Prior to their call into missionary service in Panama, the Wiziardes have been living and ministering in Zion, Illinois. Jon has served on the pastoral staff of Christ Community Church for over 18 years and Sue has served as an accountant for Trinity International University and Zion Evangelical Ministries of Africa. This is Jon’s telling of how all that changed …
Sunday, July 4, 2010 – I preached at our church’s annual outdoor service. The sermon was the expression of what God had been doing in my life over the last couple of years. Looking back on that day a couple of quotes stand out in my memory:
“When I told my mother (at age 6 or 7) that God wanted me to be a preacher I had almost no idea what that meant. It was a very simple impression … somehow my life should be defined by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Now years later, I’ve had the growing sense that I’ve not yet reached the destination for which Christ took hold of me … or that I’ve missed the heart of my calling. I’ve been involved in many noble tasks, but perhaps not the best task.”
I Finished that sermon with this pledge …
“I believe these truths to be self-evident; that our Creator works constantly in all the affairs of men so that they may find Him and that each new day is a day of His patience for the lost. I hereby renew my commitment to this central task of Christ’s Church and pledge to it my life, my fortune and my sacred honor.”
At the time, I had no idea that God had already set a divine appointment and that I would shortly be challenged on that commitment. My wife Sue wanted us to attend a pastor’s retreat in Michigan. Although I enjoy and value those times away, it didn’t feel like I had the time. I drug my feet … and she persisted.
August 9-12, 2010 Despite the fact that Sue almost had to beg me to go to the retreat, I had begun looking forward to the time away. We’d attended several of these retreats in the past. We knew the founding host couple and always enjoyed their company and insight into pastoral ministry.
We arrived a little late on the opening day and walked into a lodge crowded with double the normal number of couples. We were greeted by the hosts (Dwayne & Rita Hannon) and introduced to a new host couple that would be working with our half of the group. Frankly, we were disappointed. Reality was not lining up with our expectations.
Despite the initial letdown, we almost instantly felt connected to that couple, Glenn and Sue Herschberger and enjoyed the camaraderie with them and the other couples.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 – In the middle of the retreat week, we were to meet with the Herschbergers so that they could pray for our marriage and ministry. We told Glenn and Sue how we’d been sensing that God was moving us on from our current ministry, but had no idea where. We shared about feedback I’d been receiving that I should be preaching more or perhaps have my own church. We also talked about our interest in missions and how missionaries were always asking when we were going to join them. After listening for a while, Glenn asked,
“Why don’t you come to Panama with us and plant churches?”
We laughed impulsively. “We’re pretty sure we’re not the church planting type.” “We’re introverts … we don’t just start up conversations with people.” We thought Glenn was kidding, but he wasn’t. Neither did he seem phased by our protestations. We talked a bit more, thanked him for asking and they prayed for us.
We parted company and started back across the street to the cottage where we were staying. I was mentally dismissing the conversation. It just seemed too far fetched that virtual strangers would invite us to partner with them in planting churches anywhere … let alone in a foreign country. I also doubted that my Sue would be interested.
As we walked into our room … out of nowhere, the name “Gideon” echoed in mind. Almost like someone shouting my name from a great distance.
I remarked about it to Sue. I hadn’t been thinking at all about Gideon … I had no reason to be thinking about Gideon. Why had his name come to mind? As I began to reflect on Gideon’s story, I realized that it’s about a man who’s hiding when God comes and asks him to take on a mission he never would have sought on his own. Having a word come to me like that was not typical in my experience. I told Sue I didn’t want to make too much out of it, but that I thought at the very least we shouldn’t tell God what we would or wouldn’t do in his service. What followed that tentative openness was a string of gentle confirmations.
Sunday, August 22, 2010 – Following our church’s annual baptism service in Lake Michigan a mother approached me with her 10 year old son and his friend none of which we had ever met. She wanted the boys to be baptized. After sharing the gospel, making sure they were believers and explaining the significance of baptism, we called the crowd back together and baptized the two young men. What surprised me was Sue’s interpretation … “I think you could be a church planter.”
Friday, September 17, 2010 Sue and I took a day away from ministry and spent the morning at the Prayer Shed in Delafield, WI. Later we met the Herschbergers to talk about Panama over dinner. “Look,” I said “are you just impulsive or are you serious about us helping you in Panama?” Glenn asked us to visit Panama with them in November to see if this might be God’s leading. It was a nice idea, but we didn’t have the resources for that kind of trip?
A few days later I opened a notification that 69,000 Visa points on my church credit card would be expiring at the end of the year. After telling my Senior Pastor and the business manager about our desire to go to Panama, I received permission to use the points toward my flight. The points totally covered my ticket with hardly any to spare. Now we just needed money for Sue’s ticket.
September 26 – October 3, 2010 – During our churches annual mission week we opened our home to two Japanese brothers who are missionaries. Normally our mission partners don’t stay with the pastors, but no one from the congregation had volunteered to host these Japanese guests. It turned out that one of the brother’s was a chemist retired from a major US pharmaceutical company who had multiple patens to his credit. After the brother’s left, we found a thank you card with a containing enough money to pay for all but $22 of Sue’s airline ticket. It seemed that God had provided the means for us to go. Now our only challenge would be paying for our room and board while we were in Panama. So on November 5, 2010 we found ourselves on a plane bound for Panama.
I may come back at some point and fill in some more of the details, but this is getting long. After that trip to Panama, we decided that we would just keep taking the next step until God confirmed the call to Panama … or closed the door. Frankly, I was expecting him to close the door. He hasn’t! Each step has given us greater confidence in the call and greater confidence in God’s ability to make it a reality. The Missionary Assessment Center, another trip to Panama and the International Personnel and Board interviews have been some of the most encouraging times of our lives. The skeptics (Jon & Sue) have been convinced. God wants us to plant churches for English speaking internationals in Panama City, Panama.