Shellie and I have a love/hate relationship with that phrase. What is glorious deconstruction¹? It is the process God uses to deconstruct us, to make us empty so that He can fill us up and remake us in His glorious image.
This is what God wanted to do in us while we lived in Sudan.
It’s often said by those who serve overseas that we think the nations need our experiences, when in the end it is we who need the nations.
We go, thinking we are mini-saviors, except we find out we are the ones in need of saving: saving from ourselves. And it’s in the midst of difficult environments that God does His best work.
After opening Christmas presents on December 25th, 2007, we drove around Khartoum to explore the land God had led us to. We kept the windows in the car rolled up so as to not let the heat in. The heat in Sudan is often compared to the exhaust from a jet engine. As we drove, there was little to see except brown sand, brown houses, and brown air from the dust. A few black rocks and colorful plastic bags stuck to thorn bushes were the only colors dotting the landscape.
Sudan proved to be a difficult place to live. The next four months were spent camping in our house, sleeping on air mattresses, using a single knife, pot and pan with a borrowed table and chairs from friends. Our shipping container had not arrived yet, and daily we dealt with intense heat, around 115 degrees, as well as trying to learn Arabic so that we could buy food.
I spent a day confined to a police station on account of a car accident. Some time later we remained indoors for days while government troops fought rebels from Darfur. On a trip to visit friends in a different country, we helped them pack and leave because their government toppled. Upon returning to Sudan, the International Criminal Court indicted Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir for war crimes, causing more problems in the capital.
Good thing God never removed that fighting spirit from my life. He may have removed the desire to engage in physical altercations (from a previous article), but He never removed my ability to fight through tough situations. And God gave me a wife with the same ability. That would prove necessary and helpful the rest of our lives.
Traveling home from downtown Khartoum one day, I drove past a Shell station and thought to myself, “If they drop the ’S’ from the sign, they would have it right.”
Living with both heat and hate felt like hell—the worst place possible.
About a year into our time in Sudan, Shellie and I began missing the American church. We were tired, felt spiritually depleted, and we longed to worship in a familiar setting. Church services may have had a similar form overseas, but it just wasn’t the same. We expressed this to our team leaders and they challenged us to examine scripture as a way of redefining what church is and how it’s meant to function. They shared some of the challenges facing the American church in its current form.
Because of our love of the American church, we weren’t real happy with their comments. By not happy, I mean borderline offended. And yes, I’ve read the Bait of Satan, so I know the issue rested with me, or us, but I try not to throw my wife under the bus considering she could take me out in my sleep. No, seriously. One moment asleep, the next with Jesus. Husbands, be kind to your wives.
After examining scripture, we found church was meant to function very differently than the way we had approached it our whole lives. But that didn’t make us feel any better during our deconstruction process. Turns out we needed to be torn down, reconstructed and made new in Christ.
Growing up in church and being raised in godly homes was not enough for us to fully grasp our spiritual needs and to learn complete dependence on God.
We needed Sudan to learn how to completely trust Jesus in ways we never thought possible before then. We had much to learn about the sovereignty of God.
We needed to trust Him with our ability to grow our family. After we had been in Sudan a little while, we thought we’d try to add a second child to the mix. Shellie started the fertility medicine again, but to no avail. Within four months of taking the medicine and subsequent increases in hormone production, she felt like she was falling apart between the influence of the drugs and intensely difficult surroundings. At the advice of a medical expert, we decided to throw the rest of the medicine away and not worry about having more kids. That last sentence was a tremendous blow to two people who had gotten into the field of education because of a love of kids. It was hard to reconcile our desire to have kids, serve God overseas and trust Him with our family’s future.
But we trusted nonetheless. Several months later, Shellie became pregnant, without the help of fertility drugs, with our daughter Haley, whose name means “unexpected gift.” With the timing of her expected birth, we were going to be leaving Sudan a few months earlier than previously planned to once again travel and raise prayer and financial support to return to life overseas.
Turns out God knew what He was doing. We were going to need those extra months to decompress and allow God to do the work in our lives we needed to continue to serve Him and follow where He would lead next.
God truly is sovereign. He really does work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
We’d Love to hear from you!
Have you ever walked through a time of deconstruction? If so, what did you learn during that process? Share your comments below.
1 I borrowed this term with permission from Mark Renfroe, a friend and colleague who understands well what it means to be gloriously deconstructed.