Every day, God is at work in the lives of billions of people across the globe. Within the Christian Reformed Church, many of us—whether we are pastors, missionaries, volunteers, or regular church goers—are blessed to be able to witness God’s work in people’s lives. We celebrate moments when someone gives their life to Christ, goes into ministry, or finds an opportunity to share the Gospel. We witness God’s miracles and celebrate the success stories.
But until those successful moments, ministry can be hard. Often we respond faithfully to God’s call, but the issues we strive to address remain unresolved. We find ourselves constantly in the middle—in our own and other people’s stories.
“You have to be able to release control over that ending,” said Sarah Roelofs, director of chaplaincy and care ministry, noting that because of the nature of their ministry providing care at moments of need, this type of in-between ministry is common for chaplains. “It takes a deep level of trust that the Holy Spirit will not only work through our ministry, but that someone will come after me to continue the journey toward spiritual healing and renewal.”
“It twists your heart to do it. We care so much about someone’s well-being, and we want transformation to happen. We wait, we pray, and we hope—that hearts will heal, that our ministry will have meaning for someone, and that God will bring about life-changing moments, even if we don’t get to see them,” Roelofs continued.
However we are involved in ministry, it is important to recognize these “not yet” moments and encourage each other along the journey. Here are two stories of hope in unresolved ministry to do just that.
God, I’m Waiting
In 2018, Beverly Weeks renewed her candidacy to become a Minister of the Word. It was the fifth time she had renewed it. It had been 11 years since she first began her Master of Divinity program, and five years since she had been eligible for a call with a church. The waiting weighed heavily on her soul.
Weeks remembered when she first became a candidate in 2013. She had received assurance from her fellow students that she would be among the first to receive a call.
Now, five years later, after over 120 applications, no church had extended a call to her. It was frustrating to wait, but she still strongly felt God’s call for her to go into ordained ministry. She found herself wondering, “God, I’m waiting, desiring to serve you. What ARE you doing?”
One of the hardest parts for Weeks was knowing what to do while she waited. As a woman, Weeks’ own church did not allow her to preach, so she participated in worship ministry and supported GEMS. She took opportunities to preach at other churches and continued to learn and hone her pastoral skills. Three different times, Weeks served as an interim pastor, twice in Rochester, N.Y., and once in Rockford, Mich. She served faithfully and strove to also be a blessing to her husband and family, all the while waiting for God to open the door.
While she waited for a permanent call, Weeks said she saw God’s encouragement in her life. He opened her eyes, for example, to the many people in Scripture who waited—Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Moses, Hannah, Zachariah and Elizabeth, the apostle Paul, the Israelites, and many more.
Weeks also recalled what one of her seminary professors had told her: “Do not be afraid of the desert. There’s life there. God is there.”
In 2015, Weeks took a life-changing trip to Israel. “I’ll forever be blessed by the sight of a shepherd girl and her small flock of sheep out in a field,” she said. That was a gift from God, reminding me of his call for me to be one of his under-shepherd girls.”
Others in the CRCNA noticed Weeks’ perseverance. In 2017, Beverly connected with the office of Leadership Diversity. This is a new initiative in the CRCNA that was created to help foster leadership development in people who are underrepresented in our churches and denominational leadership. This includes women as well as various ethnic groups.
Denise Posie is the director of Leadership Diversity. She encouraged Weeks to help her plan a Women’s Leadership Gathering in 2018.
“She stayed connected and involved with God's work,” said Posie. “In waiting, we trust God's guidance in opening doors for service. Waiting can be hard. What I appreciated most about Beverly is that she remained hopeful.”
Not every candidate for ministry receives a call. Some may renew a couple of times before a church calls them. Others may decide to go in another direction. Weeks, however, continued to feel God calling her to ministry. Finally, in 2018, she received a call to serve as a part-time pastor of visitation at Blythefield CRC in Rockford, Mich. She had waited five and a half years. She attributes her new ministry, and her perseverance, to the grace of God.
“God continued to nudge my heart toward ordained ministry throughout all those years,” she said. “It seemed that he was always whispering, ‘Don’t give up.’”
Weeks’ years of waiting are a reminder for her that her ministry is always unresolved. God is constantly preparing the way for her to serve him and his people, though she might not know exactly how.
“Will this always be the place where I serve? I have no idea. But throughout these past 11 years of training and waiting, I’ve learned to trust that God knows what he is doing.”
Clouds and Mountains
Brandon is a 34-year-old Navajo man. He has struggled with uncontrolled diabetes and long-term alcohol abuse for years, and ends up in the hospital frequently for both diseases. Many of his family members have died because of alcohol addiction. Brandon has limited access to his children, no job, and no permanent home. He relies on family members and friends for money to buy alcohol. The doctors, nurses, and social workers who have treated Brandon describe him as one of the most intractable addicts they have seen—and see very little chance that he will ever stop drinking.
Rev. Kris Pikaart is a chaplain at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup, N.M., where she has seen Brandon on-and-off for years. She describes him as “forthcoming and engaged, always very clean with a good haircut, and usually well-dressed.”
He seems to care genuinely what she thinks of him, Pikaart added, often asking, “Are you disappointed in me? Have I let you down?” Every time Pikaart sees Brandon, he says he is “going to quit for real this time,” but refuses counseling and rehab. He is usually back at the hospital within a week.
Over the years, Pikaart has clocked more hours with Brandon than any other patient she can recall. Every time he comes in, he shares a little more about his story. He tells her about how his father drank since he was a boy and would often be violent or completely absent. His uncle gave him his first beer when he was 11 years old. He lost so many people—his dad, uncles, aunties, and brother—to alcohol.
His girlfriend told him he was smart and encouraged him to go to school. She died six years ago in an alcohol-related accident. He had her name tattooed on his arm: Hope.
It took a year of visits before he would share that story.
“He often asks me, humiliated, if I have seen him drunk on the street,” Pikaart said. “I have. He calls me sometimes, drunk. Usually from the mall, where he spends most of his days. He finds my card in his backpack and asks me for money or sometimes a ride. He is sorry later when he sobers up at the hospital.”
One day in August, Pikaart got a call from Brandon. She had not heard from him in nine months and was worried he had died. He said, “Nope, I’ve been in rehab. I’ve been sober for nine months now. I wanted to tell you. I thought you might be glad to hear.
“Oh, and there is one other reason I called you. I have been wearing the same clothes for a while now and I need some new T-shirts. Can you wire me 20 bucks to go to Walmart to buy me some nice new T-shirts?”
Pikaart declined to do so. After she hung up, Pikaart laughed and sobbed alone in her office. She had hoped for so long. She wanted to think that Brandon was really sober, that he had gotten better, but she had no way of knowing.
“You just don’t get slam dunks in this world,” she said. “Not when you are working with humans. I can’t believe how badly I want one—a hole in one, a flawless run, the big Kahuna. I so want to believe that we still get to see miracles. But the miracles are always cloudy.”
Pikaart has learned that ministry is, by nature, always unresolved. For every success story, there are thousands more still in progress. There is always more work, more learning, and more waiting. In these times, when we can’t see the fruits of our labor, we rely on hope. Hope for peace, for healing, and for precious glimpses of God moving in the world.
“Eighteen years of this work and I am still never quite sure what I am looking at,” said Pikaart. “It’s like the cloud/mountain I saw on the way to work. My eyes couldn’t tell which it was for a bit—billowing collection of water molecules, or timeless rock and dirt. I can’t see what is miracle and what is just hope or wishful thinking. And maybe it doesn’t matter so much in the end, since we are only asked to be faithful, not right. They are both beautiful, after all—clouds and mountains.”