley, one of our favorite authors: “Visioneering” –God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining vision. The title appealed to me at the time as I was feeling stuck and overwhelmed about Eagles Wings. The book arrived and I put it somewhere. Then from time to time it would surface in some new location. Finally, a few weeks ago I picked it up and started reading. According to Stanley, visioneering is the engineering of a vision—the course one follows to make a dream a reality. Stanley uses the story of Nehemiah to examine the process of bringing a vision to completion. What has been interesting is that as we are nearing completion of “Phase 1” of Eagles Wings, we can actually plug our developmental milestones into Stanley’s model, in hindsight. Applying the visioneering process to Eagles Wings, we are (re)impressed by the magnitude of God’s sovereignty and encouraged in our pursuit of a “God-sized project.” But perhaps most of all, we are confident of the outcome. Because God is faithful. He originated the vision for Eagles Wings Ministries and he will orchestrate every detail to completion. But before the destination, there’s the journey and as with all God-given visions, the journey is one of faith.
You might recall our story of how the vision for EWM came to be. In 2012, Steve and Myrn McCord and Ernie and Cari Jones were engaged in Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” Bible study. We were challenged to pray for a “God-sized” project—something so big that only He could receive credit for its accomplishment. We didn’t know what the project might be. We prayerfully watched to see where God was working so we could join him there. What we saw were neighbors, friends and family members whose lives have been devastated by addiction. God had given us a deep love for such people. ( In fact, God had called Ernie and I to Naukati in 2007, having rescued us from addiction, to be light in a very dark place). As McCords and we prayed for people by name, often with tears and broken hearts, a vision began to emerge. Stanley describes vision as “what could be and should be despite circumstances to the contrary.” A vision for how to help people suffering from addiction didn’t suddenly appear whole-cloth to any of us. But as we continued to pray, we invited others with the same concerns to join us and a steering committee was formed. Eagles Wings Ministries emerged as a response to get behind what God is doing: a mighty work in setting captives free. Watching for God at work, waiting for God to reveal the next step, praying together and walking by faith, our visioneering path was consistently marked by an uncommon unity.
One planning meeting in particular stands out. Each of us had come to the meeting with a preconceived picture in our mind of a “typical” dormitory style residence for people in recovery. During the course of the meeting, an unexpected image came into focus: a family-style setting with two clients (we like to call them “Seekers”) living with a mature couple who act as house parents / mentors. The idea was that this arrangement could serve multiple purposes. Families are often a source of deep wounds, but healing and healthy relationships can be experienced in a nurturing family setting. The role of house parents—we call these people Barnabas Volunteers and they are actually missionaries—offers opportunities to people who might feel “aged out” of active ministry. As Barnabas Volunteers, their maturity in Christ and their own personal story of addiction and recovery will be a priceless asset to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the “Seekers” they live with. We recognized this radical, unexpected shift in the residential model as being Spirit-led by the unity we experienced as the vision was refined. We haven’t met the first Barnabas couple yet but we are confident that God has already been at work preparing the way and working out the details.
As mentioned, the vision for EWM emerged from heart-broken concern for people affected by addiction. God entrusted us with his vision to rescue, redeem, transform and set people free in Jesus. But for us, it’s been quite an adventure in faith, not knowing HOW he plans to do it. It’s like with Nehemiah’s God-given vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The obvious question is, “how is that going to happen?” Or, “Noah, build an ark.” “OK. How do you build an ark?” Or, “Steve, Myrn, Ernie, Cari, make a place where people can be safe and supported where they can be delivered from addiction and follow me into freedom.” “OK. How would we do that?” (I’m not comparing our efforts to these heros of faith, I’m just saying, if you don’t know, you don’t know, right?)
“HOW” questions come from other people too. How will EWM be financed? Knowledgeable people from the non-profit service sector are dumfounded to hear that EWM will not bill Medicaid or private insurance. How will you provide services? Over and over we have had to say, “We don’t know, but God has called us to do this, and he knows all the answers to all of the HOW questions. We believe that Jesus is the only means by which the suffering of addiction can be healed and people can be set free. So we are not going to pursue a funding course which could limit our ability to share the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. We are confident that God will provide through the tax-deductible giving of like-minded people and groups. No one seeking recovery will be charged for services and no one will be turned away for financial reasons. Missionary support for Barnabas Volunteers and other volunteer contributions will help to keep cost of operations low. (Financial projections for 2016 and 2017 are available upon request.)
As we look back, we see God’s sovereign hand at work in so many unexpected ways. Our job in the midst of the visioneering process is to be faithful to the vision and to do what we know to do. We’ve visited recovery centers; studied about addictions, spiritual warfare and freedom in Christ. We’ve written policies and procedures; coordinated construction and work teams; and shared the vision via newsletters and presentations. We’ve entered new relationships with many diverse people; grown closer to God and closer to one another. We’ve allowed God to change us and he has been equipping each of us according to our gifts and the purpose he has in mind for us. For example, as our vision was born, Myrn was pursuing a degree in social work. Inexplicably, the only classes and workshops coming her way began to focus on addiction. Consistently, God provided the means for her to pursue the training which will be so vital to EWM services. Myrn has attained licensing by the National Christian Counselors Association as a Clinical Christian Counselor and a Pastoral Counselor, opening the door to a counseling and delivery ministry through Naukati Church.
Speaking of which, just a side note of clarification: Eagles Wings Ministries is not affiliated with Naukati Community Church. EWM is an autonomous 501(c)(3) non-profit entity. We share workers, but Eagles Wings is actually an independent parachurch whose function is to come alongside existing churches and recovery ministries, offering help to those in the body of Christ. Referrals come from pastors and referring churches become part of the recovery team, supporting the Seeker in prayer and practical helps and standing by with arms of grace if the Seeker isn’t ready to commit to a 1 year discipleship program. Referring churches are a vital part of relapse prevention and after-care.
While God was shaping and equipping Myrn, he also did some adjusting to our lives as well. My 13-year employment position was “down-sized.” My training and experience had equipped me in administration and management and it appeared I was headed to executive directorship of Eagles Wings. But God had other plans. Ernie and I became licensed foster care providers—and then adoptive parents. Our focus became increasingly child-oriented as God provided training and education on trauma informed care, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and children’s behavioral health. We wondered how this new turn of events would fit into the vision for Eagles Wings. What could God be doing?
What God keeps doing is unfolding, providing and steering our vessel of faith. He provided workers to (nearly) complete the first residence. He provided three parcels of land adjacent to the church property as sites for the next three 3-bedroom residence units. Most all materials for the next residence are already on site. He miraculously moved our application for tax-exemption through the regulatory maze. Steve, Myrn and Ernie have all completed training in the Genesis Process, a key component of EWM recovery program, Naukati Church’s counseling services provided by Myrn, and the Monday night recovery meetings led by Ernie. A few churches and individuals make regular contributions. The Board of Directors keeps meeting, conducting business and moving forward in unity. Often things take longer than we expect. Usually we operate in unfamiliar waters with scarcely a chart to navigate by. But we pray–a lot. And keep doing what we can. And trusting our faithful God.
Several years ago, we (the Joneses) began a building project on our property. The initial structure was called a garage/shop with greenhouse attached. Since we don’t know how to build anything, (as with so many local building projects), Steve became the very able general contractor and Ernie was a laborer, and we’ve had substantial help over the years by a number of people and several teams. And the building grew. The plans changed to include an upstairs apartment. People started asking “what are you going to use that for?” We started answering, “we don’t know for sure yet…” And the plans changed again to include more bedrooms. Increasingly, our ideas about the building’s purpose were held more and more loosely. Then some months ago, Eagles Wings had come to the point where we had to choose which population to serve. Since most of the people who had come for emergency help were women, and the referral list consisted of women–and there is no faith-based, year-long residential recovery setting in Alaska for women—the board was in agreement that services would be offered to women. But what if a woman wants to enroll but she has children to care for?
And then several loose ends came together. When completed, (estimated fall 2017) the Jones’ home will provide housing and care for children of mothers enrolled in Eagles Wings recovery program. Located just a few minutes’ walk from the women’s residences, mothers can engage in vital daily routines with their children while also pursuing their goals in the individual recovery plan. The children’s residence is called the “Eagles Nest,” The Joneses will be “Barnabas Parents” volunteering their training and experience in issues children may experience such as developmental delays and/or challenging behaviors related to trauma, lack of attachment or prenatal exposure to alcohol. Children will have their own recovery plan which mothers /parents help to develop. Families will be connected with resources in the school and community through case management provided by Cari.
Andy Stanley points out that visioneering takes time and we have found this to be true. God’s God-sized project in God’s time to heal and liberate women from addiction, but it’s also about getting us to know him better and building up our faith. As Eagles Wings moves forward, we must continue to be utterly dependent on him to do what only he can do. We don’t have to know how, we just have to know who God is and trust him to guide, equip and provide in every detail.
We’ve shared a lot more about our personal life than usual. But it’s not about us. It’s not even about Eagles Wings Ministries. It’s about God and daring to trust him when we don’t have a clue “how.” Of course we invite you to join God in his God-sized project! Eagles Wings needs people to pray and people to make regular contributions. People and teams to build the next 3 residences and to finish Eagles Nest. Board members—especially people with skills in accounting and regulations and laws. An executive director and Barnabas Volunteers. As the first residence nears completion, the Barnabas Volunteers are a huge green light to open the doors. Yes, we invite you to be part of the Eagles Wings discipleship community! And we are confident that God has already been at work preparing the way for all of the above pieces to fall into place—including the part he wants you to play.
But even more, we challenge you. Maybe God has given you a vision for something that could be and should be in spite of current circumstances. Andy Stanley points out the more we understand the nature and character of God, the more we trust him. When we put our confidence in him, we’re giving him credit for the importance and perfection of his plans, so the more glory he gets. We encourage you to join him where you see God at work. Speaking from my own experience, you may mistakes, get discouraged, grow impatient, get distracted and sometimes lose heart. But if you persist in surrendering to God, he will bring it all around to himself, and your faith will grow stronger, and he will get more glory, and your faith will grow stronger….There’s no adventure like a journey of faith.
A final word:
I Corinthians 16: 13-14 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.