Be Forewarned: Ministry Rant Ahead

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 15, 2007

In some ways, things have been going exceptionally well lately.  Missio Dei has been going through our “rebooting” process as hoped.  I’ve got some good speaking engagements lined up.  And I’ve got some travels ahead to help me write my new book.  On top of that, there is a good chance that our book of prayer will be published in a “generic form” as the New Monastic Breviary.  Folks are ready to move forward.  Things are good.

But in other ways, things are going well.  I want to believe we’re in one of those situations where things seem impossible but at the last moment God shows up and saves the day–much to his glory and our joy.  Let me explain why I’m feeling frustrated…

The money situation is still pretty bad for me.  I’m still struggling to get funds raised for InterVarsity and Missio Dei doesn’t pay me anything.  And my wife, in a move that I am convinced was God’s will, left a good paying teaching job (9 years with the school district) to be an underpaid part time teacher of East African refugees in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood (the neighborhood Missio Dei serves).  I’ve got speaking engagements, but not enough to help make ends meet.  And it isn’t as though I’m high profile enough to draw in much more than a couple hundred bucks per engagement anyway.  I was supposed to teach a class at Bethel, but the ball got dropped and so I’m out $1500 bucks that I was planning on for the spring.  Right now Amy and I are hoping to make it until taxes and then hopefully that will take us into me getting paid. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t really frustrate me that much.  Hardship isn’t the end of the world.
But the big downside to all of this is that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that Amy and I will be able to buy a house on the WB when we sell our current house.  Buying a house on the West Bank is a big deal for us–perhaps THE big deal for us.  We need to have a place on the West Bank from which we will offer hospitality as well as to serve as the home for the intentional community expression of Missio Dei.  Unfortunately, we won’t get enough from the sale of our current house to secure another house.  Without a solid financial situation and with negative money in our savings, we’re basically left with the rental option.

Which is a bummer.  When your entire ministry plan is built upon the idea of a house-centered approach to ministry, it sucks to not have any way to buy a house in the neighborhood you’re called to serve.  And even if we had the money, it would still be hard to get a house.  80 to 90 percent of the housing on the West Bank is rental properties.  Often, whenever a house comes on the market (and often before it comes on the market), it gets eaten up by one of a couple major housing cooperatives.

Meanwhile, I get almost a request a week from someone wanting to intern at Missio Dei or become a member of Missio Dei. They often are hoping to move into a ministry house and do ministry along side of us.  Unfortunately, we don’t have anywhere to put them.  I suppose we could house them in our current place (which has 6 bedrooms) but it isn’t on the West Bank; it wouldn’t make much sense for them to live in our current house.

To make things even more bizarre, the LA Times wants to follow our community for 6 months and write a bit about us (as crazy as that sounds).  Apparently, “New Monasticism” is becoming a sensation of sorts and Missio Dei is one of the newest expressions of it.  They want to follow a newly emerging new monastic community and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove suggested that they follow our story for 6 months. We’re praying about it.  It could certainly be a big distraction.  But this could help our fund raising efforts.  Times are tight and we need resources if we’re going to carve out a little place for ourselves on the West Bank.  It could also bring more folks to our cause–folks who are drawn to the same vision of ministry.  And, of course, it would help other folks from all over to hear our story.  If our experiences can teach anyone anything, it is that it is ok to make mistakes–it is ok to follow God’s vision no matter how difficult it may be or foolish it might sound.
It really is uncomfortable being stuck like this.  We have a handful of folks ready to do this Missio Dei thing.  And we have people practically lined up to move in and minister with us.  We even have reporters wanting to tell our tale (we already had an article about us in the Star Tribune.  But everything is stuck because we can’t get a house on the West Bank.

Our plan B is to hope and pray that we can find a house to rent on the West Bank.  This is certainly more plausible in light of the current situation…but houses for rent are a scarcity on the West Bank as well.  If you’ve been following the development of Missio Dei at all, please pray for us.

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8 Responses to “Be Forewarned: Ministry Rant Ahead”

  1. Luke on January 16th, 2007 1:24 am

    Very stressful! Very dependent on God! I can’t say anything you don’t already know, but God bless you!

  2. JVD on January 16th, 2007 9:30 am

    Mark -

    I will be praying for you.


  3. markvans on January 16th, 2007 10:42 am

    A friend of mine (who will go unnamed) wrote me the following email in response to this post:

    Prayers for you. Maybe ease up on your prayers, loosen the reigns, and instead of seeing what the possibilities aren’t, see what they are? I know you know this, but God is bigger than any pocketbook, don’t write off the possibilities lurking behind the closing doors.

    To which I replied:

    I agree. I actually regretted writing that post, because I wrote it in a moment of pessimism. I’m feeling more optimistic now. I haven’t decided whether I should keep it online in an effort to be authentic, or take it down so that folks don’t think I’m a whiney baby. :)

    I’m going to keep the post up. In retrospect, I feel silly for writing it. It sounds like a pity-party on my part…and it makes it sound like I’m not excited about what God is doing. I know God will provide. And in a way, it would make more sense for us to find a way to be neomonastic in apartments, since most of the residents of the West Bank are renters.

  4. Anna on January 16th, 2007 12:01 pm

    Here is a story for ya, Mark:

    My parents were a part of an active, quasi-community Catholic Charismatic movement in the early 70’s. A small group of nuns moved into a rough neighborhood nearby and quickly won the respect of the folks around them. They had the house donated but didn’t have a vehicle. The nuns did what nuns do well~ Prayed.

    An Italian car dealer, who had rumored connections to the “Family”, heard about the nun’s plight. He presented them a large new station wagon. When asked why he did it, he threw up his hands and cried, “What could I do? They prayed!”

    The station wagon was named, “Gloria”.

    Back down to earth, I fought being whinny a few months ago about finances. The Lord turned around the whinniness into what I call, “Active Dreaming”. You can share with others the grand dream of God’s leading or you can whine about not having it all yet. I picked choice B.

    Thanks for sharing, makes me feel normal.

  5. Richard Daley on January 16th, 2007 1:26 pm

    Hey Mark,

    I’ll definitely pray about/for Missio Dei.


  6. Kyle on January 17th, 2007 6:06 am

    I’ll pray for you guys.

  7. markvans on January 17th, 2007 10:30 am

    Thank you all for your prayers!

  8. Jeff on January 17th, 2007 1:51 pm

    Been there, done that. It sucked and it thrilled. But you know that. One possibility that we considered was getting a fourplex or something - occassionally you can even find entire fourplexes that are for rent. God can do just as much with a building you rent as a building you own.

    P.S. a good blog rant can be therapeutic for the soul

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