About three and a half months ago, my family (with the help of several of our Kenyan friends) crammed almost all of our earthly possessions into twenty-one suitcases and bins and flew back to the US. When we moved to Kenya at the beginning of 2021, we had no intention of such a short stint there. We had every intention of being there for the long haul.

However, we find ourselves in southern Louisiana, where I currently serve as the lead pastor of First Baptist Church of Luling.

Our move was not due to unhappiness or sin or team conflict. In fact, my wife and I were just reflecting on what a sweet season it was for our family. So, why did we move back? There are three related reasons that drew us back to the States.

Missing Pastoral Ministry

If you were to ask me over the last several years, I would have told you that long-term I would like to serve in academia. Researching, teaching, and writing are enjoyable to me, so I thought that the classroom would be where I ended up. In Kenya, I was able to teach in a variety of academic settings, and it was a lot of fun. I taught systematic theology and church history, as well as various certificate-level classes around the country. Teaching a variety of subjects in a variety of settings to a variety of students was challenging and enjoyable.

However, as I taught at a Christian university and traveled around the country training pastors, I missed pastoral ministry. As we worked through courses on discipleship within the church, it was stirring in me a desire for pastoral ministry. Spiritually shepherding a congregation is difficult work, but it was that shepherding that I missed. Building relationships with students in a classroom is great, but it cannot replace the beauty of local church relationships and discipleship.

As I wrestled with this desire, we sought the counsel of our pastors in New Orleans and in Nairobi. In addition, we committed to pray and fast regularly for the Lord’s guidance. The months rolled on, and the desire to pastor only increased. It was becoming clear that a change was coming for our ministry. However, we were not necessarily set on returning to the US. We were open to remaining in Kenya or moving elsewhere for pastoral ministry. So, what eventually led us back to the land of king cake and crawfish?

A Pastoral Shortage

Not only is America’s church attendance dropping but the number of pastors has also been dwindling for quite a while now. There have been articles written about the decrease of clergy, and even speaking with associational workers in Louisiana and Mississippi, the number of men going into pastoral ministry has been outpaced by the number of churches looking for pastors. The reasons for this phenomenon are multi-faceted, but you can read my friend Brandon Langley’s take on the issue.

Despite the underlying reasons, the shortage is evident. This region in the southern United States is one that I know and love. While we have always wanted to play a part in God’s global mission it seemed odd to ignore the need that was facing the area that we consider home. Simply put, yes, there is a massive need for men and women to move overseas for the sake of the gospel. But there is also an increasing need for men and women to remain and labor here for the sake of the gospel.

An Excellent Opportunity

Immanuel Community Church in New Orleans, which was the church I pastored previously and the church that sent us to Kenya, had sent men to preach on various occasions at First Baptist Church of Luling. The last few years have been particularly difficult for FBC as they faced COVID and flooding from Hurricane Ida, all without a full-time pastor. At the same time, the church was becoming convinced of the biblical basis of practices like meaningful church membership and being led by a plurality of elders. They voted as a congregation to affirm that their next pastor would lead them in that direction.

As we became aware of the opportunity at FBC, it appeared that the Lord was opening the door for us to join the work there. We met multiple times with the pastor search committee, and the Lord drew our hearts to the community and to the church.

In addition to the great need and opportunity in the local church, there is also a big need for partnership for church planting and church revitalization in a region of Louisiana called the River Parishes. This is a region in the state that draws less attention because it is more rural. However, it is a heavily Roman Catholic area that needs people focused on planting, replanting, and church revitalization.

Looking Back and Ahead

The Lord blessed our time in Kenya by allowing us to make some incredible friends. Friends that we miss dearly.

Last week, someone in my social media feed shared a picture from East Africa. It was not one of those epic pictures of the African savannah. Rather, it was a simple photo of a man and his two kids standing on a red dirt road. I was a bit surprised when a small wave of grief hit me. It wasn’t grief in the sense of us making a mistake. Rather, it was grief like the memory of an old friend whose path diverged from yours a long time ago.

As we live and serve here in the land that’s known for gators, Mardi gras, and hurricanes, we’ll always carry a little red dirt with us—not only in the fabric of our clothes but also in our hearts. Even though we have left Kenya, I don’t think Kenya is a place that will ever leave us. But we press forward, grateful for the time that we were able to spend in Kenya, sharpened by the experience and the friends we encountered, and excited for this ministry in southern Louisiana that the Lord has placed before us.

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