Obedience and faith in Suffolk

Published 8:50 pm Saturday, May 10, 2014

One of the things I love as a follower of Jesus Christ is watching God use men and women who are obedient to Him, even when that obedience comes at great personal cost.

A good friend, Chris Surber, whose columns have appeared on this page nearly every Saturday for the past couple of years, demonstrates this kind of commitment to obedience in his plan to move his family to Haiti next year and found a mission there to supply and support other missionaries working in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Chris, who has a great job pasturing a beautiful old country church in Suffolk, has shared with me recently some of the reservations he has about his family’s calling to the mission field in Haiti. He and his family will be leaving much behind when they catch that plane next year — from books and clothing to a steady income and the many simple comforts that come with living in America.


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Having been to Haiti on a handful of previous trips, they know what to expect. And yet they continue to pack and plan for the big move after the New Year.

To me, that’s what true faith is all about. It’s not a matter of moving forward without knowing the risks — that’s just ignorance, and it’s easy to be ignorant. True faith is about moving forward, despite having clear understanding of the difficulties that lie ahead, confident that God will meet your needs in the moment. That’s a much harder kind of life to live.

I saw a similarly obedient faith played out on a smaller stage last Saturday, when I served as emcee for a tribute to teachers organized by the Rev. Charles Leavell of Suffolk’s Open Hands Christian Fellowship Church.

Charles had been planning the event for more than a year, rescheduling it at least once, when circumstances intervened to make his original date impossible to keep.

Even when it became apparent he’d receive no official support for the event from either the School Board or the City Council, he pressed on. Even when the very public school teachers he wanted to honor showed little interest in the program, he pressed on. Even with a death in the family the day before the program, he pressed on.

I asked him why he was so intent on holding the event and under what conditions he would consider it successful. His answer was all about obedience. God had led him to put the whole thing together, Charles said, and what was necessary for success would simply be his obedience. “I am finally going to turn in my assignment,” he said.

As I looked out across a vast expanse of empty bleachers to the 50 or fewer people who attended last Saturday’s event, I was tempted to feel sorry for my friend who had organized it.

But then I looked at him and I saw him crying — not tears of sadness or frustration, as I might have expected, but tears of joy. Charles Leavell had been obedient to God’s calling, and that obedience was all the success he needed.

That’s when I realized how much I have to learn about obedience and faith.