Mzungu Memoirs

ROBERT

My life has been full of valleys and mountaintop experiences, yet I have seen God using these life experiences to mold, teach and prepare me to serve Him more.  Through it all, I have become closer to Him and continue to learn about becoming more like Christ.

I was fortunate to grow up in a Christian home with parents who took me to church regularly.  Growing up in the church of Christ, I was blessed with solid Bible teaching, beautiful acappella music and discernment.  However, the elitist, separatist mentality common in this denomination tended to teach that other denominations were wrong, we were saved by works rather than grace and that, somehow, the Holy Spirit must have ascended with Christ because the topic was rarely mentioned or studied.  I was baptized at a church of Christ summer camp at the age of about ten.  This was largely academic and scholarly for me, though I do remember some feelings of fear of being lost and going to Hell if I didn’t get baptized.  I also remember wondering, “So, where do I fit into this all now?”

The household I grew up in was one where Dad was always right and there was no questioning him. He had a pretty short fuse that could ignite if the first two things were questioned.  My only perceived outlet and source of freedom was the Boy Scouts of America, where I developed leadership and grew wings (Eagle Scout wings.)  As a boy, I began to enjoy Legos, Lincoln Logs, building models and later building my own architectural models from scratch.  Many people in the church encouraged me to become a preacher or song leader, but I didn’t feel even remotely gifted for either of these roles or any others I saw in the church, furthering my questions about my place in God’s kingdom.

From late elementary school through high school, my family attended a very small, conservative congregation in a small town of about 1,000.  The youth group was comprised of myself and one or two other people.  Spiritually, my childhood consisted of following my parent’s expectations of going to church and being a good example since my father was an elder.  I struggled with the lack of musical instruments as my father was a band director and much of the family played instruments, but never in worship.  I also struggled with the apparent suppression of women, the seeming lack of emotion, lack of discussion about everyday life and how God worked in it, the disconnect between secular work and faith and the idea that there were only a few skills that could even be used for God.  It all just seemed fake to me, like punching a clock or completing a list to get to heaven.

Coming from a conservative Christian background, I was encouraged to attend an “approved” church school for college.  And despite receiving a fairly sizeable scholarship to study physics at one of these “approved” church schools, I decided to go to Texas Tech University to pursue my passion in architecture.  With the new culture and freedom this allowed, I went pretty crazy sowing some wild oats.  While I was in college, my father’s father passed away and my father’s anger worsened causing further strain on our already tenuous relationship.  The situation reached the breaking point when I chose to stand my ground on a particular occasion sending my father into a screaming fit.  I rarely spoke with my parents for the remainder of my college career, anxious to graduate and get on with my life.  I reacted to this valley experience with rebellion.  Leaving the church and rejecting my parent’s faith, this period of my life was filled with pleasures of the world, which became much like Solomon’s realization of it all being “vanity of vanities.”

Towards the end of my college career, I spent several months working on an internship with an architectural firm in Breckenridge, Colorado as much to get away from my parents as for the job experience.  Due to lack of work, I was temporarily laid off for two to three days a week for several weeks in succession.  Since half of my income was going towards rent, I was faced with an increasing need.  I had already begun visiting a church recently planted by a preacher from my home church.  Through my connections at this church, I was able to find an additional job at a furniture restoration shop to help pay my bills.  I also found in my new boss a patient man who mentored me and gently guided me back to a church community that welcomed me and respected me for who I was.  Despite the pain of the prodigal son experience, this was a period of my life that helped me find my own faith rather than just blindly following my that of my parent’s which I had rebelled against.

After finishing the internship, I had one semester remaining to complete my architecture degree.  I returned to school with intentions of quietly graduating and getting on with the rest of my life, but God apparently had other plans for me.  I met my future wife, Heather, who was from a different denominational background, the Presbyterian Church.  She and her family challenged me and helped me question my religious upbringing.  They also broadened my exposure to other worship styles.

After graduation, I moved to the Oregon Coast to experience the ocean and, in part, to get away from family.  Heather followed me soon after and we married about a year later.  While in Oregon, we served with a fledgling youth group, organizing much of the logistics for activities and serving behind the scenes of a young gifted youth minister who lacked organizational skills.  We served as mentors for many of the youth and became close friends with several from this medium sized church.  I also served as an assistant scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop, mentoring many young boys that I worked to develop into men of character.

After a little over three years, I was laid off.  This threw a monkey wrench into the life plan Heather and I had developed and thought we had given God a memo about.  I had always left part of my heart in the mountains of Colorado, so I began searching for a job there.  We moved to Fort Collins, Colorado and quickly found a church home through connections I had made while I had lived in the mountains during my college years.

We found difficulty in connecting with our new church family, however, often missing the family we had left back in Oregon.  For several years, we wondered why we were there and where we could serve.  We offered our services to the church and became involved in a remodel project they were doing.  Heather and I donated architectural services to the church for a foyer project on a very short timeline.  In my mind: “This is it, this is why we are here.”  I was excited, passionate and dedicated to this work.  The project ended up straining our marriage and offered me a tough lesson about priorities and “God’s work.”  I continued to search for my place in the Kingdom.

Not long after, one of Heather’s coworkers mentioned “architectural missions,” two words I had never heard used in the same sentence before.  He told us about his internship with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), and I was hooked.  I soon went on my first trip with eMi to Guatemala amid plentiful criticism from family, church members and people I had considered mentors.  Still, I felt called and continued to serve with eMi, passionate about this new found way to combine my God given skills with my eagerness to serve my King and spread the Kingdom.

A combination of circumstances caused the church we had attended for several years to splinter, leaving us searching for a new church.  In addition, humanistic and unsupportive attitudes at my office toward my eMi service spurred me to search for new employment.  We moved to the Boulder, CO area so that I could work in an office that proved to be much more supportive of my work with eMi.  An unforeseen blessing accompanied our move.  In our search for a new church home, we found a small church where we truly felt at home.  Boulder Valley church of Christ has been an amazing blessing and has been instrumental in our spiritual growth.  I can now see God’s hand in using this church to prepare us to serve further with eMi.

In serving with eMi, I have experienced God’s immense love and how He wants to use us in His Kingdom.  He doesn’t need us to do His work, but He loves us and chooses us to be His hands and feet.  In service, we learn how to be like Christ and demonstrate His love to those we serve.  Through serving with eMi, I have seen the many faces and types of poverty as well as the vastness and diversity of the church, had experiences that can only be explained as angelic intervention and protection, witnessed the fulfillment of prayer, seen team efficiency that has no earthly explanation and met some amazing people of faith, humility and service.   I have learned about life testimony and being called to service, felt the Holy Spirit working in my heart and seen God using my life path and active ministry to serve the poorest of the poor.  I can’t wait to see what God does next!

2 Responses to “ROBERT”

  1. Hannes van Niekerk, Perth says:

    Have just read some of your testimonies and blogs and have thoroughly enjoyed them. God is good! Having been to Uganda several times helped me relate to your interesting experiences. Don’t know where and what you’re doing now but sincerely trust that you are Resting in God, knowing His guidance continually.

  2. Patti Watkins says:

    We dearly wish you the best, and can’t wait to hear about this new and wonderful opportunity…it looks good on you!

    Always,

    Patti and Don

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