2 GOD then told Elijah, 3 “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. 4 You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.” 5 Elijah obeyed GOD’s orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan. 6 And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook. 7 Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought. 8 Then GOD spoke to him: 9 “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you.” (1 Kings 17:2-9 The Message)
1 Kings 17 is the full story of the brook that dries up and the widow who lived in Zarephath. You can read it here.
When Jean and I and our daughters moved from Oregon to Jamaica to serve as missionaries in 1984 it was a leap of faith. The organization we were working with in the US was a loosely connected group of independent churches mostly in the Southeast. During the summer of 1984 we moved to Springfield, MO and began traveling the southern states to connect personally with the pastors and the congregations. It was hard work, we were traveling in borrowed vehicles (There are some miracle stories there!), and we were mostly well received by the churches.
Our departure from the US that fall would be through Miami, so we made a couple of trips from Springfield to Miami that summer: 1) to buy a car to ship later to Jamaica after we got settled a bit. 2) to deal with the Jamaica High Commission in Miami to get work permits, residency visas, and all the other myriad details that are necessary to live in another country. That summer was filled with challenges and pressure. There were some sudden and significant obstacles thrown up in our path, but God led us safely (if not always comfortably) through the complicated maze of red tape.
During our seven years in Jamaica, first pastoring a church in Linstead, St Catherine, a market town in the center of the island, then developing an interdenominational Bible Training Centre in Kingston, God provided faithfully (but again not always comfortably) for our needs. Initially getting the car shipped into the country, finding a safe place to live, making high school arrangements for our daughter Melissa, money for the rent, food for the table. Big challenges, but God provided!
In time the loose coalition of churches that had supported us fell apart. God gave us new connections and relationships, we made the move to Kingston, and the Bible Training Centre ministry took hold quickly and flourished! Then, by the end of 1991, it was clear that the Bible Training Centre could grow and flourish without us. We chose Pam Johnson, sister of Al Miller, whose organization was sponsoring our work permits and visas by then, to lead Whole Life Ministries Bible Training Centre. Under Pam’s leadership the school continued to flourish. A lot of flourishing going on!
It became clear that our next God assignment was to move to the UK and start an international and interdenominational Bible Training Centre in London! That’s a pretty scary thing to think about!
Sidebar: Keep in mind that all this was before the internet, before email, and when mobile phones were either car phones or bag phones! Communication was hard, expensive, and often slow, and sometimes simply unreliable! Can you remember what life was like then? Were you born yet?
We had left Jamaica and were staying in Atlanta while we prepared for our long-anticipated move to London. We rented a house with our two daughters in Tucker, GA, on the East side of Atlanta and were connected to a church there. Jean and I were traveling far and wide to raise support for our new undertaking. Living in the UK would be very expensive compared to Jamaica. And this time we didn’t even have the “loosely connected coalition of independent churches” we’d had a few years earlier when we were preparing for the move to Jamaica.
Over the years in Jamaica and the months in the US as we prepared, we had become accustomed to support coming from churches and friends around the US in the form of checks in the mail. We eagerly awaited the postman’s visit each day. But nothing was happening! We really didn’t know what to do! The clock was ticking, the calendar pages were turning, and we simply weren’t getting the resources we needed to prepare for the move to London. It was taking everything that came in just to meet the ongoing needs of the moment.
Jean went down the drive to the mailbox on a particular day and the only thing in the box was a red envelope that looked like advertising. She was just about to throw it away unopened when she noticed it was addressed to us and not to occupant or current resident. And then she saw it was from Jamaica Telephone and Telegraph. It was a telegram! I’m not sure we’d ever received a telegram!
It was a telegram from Pam Johnson in Kingston Jamaica! Pam said she was praying for us and felt prompted to tell us that God would faithfully provide. She quoted from 1 Kings 17:2-7, the story in which God directed the prophet Elijah to camp by a brook in the wilderness, eat food that God-sent ravens brought, and drink from the brook. But the brook dried up and God had already prepared another way to provide for Elijah! Pam’s words were so encouraging! It was a defining moment for us!
Our brook had dried up! But God was still committed to providing for our needs and the needs and requirements of the ministry he had assigned us in the UK. Something changed in that moment. What changed? We changed!
We took another step toward the conviction that God and God alone is our source. We realized that we were on God’s payroll. However the provision came, whether through a handful of supporting churches for a season, through individual friends and family members for a season, through gifts from unexpected places in the in-between times, God is our source! God promised us that he would always provide!
When we read Pam’s telegram, there was no sudden influx of funds for our preparation for the London move. In fact, when we left for the Atlanta airport a few months later to fly to London Heathrow to take the leap into the unknown, it was a surprise stop at a bank by our driver that provided the money for our first month’s rent and groceries in Leytonstone, East London! But when we read Pam’s telegram, “when the brook dries up, God has another channel of provision prepared” something changed in our hearts, in our worldview, in our faith! And while it wasn’t overnight, it was enough.
That conviction, that God will provide, has become how we see the world, how we’ve lived for the past thirty-plus years. We’re on God’s payroll. God has prepared and provided dozens, even hundreds of channels big and small in the years since that day. And we’ve thanked God for every one! And we’re moved to tears of gratitude when we think of those who have loved us and cared for us and shared their resources with us along the way.
The key lesson for Jean and me in the story about Pam Johnson’s telegram and her message to us that when the brook dries up God has another way to provide, isn’t about ravens or brooks or even widows whose flour and oil never run out! It’s that God is always our source!
Some of you reading this are among those who have been channels, gracious, generous channels of God’s faithful provision for us! I wish you could know the gentle tears of joy and gratitude your generosity has brought! I wish you could hear the blessings pronounced on you and the thankful prayers that we’ve prayed for you!
Here’s a thought for you: Just as God was faithful to provide for Elijah through the ravens and the brook, and just as God was faithful to provide for him through the widow whose flour and oil containers always had enough for one more meal, God provides for all who place themselves on God’s payroll. Whether it’s through paychecks or direct deposits, whether through salaries or “hourlies”, God is faithful. God is faithful to you!
If you’re facing challenges and uncertainties, ask God to confirm to you that when the brook dries up, he has another channel of his faithful provision just for you. And remember, if you’re on God’s payroll, he’s the boss!
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.