Sorry that we’ve been silent and without an update for so long. I’ve wanted to begin this letter for a number of weeks now but just haven’t known what to write. I’m still not sure, but I figure we’re well past due for an update anyway, so I’ll give it my best. Some big things in our first couple of months back in the US definitely haven’t gone the way we’d hoped they’d go. But in the midst of the covid pandemic, I imagine nearly everyone else also feels that way about these last few months.
To start with the good news: we’re all currently in good health and all our needs have been met from the time we left Madagascar until now! We’ve been graciously offered a place we can stay for free until May. It’s located right next to Lora’s parents, so we’ve had plenty of opportunities to spend time with them. A family member also gave us a very nice car as soon as we arrived in the US and that’s been a huge blessing to us. Nearly all of our supporters have continued to support us in this transition time. In short, we’ve lacked for nothing, and some of our needs have been met above and beyond what we could’ve hoped for! God has been good to us!
On the other hand, we spent about forty days of our first two months in strict covid-19 quarantine. Despite our preliminary two weeks of quarantine after returning to the US, and both us and Lora’s parents following the strictest precautions recommended, covid-19 still managed to first get Lora’s parents and then was passed on to our family. Other than trips to the hospital, we couldn’t leave the house until after New Year’s. Thankfully most of us only had mild cases, and though the disease was much rougher on Lora’s dad, he was later able to leave the hospital and now seems to be mostly recovered. Then last week Lora’s mom had to go to the hospital for an emergency surgery for a completely unrelated reason and was only recently released and is still recovering from it.
We certainly didn’t expect any of this, really hoping we’d be able to avoid it all by following the covid guidelines. But it’s just one more example that, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Though these last couple of months have included some times of strong worry and anxiety about how the disease would run its course for each of us, we can see that being next to Lora’s parents during this time has been a blessing from God, allowing us to be near them and support them throughout all of these medical challenges and recovery times. God continues to reaffirm to us that he knows our needs even before we do, and he’s always taking care of us… both for our own needs, and positioning us to be a help to others when they have needs.
Of course we’ve all collectively experienced the political tumult in the US over the last few months. I also had one of my childhood best friends pass away just after Christmas, but because of our ongoing covid quarantine, I wasn’t able to attend the funeral services. Throughout all of this, so often our minds have been cluttered and distracted, with our concerns for both the present and the future filling our thoughts. We’ve had a hard time finding focus and hearing the voice of God. Though you can imagine with so many days of quarantine back-to-back, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to try!
Most of the time right now, God seems to be speaking to us simply in a still, small voice. I think somehow we thought we’d have more of an idea of our future at this point, maybe some specific job opportunities presented, or direction from God on what we should pursue. But so far he’s giving us none of that. In fact, when Lora or I tend to get a bit anxious about pursuing our next steps (and how to go about that), in prayer God seems to be slowing us down, basically deterring us from making any big efforts right now. At the same time he seems to reassure us that he has something for us, that things will work out when they need to. But nothing about what it might be, when, where, or how it might be.
It feels like there’s nothing for us to do in regards to our future right now. Which is a bit confusing, because I’ve always diligently worked towards my future. I tend to believe that God always has ways for us to engage with him in the work he’s doing in our lives and towards those around us. And maybe he does for us now as well, but it’s anything but clear to us. I’ve even been getting a recurring sense that God wants to give us this time as a time of rest. Which again is confusing, because I don’t really feel like I need rest right now. I don’t really want rest right now. It seems like it wasn’t even that long ago that we had our sabbatical, and it was a rewarding and refreshing time and I think it achieved everything God wanted to do through it. But now I feel like I’m ready to move ahead, to start settling in the place and position that we’ll be able to settle in for some time – to discover what it means to be a family in the US. And yet we seem to be halted, in a sort of limbo and in-between place right now.
When God called us to leave Madagascar, everything worked out relatively quickly, all the details and provisions falling into place at just the right time, even the difficult and unlikely ones. In the back of my mind, I guess I expected more of the same after arriving here: maybe a short break for the holidays, but then some great new jobs we could move into, that we’d get started right away with this new season of our lives. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, at all. Instead we seem to be caught somewhere in-between.
One of the Bible stories I always enjoyed sharing in Madagascar was about how God called Abraham. God called Abraham to leave behind his home and his relatives and to go to the land that God would show him. In return for obedience in this area, God promised to give Abraham more descendants than he could count (a bold promise for an old man with no children, but the sort of promise that strikes a chord with the desires of the hearts of most Malagasy people). I enjoyed sharing this story because I could identify with it; I could share my own testimony of how God called us to leave behind our families in the US and come to Madagascar. I could share my hope of having many generations of innumerable spiritual descendants through the work that God called us to there.
But one detail I didn’t identify with in the story was how God was calling Abraham to leave his home and to go to the place he “would show” him (future tense). So apparently Abraham had to leave, and set out on the road, without knowing where his destination would be. Whereas for me, right when God called me, he showed me Madagascar in a vision, and as soon as I looked for it on a map, I knew where it was. For so many years I knew exactly where God was leading me and for the most part I just worked towards it. I set out on the road, but I knew it was the road to Madagascar.
Well, I was just thinking about this in my prayer time today, and how now maybe I’m more fully in the position of Abraham. God very clearly spoke to Lora and me about leaving Madagascar a few months ago. But he didn’t tell us where we should go. The doors were opened for us to return to the US, so here we are. We responded in faith to what God was telling us, so we left our home, our friends, and nearly all of our possessions of the last 9 years, and we’re still on the road to going where God will show us. But he hasn’t shown us yet. And so now I can finally identify also with that detail in Abraham’s story. And this aspect of it really is about as challenging as I always thought it must’ve been for Abraham, haha! I guess with the exception that, at least for now, we’ve returned to our families here, rather than leaving them this time. And that’s a blessing for sure.
So what are we actually doing on this road? What does God have for us in this time in-between, before he shows us where to go? Well, for one, maybe it’s rest, as I mentioned above. If he’s really giving us this time as a time of rest, then he must know that we need it for some reason, even if I don’t understand it myself. For sure he’s given us time to be near Lora’s parents, to really be a support and help during these health challenges – that’s pretty much plain to see.
Another thing that both Lora and I have been sensing in prayer, is that God wants to do something in us during this time. As is often the case with the works God does within us, while it’s still happening we’re not exactly sure what it is or what it should look like. But we get the sense that, at the least, he’s taking this time to form us and change our perspectives on what it means to live here in the US.
I believe our perspective on the US in the past has always been very lopsided. Previously we only thought of it as a place to visit, and for a short time to take advantage of all of the delights and luxuries this place has to offer. We’d gorge ourselves on our favorite foods, we’d relish the hot clean water coming from the taps, we’d enjoy comfortable couches and soft beds, and we’d luxuriate in the perfect indoor temperature regardless of the weather outside. We’d watch TV and go to the movies, visit theme parks, and have easy access to so many different beautiful outdoor areas. Even just having green grass on the lawns was a huge treat! And other than visiting various churches, we’d spend all of our extra time visiting our family and our best friends, all while speaking a language that was effortless for us, easily understanding others and being understood in return. In short, our perspective on the US in the past has always been primarily focused on ourselves, on pleasing ourselves with the greatest ease and enjoying all the pleasures we could find.
Well, obviously that sort of perspective is not a healthy way to approach our lives long-term here in America. So I think God is giving us this time to transform our perspectives on what it means to pursue him in this place, to change our outlook on why we’re here. Not that we have to avoid all the possible enjoyments that life here has to offer. But these things are certainly not why we’re here right now. They should not be our focus nor our pursuits. If we’re here long-term, we need to change our mindset and assumptions about this place. We need to turn from being focused on ourselves and what pleases us, and instead turn towards being attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, to keep our eyes open to the Kingdom of God, to see what Jesus is doing here and where he might have us join him in his work, that our lives here also would be a blessing to those around us, even to those we’d otherwise ignore.
So, these last couple of months haven’t been particularly smooth for us in most ways, and I’ve frequently wished that we’d be able to just move past all of this and move straight into the next season of our lives. Though I think most people have felt that way about 2020 and this pandemic. So many people have faced some of the biggest challenges of their lives during this season, including the loss of family members and their closest friends, facing far more hardships and difficulties than we have these past few months. But even this time is not wasted. God has used, and is still using, these challenges to further shape and form us, to straighten what has been crooked within us, and to draw us nearer to his perspective on things.
What lies ahead still remains a great mystery for us. But as it’s God who’s leading us onto this path, we also trust him that he’ll show us where exactly we’re going at least in time for when we need to know it. And we believe that in this in-between time, he’s starting to transform us into who he wants us to be for when we arrive at the next step. In the meantime, we simply continue responding in faith to what God has spoken to us, even if we don’t yet know where he’s leading us.
Adam & Lora Willard
P.S. As I’ve written above, neither of us have any idea what jobs or careers we’ll do here in the US. It may not even be time for us to pursue that right now, as strange as that seems to me. But honestly, we hardly even know where to start. So I’d like to ask any or all of you to please let us know if you know of some job or position that might be well-suited for us.
Both of us would love to continue working in some capacity, great or small, with international people, immigrants, or refugees. Due to our extensive international careers, we’re both quick to learn new skills and could probably quickly adapt to any position even if we haven’t done something exactly like it in the past. We both have a professional history of teaching (as public school teachers in the US and in South Africa, and while teaching our missions team in Madagascar), and we would consider doing that sort of work again.
Lora has particularly considered working as an ESL teacher for elementary or middle school, and she’s worked in that capacity in the past, as well as having taught preschool, elementary, and middle school with other subjects. I previously taught French at the high school and college level (as an adjunct professor), but I’m not interested in returning to French as my main subject of teaching. I would love to teach or train others in missions and cross-cultural skills, especially at the University level. Though with only a Bachelor’s I may not be qualified enough, especially as there probably aren’t many of these positions available overall. Perhaps at some sort of Bible college? Or maybe a Christian high school would be interested in hiring me to teach several subjects, perhaps including a French class or two together with classes on other topics (maybe including some on teaching cross-cultural skills, which is what I would enjoy most). If I were to be a teacher again, I would love for it to go hand-in-hand with discipleship for some of my students, which is why I would be more interested in an environment that permitted me to do that openly (i.e. some sort of Christian school).
Ultimately, we know we may wind up with jobs or careers that aren’t at all in our areas of passion and skill that we recognize now, and that’s totally OK for us. We simply want to follow where God leads us, through whatever doors he opens for us, and we want to work for the growth of his Kingdom in our employment, as much as we can, and in our spare time outside of that. We’d love to stay in the general area of Arkansas, Missouri, or Oklahoma, if possible (so that we can be near to family, and because we also think North/Northwestern Arkansas is beautiful!). But we can move anywhere if God opens up the doors for us to have jobs/careers that we’d be passionate about.
So please, if any of you have some idea of some job or career opportunity that you know of, which you think might be a good fit for either or both of us, please let us know! We’ll take the time to pray about any opportunity, for sure, and if God gives us the go ahead we’ll be glad to get started! Right now it looks like our deadline to find a job (or at least another place to live) is the beginning of May, but we can definitely start sooner, as soon as God releases us from this waiting time. So we’d love it if any of you could help us figure out what this next step might look like for us!