Hi, I’d like to share the “shortest” of stories about my life. My dilemma – how do I boil down 50 years of God being active in my life into an article short enough that you would want to read it? Please bear with me!
I grew up in a tiny country church in the hills of West Virginia – Cherry Run UMC. My Mom and Dad grounded me in the faith and helped lead me to Christ in my pre-adolescent years. But it wasn’t until I went to college – West Virginia University – that my faith came alive. I was studying Mechanical Engineering when a thought – not my own – prompted me to begin researching another line of vocation – pastoral ministry. Around that time, God led me to a great group of college-aged on-fire Christ followers at Baptist Campus Ministry who totally changed my life. Even so, I stayed on my engineering track and graduated Cum Laud with a BSME from WVU – which led me to Warminster, PA where I was employed as a civilian engineer with the Navy – specializing in researching and developing survival equipment for Navy helicopter pilots.
It’s been an incredible ride for me since God nudged me to walk away from engineering and enter ordained ministry. Before leaving the Naval Air Development Center for Asbury Theological Seminary in 1989, I met and married my bride of 25 years, Michelle. We were blessed with a full-tuition scholarship which paid for all books and tuition during our three year stay in Wilmore, KY (God provides when He calls). Three life-changing years. We met our best friends for life there and Michelle and I planned and God honored our plan with the birth of our first daughter – Rachel – right before I graduated with a Master of Divinity in 1992.
With degree in hand, our small family landed in Cumberland, Maryland – at Christ Church – a large 500 member church in the heart of difficult economic times – both the church and the community. I wish I could write more about the wonderful ways God used my mistakes to grow the church and some incredible people who helped form a rookie pastor, but all I can say is grow we did – reaching young people and starting new missions and ministries that eventually led to being honored by the United Methodist Church for our outreach efforts. And Michelle and I added to our family – Becca in 1994 and Daniel in 1995.
After six great and also turbulent years in Cumberland and through the fruit we had borne there, God brought us back to Wilmore as part of the Beeson Biblical Preaching and Pastoral Leadership program. I would be working on my Doctor of Ministry free of charge, with free housing and monthly stipend while experiencing the best and brightest churches in America and around the world. All-expense paid trips (AEPT) to Saddleback Church in California, Willow Creek in Chicago, Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta (and numerous other domestic field trips) and learning in state-of-the art classrooms, were sandwiched in between “AEPTs “to the Holy Lands and Korea. Everything about my ministry changed in that incredible year of grace as I saw how God was willing and able to grow great churches far beyond my upbringing in tiny Cherry Run. My vision for God’s Kingdom completely changed.
After that year of grace in 1999, Our family of five returned to Maryland- this time St. Paul’s UMC, Leonardtown in southern Maryland. Again – way too many incredible stories to share. This time – more intentionally – the church grew. We added two new worship services and at one point had standing room-only in our worship space. We started and blessed new outreach ministries and empowered members to lead and serve. After eight years there, the church had adopted two smaller congregations into a multi-campus merger and purchased land for a large community center. God was (and is) doing amazing things there.
One detail – early in my appointment at St. Paul’s I preached a sermon on “More then Enough Love.” In that message which was one of the catalysts for revival, I “prophetically” announced that Michelle and I were considering adoption – inter-racial adoption as another call from God that we (and He) had more than enough love to go around. ( Now hold on to that thought for later.)
So a great, vital church with vision, doing great ministry and growing, with incredibly grace-filled people . . . And I felt God’s nudge to leave that church in the hands of another and to start a new congregation.
Which leads to The Vine. Our family of five – now with three teenagers – left behind family and friends to start this new adventure. In 2008, after eight wonderful and turbulent years at St. Paul’s, we moved to Bel Air, Maryland, took a pay cut to live out God’s call. I came on staff as an associate pastor at Bel Air United Methodist – our parent congregation. And that’s where the story is still being written. We’ve had some rough patches getting started at Bel Air, but now have an incredibly healthy group of Christ-followers who are learning how to love and serve our community and one-another. I have learned so much in my short stint as launch pastor.
Oh and about that message – more than enough? You may have noticed there are six of us in the picture. As we were exploring how to do church in Harford County, Michelle and I were invited to a house church in Baltimore. Their pastor had just returned from Uganda and regaled us with stories of God at work. He invited us to take a return trip with him. Michelle and I did, and while in Mbale, Uganda, met our fourth child – Lazarus Ojoo whom we adopted at the age of fifteen and brought to America. In 2010, our founding church, Bel Air UMC blessed us through some difficult financial times while Michelle was stuck in Uganda trying to get Laz home while I was a single dad with three teenagers – one getting ready to graduate high school. We are learning so much about being a parent of an adopted child, and having an inter-racial family, and trauma and family systems and . . . (this deserves a whole book) But through it all, God is good.
Now our family is getting smaller at the dinner table. Rachel and Rebecca are both students at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA and our oldest son, Daniel is getting ready to graduate high school and head off to college as well. Laz will be a Senior in 2013-14. (Pray for us – FOUR in college at once!) This is and will be another step in our faith journey. God has always been faithful. God has always provided. He’s always given us more than enough.
If you have any questions or just want to get to know me better, friend me on facebook. I’ve got a lifetime of God-stories that might help you write yours. (And coffee chats or lunch are also welcomed.)