Dear John & Shevawn;
I don't know that I ever properly thanked you for encouraging me through those very difficult days in '98. So thank you! You said something on my evaluation form along the lines of "Leo had a very difficult bout with culture shock, but I'd work with him again any time." That meant a lot to me.
As for where I have been... I finished my degree in applied linguistics at Moody in '99, married Andrea and, aside from those two items, no longer had any idea what God wanted me to do (my experience in Ghana had been that shattering). Andrea and I eventually moved to her home town and I became part of the Mission Committee, began teaching ESL, and took over a group of a dozen junior high boys. Through the Mission committee and a mentoring relationship with the Missions pastor Andrea and I began to explore ZEMA, a very unique mission. We took an exploratory trip to South Africa in 2003. Getting back on a plane to Africa was a very stretching experience... like getting back on a horse after it bucked you off and put you in the hospital. While there we spent two weeks shadowing the missionaries and participating in ministry.
We then took a month to pray and both felt led to apply to the mission. We were accepted... so I tried combining being a Youth Pastor/Missionary Candidate. I was employed full time at the church while attempting to raise support - a combination that didn't work out. After two years we were still unable to get the support we needed, but the youth ministry was going very well. We were let go by the mission and I was hired by the church as the youth pastor.
I very much felt like a failure, as I did in Ghana, when we were let go. But I still knew that we are called to that mission. However, I realize now that many people are called to a mission without being full time missionaries. So now, through the youth pastorate, I am able to lead groups of teenagers to South Africa with ZEMA every two years. The local high school actually allows me to promote missions as a career at their career fair each fall, and we have begun to lead our youth group in sacrificial giving projects for the mission with the intention of shoring up the support base for the next generation of ZEMA .
For all of the negative experiences of my Discovery internship and our support raising, I continue to get incredibly positive feedback about these things from our missionaries and our missions pastor (who is also the executive director of ZEMA). Perhaps my role all along was to be one who promotes the mission from the home base, leads prospective students on trips, and continues to train up the next generation to send and to go. There are yet many hints that God may yet one day place me "on the field" but I am content to work wherever He places me and trust Him for the results. My greatest vocational joy has been seeing the students that go to South Africa with me catch the vision for what is going on there. Many of them come back and can talk about nothing else, literally, for years. One of them has even pushed back college for a year to go and work with ZEMA on her own. God is a great, yet mysterious, God. I am excited to see what He has in store in the years to come and I know that your patient encouragement 11 years ago still bears fruit in my life.
With deepest appreciation, Leo