When David finished serving for 21 years at Lampeter UM Church in Lancaster PA, he told the congregation that he was “not retiring, but re-firing.” We believed that God was calling us into further ministry and that He would make it clear what He wanted us to do and where He wanted us to go. Instead, He provided a home in Florida first (originally my brother’s), and we searched for ministry there. For seven years, we served in a variety of roles at our church and in the community and went on many short-term mission trips. Though we made great friends and enjoyed all the activities, we still felt more retired than “re-fired.”
Ready… After 35 years pastoring three churches in PA and seven years of retirement in FL, God began to speak to our hearts about the issues of poverty and racism. He also gave us a discontentment with our all-white, all-senior citizen community and church in FL, and an undeniable longing to be more involved in ministry again. So in 2018, we geared our summer travels to search for God’s next calling, and we visited ministries from PA to NC, from soup kitchens to Samaritan’s Purse. Taking a break from our hunt, we camped in AR, and that’s where God began to set His plans in motion!
Set… God arranged a Divine Appointment for us in a State Park in AR to meet Barry and Lori Stoll, the founders of “City of Refuge” located in Columbia, MO. Impressed by them and their ministry, we followed these Spirit-filled believers home and spent nine days working alongside them with Burmese and African refugees. After being forced to flee their countries, these (legal) refugees lived in refugee camps for 10-12 years (!), and arrived in the US with nothing. They needed (and continue to need) clothes, housing, furniture, jobs, medical care, English education, driver’s ed. and vehicles, PTSD counseling, etc. We also visited Love INC (now Love Columbia), another great ministry, which helps coordinate local church resources with the needs of the homeless, addicts, and single moms. We met with their program director, Jane Williams, another amazing, Spirit-filled believer, who also prayed and prophesied over us.
Go!!! “If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God.” (2 Cor. 5:13 NLT)
Back in FL, we prayed for guidance and a sign from the Lord. The sermon on our first Sunday back at our UM Church was entitled “Send Me” (Is. 6:8) and the message was, “If God is nudging you, say yes.” We said, “Here we are, Lord. Send us!” and the Lord has provided in miraculous ways ever since.
- He provided a buyer for our FL home in three weeks, without a realtor, while we were on a mission trip in Puerto Rico!
- He led us to a Christian realtor in MO who helped us find a beautiful home in three days when we drove back to MO in Nov.
- While waiting for the realtor to negotiate an agreeable price, we met more vibrant Christians at “the Love Seat” – and bought a sofa and chair.
- The buyers of our FL home wanted to move in on Feb. 1 and our closing date in MO was set by the seller for January 15.
- The MO house inspection revealed problems with the roof, which was a deal breaker for us, until the seller lowered the price enough to pay for a new roof.
- Because “vacation homes” are sold furnished in FL, God even provided free replacement of the kitchen necessities and linens we wanted to take! (Recent newcomers to the park brought all their things to FL, not knowing their house there would be furnished, and donated their duplicates to us!)
- As we were making the move from sunny Florida to frigid Columbia, MO during a two-foot snowstorm, we became the focus of a church prayer meeting!
- Our new boss Barry, and six small but mighty Burmese refugees in flipflops helped us unload our truck!
[Photo: Linda learning Swahili in order to communicate with an African family.]
The majority of our time and energy has been devoted to helping Burmese and African refugees at City of Refuge. This ministry offers a clothes closet, personal hygiene items, transportation to medical appointments, school supplies and homework helpers for school children, Christmas presents, and lessons in English, cooking, and sewing for adults. There are many people who volunteer in these capacities. However, our primary job is case management, interpretation (not translation), and advocacy. Since we are the first permanent Volunteer Advocates at City of Refuge, there is no written instruction book. We just have to learn as we go – and what a steep learning curve it is! For the first time, we’ve learned how to apply for social services that we were blessed to never need: food stamps and Medicaid; financial assistance for medical bills, rent and utilities; and services for deaf and autistic children.
We all know what it’s like dealing with bureaucracy: robo phone menus, baffling forms, and endless paperwork. Now imagine trying to enroll your child in a new school, register and insure your car, set up phone/internet service, make a doctor’s appointment, pay taxes, or apply for a job – in a foreign language!! And how do you know if mail marked “Urgent!!” is truly important or just an advertisement? Sometimes the refugees bring a friend along to help translate, and some medical offices have access to paid translating services. Even so, the refugees still need someone to explain or interpret the questions, and then there’s always HIPAA regulations to deal with too!
Also Linda has been coaching two clients through the Extra Mile Financial Coaching program at Love Columbia, and David mentors a Burmese Pastor and a resident of Freedom House.
Because everyone here in MO asks us why we would leave sunny Florida for the frozen north of “Misery” (especially in the winter), we have had abundant opportunities to give glory to God by telling them about His call, His sovereign orchestration of all the details, and His generous provision for all our needs. It has been so amazing to watch God put all the pieces of our new puzzle together!
Written by: Linda and David Nissly
Photos by: Evann Twitchell