As I write this, I am in Beijing, China, with my wife, Tonya, preparing to meet our fourth child, Evelyn Joy. She is almost two years old, needs heart surgery, and has never known what a family is like. She’s only ever been a number among other orphans, vying for her most basic needs to be met by a nanny.
This would be a cross to bear, were it not for the gratifying, redemptive privilege it is to introduce to a child what it’s like to have a dad, mom, sister, and two brothers who think you are special.
In time, Evie will learn about belonging to a family. She’ll learn that she is a vital contributor to the Wike family. She is loved, she is needed, she is wanted, and she makes our family unique.
Having watched this beautiful process of attachment occur in my two boys, who were also adopted from China in 2012, I eagerly anticipate the process, which is sure to have twists and turns, disappointments and victories, and lots of love and laughter.
God made us for family. God made us to be dependent upon others, to learn from others, to give to others, and to have an identity that is larger than ourselves. You don’t always realize what you have until you see firsthand someone who’s grasping for what you take for granted. The only thing worse than dealing with the troubles of family is not having one at all.
The FGBC Family
I really do not like trying to describe my “denomination” to inquirers. Growing up, my answer was “kind of like a baptism, but three times better!” That didn’t help anyone understand what a “Grace Brethren” was.
What makes me proud to be part of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC)? In a word—family. The only thing worse than dealing with the troubles of family is not having one at all.
I began attending the Grace Brethren Church in Wooster, Ohio, when I was in first grade. I met my best friend there. Dave Holmes is still my best friend; and he’s the senior pastor of the Centerville, Ohio, Grace Brethren Church. We chat often about our wives and kids, our churches, and go to conferences together.
He’s my family.
I went to Grace College eager to learn all theological contours—it was like drinking from a fire hose. I found a comrade in Dr. Mark Soto, who answered more of my annoying questions than I care to admit. He also took me with him to the Central African Republic as he taught a class at the Bible school, then in Bata. That was a truly life-changing trip for me. He and I still converse about life and theology.
He’s my family.
I called Bob Fetterhoff in a panic the day I was asked to do my first funeral. For 45 minutes, he walked me through the details surrounding a funeral service. He helped turn my anxiety into confidence. He’s the same Bob who baptized me as an 11-year old kid.
He’s my family.
I was about to die of hopelessness in ministry when I was honest with Jim Brown at a ministerial meeting. I was immature. I was young. I was ready to quit. I was a #2 on staff of a church without a #1. I felt rejected. I must have missed my calling in ministry, because it sure wasn’t to lead a church through crisis and transition!
Jim invited me to a staff meeting at Grace Community Church in Goshen, Ind., the following week. For about an hour, his staff celebrated a great Sunday of worship. I listened. I wasn’t feeling any better as I subconsciously juxtaposed my situation with the great things happening just two days before at the Goshen church. This wasn’t therapy at all.
Then these six guys turned to me and listened. They asked questions, commiserated, and prayed for me for the next hour. They believed in me and infused confidence and hope in me. They saw what I didn’t.
These guys are family.
These men are all part of my story. My family. There are a lot of other people who have invested in me, prayed for me, and otherwise “spur[red me] on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
What I love about our FGBC family is that I’ve since had the opportunity to invest in others who are where I once was. It hasn’t always been easy, but every member of a family has something to gain and something to contribute to the whole and to each individual member. The only thing worse than dealing with the troubles of family is not having one at all.
No one denies that it takes work to put yourself in a position to be a contributor and a beneficiary. Below are two simple habits that I believe help the FGBC family be a God-honoring, thriving group of churches and individuals.
Habit #1: Stretch yourself relationally
For some it’s easy to learn a stranger’s life story in an elevator. (My wife, Tonya, has this gift.) Others aren’t wired that way. Either way, there’s a vast array of wisdom and enrichment to be gained from reaching out to a new face. I make it my habit to find at least one unfamiliar person to make a relational connection with when I attend any gathering of Grace Brethren people. I engage in conversations with someone I either know by name or association, but I don’t know personally.
I’ve never had anyone ignore me or tell me that I’m too insignificant for their time and attention. In fact, quite the opposite. After a few years, it is amazing how many more people you know.
These new connections never replace the existing friendships or traditions with longtime friends, but they fuel my appreciation of the family and help me to learn and grow. This brings us to the second habit.
Habit #2: Stretch yourself methodologically
I have strong opinions.
There’s a fine line between confidence and pride and I’m not always on the right side of the line. So there’s one right way to do ministry, right?
There’s much to learn from others who have different spiritual gifts, abilities, cultural contexts, and experiences shaping their outlook and perspective. One of the biggest habits I’ve tried to develop is to be an encourager of others, regardless of whether they do things the way I do. Is uniformity really what we want?
When I learn from others who are approaching ministry differently, it forces me to think deeper, study harder, and pray more intensely. It helps me be as effective as I can be as a leader and shepherd. I’m sure many people may disagree with me on ministry philosophy or theological convictions, but I typically hear brothers and sisters in the trenches offering to help, not hurt me. We are on the same team, right?
I’ve had countless cups of coffee or meals with other pastors so I can learn new ideas about an aspect of ministry. My goal is to find transferable principles or approaches that I can adopt and adapt.
I’m never disappointed. The only thing disappointing is that I cannot reciprocate with the wisdom I take away from such encounters. I’m usually the one initiating the meeting. The other pastor usually doesn’t gain much from time with me. But I know I’m better off because our time.
Families don’t have to posture with each other to give off the appearance of being perfect. Your ministry is a well-oiled machine for all of one week or less before some- thing needs lubricated or repaired. In our Grace Brethren family, we each ought to utilize the vast array of resources and experience represented. We are foolish or prideful if we do not.
Welcome to the Family!
My daughter will slowly adapt and learn to trust that her new mom and dad love her unconditionally. She’ll realize that she has an important place in the Wike family. But she will make the choice as to whether she’ll accept her seat at our table emotionally and physically. There are no guarantees of a happy ending. I know that if her mom, dad, big sister, and two big brothers have anything to say about it, she’ll have quite the persuasive group celebrating her journey every step—even the hard ones—along the way.
The same is true for each of us. We can become mired in the past, believe we are “the only one” (whatever that means), or just not care enough to make the family a priority. In other words, we can take the family for granted.
The only thing worse than dealing with the troubles of family is not having one at all. Be the kind of family member you wish everyone else already were. In time, others are sure to follow. — by Jeremy Wike
Editor’s Note: Jeremy Wike is pastor of Community of Hope Grace Brethren Church in Columbia City, Ind.