As of October 10th, the Sturgeon family will have officially been Iola residents for two months. The purpose for our move here has been to extend the love of Christ to those who need it who might never be willing to enter a church building. Our heart is to create communities of believers who share life together with one another and with those who are still seeking to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Because Jesus, the God of the universe, chose to take on flesh and become human, in order to relate to us, our desire is to model who He is by how we live and interact daily with the people God brings into our sphere of influence. We want people to be able to see Christ in us and experience the love of God, no strings attached. We want them to see what life in His Kingdom is like by bringing hope and redemption through the light of the Gospel. We’re currently working on a more formal presentation of how we believe God is calling us to invest in Iola and the surrounding communities, but for now, Galatians 2:20 will suffice: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
“So, how’s it going?” you might ask. Our first month here was largely spent getting settled into our new home. God gave us this massive project on eight acres that is an amazing place, but it requires a ton of work. We look forward to turning it into a retreat for weary souls seeking rest. As a family, we also used our first month to take a sabbatical from church ministry. Because we have chosen to be bi-vocational ministers, it’s easy for people to forget that David and I are real pastors too, and as such, we haven’t taken any breaks from serving in our fifteen years of youth and worship ministry. It was nice to spend Sunday mornings relaxing together. We would pray and talk about the future with our kids. It was good to hear their thoughts and ideas for what they see God doing with our family through this big transition.
Our three oldest children started new schools in August. Kylen, a sophomore, and Samuel, a 7th grader, both chose to attend Lawrence Virtual School, a public school online. They have been enjoying the freedom this has given them to work at home at their own pace. This is especially good for Kylen as she spends most evenings working hard at the dance studio in Yates Center. Samuel has been thriving as well and has blossomed into quite the writer, scientist, and math wiz. Elanie, a freshman, chose to attend Iola High School. She’s currently running Cross Country and enjoying being a part of forensics and the drama club here. Caleb loves exploring our land and riding 4-wheelers with his mom, dad, and older siblings. It’s the perfect home for him to run out all of his three-year-old energy. Our biggest praise from our first month here, was after our first four weeks, David and I asked the kids how they felt about our move. All of them were in agreement that they are happy to be here, and they believe that we are exactly where God wants us to be. That was pretty awesome for us to hear as parents! We know Caleb loves it here, because every time we travel back to New Strawn, he yells, “No old house! I want to go to the new house!”
During the month of September we began the process of developing relationships with our neighbors and the young adults God has brought into our lives. Seth was a student of ours when we did youth ministry in Burlington and New Strawn. He is a corrections officer at the local prison, so he has been a great resource to help us get to know the community of Iola. He has a huge heart for hurting people and is part of our team along with Cadey who is a first year middle school teacher in Westphalia who moved to Iola the same week we arrived. God introduced her into our lives in a miraculous way, and it has been a joy to get to know her and see her heart for ministering to rural children. Through Seth’s connections and David’s amazing people skills (He always meets a new person when he is out and about), we have several young adults with whom we’ve been meeting on Sunday evenings for dinner and fellowship. God has slowly grown that group from five to nineteen this past Sunday. We don’t plan on measuring our success through numbers, but it has been amazing to witness God bring together more and more people into our home.
The biggest praise from our second month here, is that the people who meet with us are a strangely diverse group you would never expect to see together, which just points to the fact that God is the One at work. Of the thirteen visitors in our home last Sunday, five were from a college Bible study that meets together Tuesday evenings at Allen County Community College, six were young adults who have gone straight from high school into the workforce, most of whom come from tough backgrounds, one was a first year teacher, and one was a single mom of four who brought her month old twins with her to introduce them to us. If you add the image of David and I, who were the old people in the room, and our four children, it was a weird group. Was it awkward? Yes! But it was good, God good.
Right now David and I sense God is calling us to invest in an age group often forgotten by the church, those young adults between youth ministry and family ministry who have a difficult time finding a comfortable fit in a churchy crowd. We also believe God desires that we minister to young families. In Iola there is a lot of poverty, and drugs are a huge driver of that. Over 70% of students in the Iola school district are on free or reduced lunches. Because many rural communities have struggled to grow due to so many companies preferring big cities to do business, opportunities for good jobs are not always as readily available here. Poverty drives the need for escape, which drives up drug usage, which in turn creates more poverty. We need ways to help people out of that cycle toward healthy lives redeemed by God’s transforming grace.
How can you help? Currently David and I are feeding quite a crew in our home on Sundays. We are grateful to Dirt Roads Network for their support in helping fund those dinners. If you would like to help finance those meals as well, that is always appreciated. Several of these young adults and young families have a variety of physical needs from clothing to tires to furniture, etc. If you’d like to know more about those needs, feel free to contact us. Also if you have ideas on ways in which we can engage this new generation of adults with energy and encouragement, let us know.
Most of all we need prayer, prayer for wisdom and sensitivity to the Spirit’s leadership as we navigate living as the church in ways we’ve never done before or experienced. David and I are totally dependent on God to do the work only He can do, so pray that we would remain encouraged. This is going to be a long road that will take a lot of time investing and staying faithful before we will see the fruit of those efforts. Please pray for our marriage and children and the spiritual health of our family. Also, this is a material request, but please pray that our home in New Strawn would sell at a good price to enable us to invest in this church-home. Our house here is in need of a lot of repairs and love. We are currently all living in the basement as we await the funds to be able to renovate the upstairs bedrooms. We also discovered that our roof has a major leak and needs to be completely replaced. This is a $12,000 cost we were not expecting. In addition, we hope to plan a few more work days, so if you like working hard, you can look forward to offering your help to us with your sweat investment!
If you’re reading this, thank you so much for taking the time to learn more about what God is doing through our lives here in Iola. Also, special thanks to those from our Radiant Life family who have contributed financially to help us with moving expenses and have already spent time and energy helping us get some work done on our home. Words are not enough to express how thankful we are for that help!
We’ve gone fishing, and we’re not turning back!