South Africa needs Jesus.
We were standing in preparation to worship. Autumn had asked me to pray about what was next in our lives, so I prayed, ", God, please help me to listen to Your voice and please guide us to what You want us to do in the future, whether You want Autumn to go to vet school, and where, or if we should stay here in Virginia. I'm here to listen to You, whatever You want to say."
The worship leader, Tim, struck the first chord, and, instantly, God spoke:
"I want you to go do full-time ministry in January."
Often the Holy Spirit nudges us to do one thing or another, little things like doing the dishes or dropping what we are doing to spend time with family. The more we practice obedience, the better we can hear His voice, like a whisper on the wind.
I was blown away. I never expected an answer as clear as that. God wanted us to leave our new life in just eight months’ time for something completely different: full-time ministry. But where, and to whom?
Soon God was making it clear. South Africa started popping up everywhere we looked: a university drew Autumn’s attention, then a friend at running club spoke about South African missionaries visiting her church. Autumn’s Aunt Barb had just been to South Africa. South Africa was on the radio. We fasted and prayed, and there He was:
“I want you to go to South Africa.”
Will you help us go?
On January 27, Autumn and I will be taking off for Port Elizabeth, a city of 1.4 million people, located on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is renowned for its beaches, wildlife, and natural splendor. But this country is broken. In crime and safety, it ranks below Pakistan and not far above Libya. It is the 8th most violent country in the world. This is a place that needs Jesus.
We need your prayers and financial support because we want to bring God’s healing to some of the brokenness in this part of the world.
You can send us to work for three months as full-time missionaries, reaching the lost, helping the hurting, and giving our lives in service. You are sending us to Fountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a 33-year-old, 450-person church dedicated to spreading the love of God through ministry in their city and planting new churches in the towns and cities nearby. A few of the ministries our work will include are:
o Orphan care
o Mentoring youth and young adults
o Small group meetings and Bible studies
o Prayer and healing on the streets and sharing God’s love with the community
o Outreach and helping a struggling church plant
Which of these ministries do you want to help in South Africa?
Since God’s clear direction to South Africa a month ago, we are eager to go serve, and we have been in a tizzy trying to make arrangements, finding a home for our pets (still working on that), getting our finances in order, and making contacts with people on the ground in South Africa.
Senior Pastor Dave Pedersen, excited for us to come, has invited us to stay at his house! His generosity is going a long way toward making this viable, but we still need your help.
Your help is vital because time is short: January is nearly upon us! The total cost for this endeavor is estimated to be $11,536. Will you join us in this adventure by giving to help these people in Port Elizabeth? Plane tickets came out to $3,412, food is estimated to be $600, and transportation $100 per month. Furthermore, we are hoping to raise enough that we can also give directly to people in need in South Africa.
Thank you so much for your support! Your gift will make a difference not only in our lives but also in those in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
There is much more that we could share: stories about how God led us to this place, tales of His provision, lessons that we have had to learn from Him, and how He has been teaching us to sacrifice for His kingdom. But for now, we will leave you with this:
Jesus has a plan for Port Elizabeth, and we and you are His tools to achieve it. May His love and mercy prevail, and may we all find ourselves at the center of another one of God’s great adventures!
Robbie and Autumn (Wiley) Parks
P.S. Thank you for taking the time to read our letter! Please give toward this adventure because the people of Port Elizabeth need the peace and love of Jesus!
Photos from Pexels.com and Google Earth.
The Long Letter
It has been a little over a year since Robbie and I got married, and we are excited to share with you our adventures since then, as well as give you the opportunity to join us in the next one! We’ve learned a lot about each other, about God, and we’ve been blessed with many wonderful friends and opportunities to visit many of you during this time.
First, we want to say a big thank you to all who made our wedding possible: Robbie’s family for organizing, creating, and building the decorations, and for giving speeches and encouragement, and much more; Robbie’s parents’ friends for stepping up to serve, helping set up everything, manning the grill, etc.; for New Hope Church providing music, the church service, the ceremony, delicious cake, etc.; for our family and friends who travelled many hours, and some thousands of miles, just to be there for us that day; for all those who gave generously in gifts and hospitality, warm words and well wishes; for those who came even though we had not seen them for years; for the affirmation and encouragement of many; and for Jesus who gave us perfect weather and makes all things possible. Thank you!
Shortly before getting married, we felt God leading us to go to Utah to work for our good friend, Brian. We set it up as a working honeymoon at the Lake Powell Resort in Bullfrog, UT. We stayed and worked for three months, cleaning rooms, fixing the Internet, and starting a small church gathering. Soon Christmas came, our time in Utah at an end, and we headed back to South Carolina. While I was working on my Associate of Science (I am graduating this month!), Robbie was in search of a job. Thankfully, we had enough saved up from Utah to last us for several months.
Come February, still unemployed, Robbie drove north for a job interview in Virginia, a follow-up for a position he had signed on for a year prior. On his way back home, an 18-wheeler lost control and drove over the grassy median toward Robbie! Thankfully, Robbie was able to veer to the left, bounce through the median, and dodge the truck’s trailer as it flew by. Through God’s protection, everyone involved survived.
A few Sundays after the accident, Robbie felt convicted to ask for prayer after church. Our friend Bob prayed with Robbie and told him that he kept seeing this swirl with Robbie in the center. None of us knew what that meant, but later that night, Robbie started feeling extremely anxious (which was completely reasonable, considering he had been unemployed for months and nearly died). He felt like he was at the center of a swirl of negative events and chaos, so we prayed fervently together. The next day, he was offered a job in Virginia! I was really hoping that Robbie would find a job in South Carolina, but God had a different plan.
In order to get to Virginia, we really needed a car. One of our friends from church said to me, “Have you asked God for a car? You really should do that.” I took her advice. The very next day, our friends Heather and Ryan graciously sold us their Jeep for a very low price. It was a green Cherokee (my childhood dream car).
As soon as we moved to Virginia, I was already asking God what was next for us (much to Robbie’s dismay, as he didn’t even know what his job was yet). The first few months here were really difficult for me, as I was often at home alone all day doing school work; but, with much prayer, God provided an abundance of friendships. We connected well with friends at church, I joined a running club, and Robbie and I both started playing Dungeons and Dragons at a local game store. We’ve been able to go hiking and travel a lot to see family and friends, and God gave us a place to live on a beautiful horse farm hidden away amid the hustle and bustle of Northern Virginia.
I continued to pray for God’s direction, and I would often talk to Robbie about it. I was (and still am) very interested in studying entomology or possibly getting a pre-veterinary degree, and Robbie has always wanted to get a Master of Divinity. Robbie suggested I do some research and find a school that would provide both. After researching many expensive schools, I eventually found the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Not only did they have entomology, pre-veterinary studies, and zoology, which are very rare at the undergraduate level, but they also had a theology program! The thought of traveling to Africa (another dream of mine) sounded really exciting, so we investigated and prayed and sought to make a wise decision.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty in the Christian life is learning to let go and sacrifice all of our desires to God, even the good ones that we feel He has given us. We have hopes and dreams that we cultivate from our childhood, and however good they may seem, they are a hindrance to the life that God would give us until we let them go. During this time, I regularly asked God to change my desires to conform to His, and I asked for His help to lay everything on the table. I wanted God to help me to be willing to give everything over to Him. Eventually, He made it clear to me that attending school in January was not His plan.
But it seemed like everywhere we went, people were talking about South Africa. At running club, one of my friends mentioned that her church was having a mission conference that was featuring missionaries in South Africa. At my family reunion, my Aunt Barb was talking about how she had just visited South Africa and loved it. I kept hearing about South Africa on the radio, in YouTube videos, and in disconnected conversation. South Africa was everywhere we turned.
One day in July, I convinced Robbie to pray about next year. He didn’t want to.
“We just got here! I don’t even know what I’m doing at work yet, and you want to figure out where we are going next?”
But he said he would pray about it. That Sunday as we stood for worship, he had it in his heart to seek God’s leading. The first chord was struck, the music began, and bam! God spoke straight to him.
“I want you to go do full-time ministry in January.”
He was stunned. Then the sermon began. One of the things Sean said that morning really convicted Robbie. He was discussing a passage in Luke about how Jesus sent out his disciples. Sean said that Christians already know enough; we just need to go. Robbie felt God speaking to him, saying, “Forgo education, just go!” He felt God was saying that he did not need a Master of Divinity degree to be a missionary. When Robbie told me this, a small part of me started panicking. What would this mean for me?
We kept praying and praying. Robbie started talking about moving back to State College, PA, home of Penn State University, where he had worked at New Hope Church for several years. He knew there was ministry to be done there, and that Penn State had the education I was looking for. He applied for jobs, but nothing came of them. He reached out to our old pastor and was welcomed back, but Robbie was unsettled: lurking in his mind was South Africa.
Then, one Thursday not long ago, God convicted Robbie and me (independently from one another) to fast and pray about January. When Robbie came home from work that evening, I eagerly asked, “What do you want for dinner?”
“Actually, I have been fasting today,” he said.
So, we prayed together, and an overwhelming sense of peace about going to South Africa washed over me.
But not Robbie. Robbie was fighting it. He admitted that he felt God wanted us to go to South Africa, but that he didn’t want to go. He wanted to go to State College, Pennsylvania. “And besides,” he said, “We can’t just show up in another country and expect them to let us in! We would need a plan. This is too impossible. I don’t even see what the next step is. How do I even start thinking about how to get to South Africa?”
I was hurt. I had heard God. Robbie was frustrated. He went into the kitchen to make dinner himself.
“God, this isn’t even possible!” Robbie thought, “I know you want us to go, but I don’t want to go. I don’t even know how to go.”
He searched for South African visas on his phone. To get a work visa or study visa, you have to be outside the country to apply in person at an embassy, and someone from inside South Africa has to sponsor you to come in. But there is a Visitor Visa that is good for 90 days, and with a U.S. passport, you just have to show up and you get it at the airport.
That was the key. God had showed Robbie how to go. Suddenly the impossible was possible, and he knew what we had to do. We were going to South Africa!
We wanted to tell people, and we wanted advice. Our attempts to talk to our pastor failed. But Robbie did manage to catch a few minutes on the phone with our pastor from South Carolina, Billy, who grew up in South Africa.
“I have a friend who pastors a church in George,” he said. “You could also try contacting Operation Mobilization.”
We had not yet told anyone at church about our plans, but that Sunday morning, Pastor Sean opened his sermon with, “I have some significant news. We are closing the doors of the church on December 31st.” December 31st? God just told us to leave the country in January, and our church is closing the day before, on December 31st! Sean and his wife, Angel, are moving to Alabama. Our friends Mark and Pam are starting a new ministry in northern Virginia with the purpose of equipping people and making disciples through mentorship. Tim and LeaAnn are moving to a new ministry farther south, while Penny is retiring and travelling the country starting in the spring. That was almost half the church! (It’s a very small church.) It became incredibly clear that God had orchestrated everything. If that wasn’t enough, God then prompted LeaAnn to share a vision that God gave her. She said that she saw a wheel: God was the hub and we were all the spokes going out in different directions. She said that she specifically saw Robbie and me; she saw us carrying backpacks and walking somewhere with swords in our hands. Those swords were God’s Word. She said she saw a passion in us. There was now absolutely no doubt in our minds: God was calling us to go to South Africa in January.
We started praying for God to show us where specifically in South Africa to go. We emailed a bunch of different pastors and a couple of missionary organizations. Robbie looked at the website of the church in George, and saw that it is a church plant only a few years old. It was planted by the Fountain Vineyard in Port Elizabeth. Robbie emailed that pastor, Dave, and he quickly responded and set up a Skype meeting with Robbie. In the meantime, Vineyard Missions (we go to a Vineyard church) responded, and forwarded Robbie’s email to a regional mission director for southern Africa. Robbie prayed,
“God, if You want us to go to Port Elizabeth, and if You want to be really clear about that right now, please let the Vineyard Missions guy respond with a list of pastors to contact in South Africa, and let Dave be the first one on the list.”
The email came in:
“As it turns out, I actually have a scheduled call with one of the South African leaders in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday morning. I’ll be sure to mention you guys to him and get a sense of what he’s thinking, and who might be the best person to talk to on the ground in SA.”
Robbie had prayed for a list of names, with Dave at the top. Instead, God pointed right to the place He wanted us and had the regional director call Dave directly and recommend us, all without our asking for it!
The next morning, Robbie had his meeting with Dave. Dave and his staff were very excited about us coming to visit, and he even offered for us to stay at his house for a month! Later when we told Billy about the conversation, he was excited: He grew up in Port Elizabeth and has met Dave, and he assured us that when a South African makes an offer of hospitality like that, he means it.
From there it has been a whirlwind of activity as we try to make plans, renew passports, figure out finances, inform family and friends, and dive head first into prayer. We prayed together for God’s guidance, and sought the counsel of Billy and of Robbie’s parents. They all suggested Robbie seek a leave of absence from work. Robbie resolved through his prayers that we would go to South Africa for whatever duration his employer granted a leave of absence. Three days later, Robbie finally had the opportunity to talk to his boss.
“My wife and I have been given the opportunity to travel to South Africa on a mission trip.”
“That sounds like a great opportunity. How long would you be going for?”
“We were thinking of three months. I know I don’t have anywhere near enough vacation for that. Could I do a leave without pay of some kind?”
“We can do a leave of absence for three months. I’ve set them up before. What would be the dates?”
“January 28 to May 5. I could come back to work that week. What’s that? The 7th?”
“Why don’t you take an extra week to get re-acclimated and start work again on the 14th?”
So here we are, headed off to South Africa at the end of January for a three-month adventure, with a church eager to receive us when we arrive and a job waiting for us when we return. We will leave Washington, DC to fly to Port Elizabeth on January 27th and stay there serving the church in whatever capacity they have a need until the end of April (at which point they have invited us to travel with them for outreach in Malawi). Then we will return for the United States on May 5th.
South Africa, we are told, is a beautiful place to visit with lots of fascinating animals and a welcoming climate. We will be there at the end of their summer through to the middle of fall. Our expectation, actually, is that we will not be doing much in the way of sight-seeing. Our purpose is solely to serve the church and the people of Port Elizabeth and to devote ourselves full-time to God’s ministry for us, whatever He chooses that to be. If He gives us other fun opportunities, that will be a blessing on top of blessings.
Despite its stellar reputation for tourism, South Africa is a place of great need. It has a crime rate that rivals the worst countries in the world, rating between Pakistan and Libya for crime and safety and ranking as the 8th-most violent country in the world. No doubt contributing to these statistics, South Africa also has a very high 36% joblessness rate, with a 52% youth unemployment rate. Only 15% of students who enter a college or university program in South Africa graduate.
We will be working with Fountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a 33-year-old church of about 450. The Fountain Vineyard’s chief goal is to love the community and serve those in need, and to expand to other communities through church planting. They have a number of ministries we have been invited to join:
o Orphan care
o They have taken in a number of babies that the church cares for and raises.
o Raising up young men
o The church has also taken in young adult men who are being trained to be productive workers and members of the community.
o We have been invited to invest in their lives and lead them in discipleship.
o Small group meetings
o Dave plans to send us to all the small group meetings of the church (a different one each week) to get to know as many people as we can and share our lives with them
o Prayer and healing on the streets
o We have been active in outreach and prayer ministries for several years now. At the Fountain Vineyard, we will be able to continue this and similar ministry.
o This involves walking through the community, through parks, standing on street corners, and offering prayer to others as well as listening to them and meeting their needs (whether that involves physical, emotional, or spiritual healing).
o Church planting
o The Fountain Vineyard has planted several churches already, and one of these needs some additional support.
o We will be travelling there to help the local pastor get his ministry up and going by serving in any way needed.
o Our own accountability
o Dave has offered to include us in discipleship (mentoring) under himself and his wife
We are very excited and slightly overwhelmed. This is a big step for us, and we suspect it will lead to much bigger ones in the months and years to come. We already have a hunch that God will call us to South Africa for a few years, and that more will be made clear during our visit.
Please pray for us. Pray that we would listen closely to God’s voice and boldly follow Him however He leads. Pray that all of our plans will come together. Pray every day for our safety in this dangerous part of the world. Pray for our protection from the enemy who would stop us. And pray for the people of Port Elizabeth, that God would use us to meet their needs and that He would draw them ever closer to Himself.
Our desire and our hope is for everyone to experience the love and joy of Jesus that we know ourselves. It is our mission to spread the Light of the World to dark places, to encourage, to educate, to lift up, and to love. You are invited to join us in this mission, to unite in prayer and oneness of purpose, to reach out to the people God has placed in your life, and to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He moves among us and brings healing to our world.
We will continue to keep you up to date on our progress and our adventures, and we look forward to hearing the same of yours!
Robbie and Autumn (Wiley) Parks
P.S. This letter, written from Autumn’s perspective, was written as a collaborative effort between both of us. “We” letters can get awkward and confusing. We tried to change this one to first-person plural, but it sounded strange when we did, so singular it stays. It just sounds better this way!
Autumn was concerned that some of the writing makes Robbie look bad. Just so you know, Robbie wrote all of those parts and feels they are beneficial for understanding our story. Christ’s strength shines through our weakness. We all sin, every day, but God works in spite of our sin. He forgives, and He gives lots of second chances.
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