We know the theological truth that God’s plans are better than ours. But if we’re honest, wouldn’t we prefer that knowledge to remain in our heads and away from our lived experience? When God’s different plans bump and crash into our lives, rolling heavily toward us like an Indiana Jones-style boulder, they seem to obliterate the good. We can feel crushed, confused, and doubtful.
But that threatening boulder is not outside of our Father’s loving control. According to his mysterious wisdom, our upset plans can be a means to refine us, compel greater delight in Jesus, and prepare a new path for service. Acts 29 church-planting candidate Justin Dodson and his family have first-hand experience of God drastically exchanging their plans for his.
An Upside-Down World
Justin and Jenna longed to reach west Africa with the gospel. In 2013 they moved to France for two years of language study before settling in the Ivory Coast—nestled on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean between Liberia and Ghana—for ministry among Muslims. The Dodsons flourished there as they began to train pastors and do medical ministry. They planned to move into a village of 7,000 Muslims to learn the local language and share the gospel with this unreached people group.
But the day they were supposed to sign for a house, “God turned our world upside down,” Justin said. Their second child, 18-month-old Colette, “became gravely ill and suffered a seizure that left us in a tail-spin, crying out to God to keep her alive over the next month.”Our upset plans can be a means to refine us, compel greater delight in Jesus, and prepare a new path for service. Click To Tweet
Colette’s kidneys completely stopped. The Dodsons evacuated to France for a month before returning to the United States to see a pediatric nephrologist. Justin wrote, “after four months in five hospitals in three different continents, God decided to keep her alive.” But Colette has chronic kidney failure. Justin and Jenna realized that they could not return to Africa and provide the ongoing care their daughter needs.
An Answer to Prayer
The Dodsons began exploring other opportunities with French-speaking Muslims when Colette’s health stabilized. During one trip to the Ivory Coast, Justin stopped in Strasbourg, France, to investigate a ministry situation that fell through. But while there, he visited a church where (for the first and only time) the pastor, Arnaud Schrodi, asked visitors to raise their hands to be welcomed. Arnaud spotted Justin’s raised hand in the congregation, spoke with him after the service, and the two men struck up an immediate rapport. Arnaud was thrilled to discover that the Dodsons had a heart for reaching Muslims. “For two years,” pastor Arnaud said, “we have been praying for someone to come help us reach the Muslim community in this city. I think you’re an answer to our prayers!”
Strasbourg, with over 300,000 people, is France’s 7th largest city. More than 30 percent of the population is Muslim. Strasbourg is vibrantly multicultural; people come from more than 70 countries. “From first to third-generation migrants, recent refugees, and international students attending the largest university in the country, there is an enormous population of people coming from unreached parts of the world,” Justin wrote. “In some cases, missionaries could never even gain access” to these places. This creates a tremendous opportunity for gospel proclamation among unreached Muslims—many of whom are from Africa—right there in France.
God’s Redirecting Hand
Justin and Jenna decided to work with Arnaud Schrodi to plant churches in Strasbourg. They’re currently planting Église Perspectives Strasbourg – Gare in a poor suburb, where they’re engaging the majority refugee and Muslim community. They want to create a bridge into the neighborhood through a new community center and coffee shop, Le Quai 67, located right next to the center that processes asylum requests. Le Quai 67 provides a location for the church to gather, a coffee shop, French lessons, after-school homework help, legal aid, mommy meet-ups, and help with visa paperwork. They offer free food for the needy as well as a job insertion program, and they hope to open a medical clinic in the future.Whether we see it worked out in this life or in glory, our faithful Lord is sure to employ our trials and disappointments in startling, Christ-magnifying, kingdom-advancing ways. Click To Tweet
“While I have no idea why [God] has chosen this path for us,” wrote Justin, “I see that only this path could have equipped us to reach Muslims with the gospel in France.” God directed the Dodsons to two years of language school in France and then six months in Africa—becoming acquainted with African culture—before bringing them back to France to reach displaced Africans!
Perhaps the Dodsons’ upset plans—their fear for Colette and broken expectations—were yet another way God equipped them for the compassionate ministry he led them to do. After all, they’re sharing Jesus’s love with those whose lives have been upended by war, flight, and poverty. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. Be encouraged. Whether we see it worked out in this life or in glory, our faithful Lord is sure to employ our trials and disappointments in startling, Christ-magnifying, kingdom-advancing ways.