This year the words that have arrested my attention are, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1: 37) Perhaps it is because we are at a transition time and this year has brought us to unexpected places. I never imagined that this Christmas we would be preparing to enter into a completely new phase of life early in the New Year. After thirty years of ministry, largely pastoral and administrative lived out in the developed world, we are taking early retirement and launching out into a whole new area of challenges and responsibilities with a mission that serves mainly the developing world. If you had asked me a year ago if such a scenario were likely, I would probably have considered it impossible. Yet with God, nothing is impossible. He has led us to this place in sure and steady steps, through conversations and coincidences that gently guided us from the impossible to the possible, to the point where the proffered future became desirable.
It happened this way. By divine coincidence, my husband, Glen called up a colleague with whom he had worked at Canadian Pacific in the early seventies, before we went into full time ministry. Throughout the years our paths crossed from time to time. This friend, John, had become involved in a Christian organization that directed the distribution of medicines, vaccines and hospital equipment to the developing world. Glen wanted to cooperate with them to try to obtain desperately needed supplies and equipment for our hospital and clinics in Zimbabwe and Haiti.
Aware that we do not have many more years before reaching retirement age, at the end of one conversation, Glen said, “Do you think there might be a spot for me in your organization, a few years down the line when I retire?” The company is based in Montreal, the city that we consider home and where we wished to retire. John replied that they could discuss it some time.
Now he tells us that at the time his heart leaped. Only the day before the board had met and was talking about finding a replacement for John. Though it is certainly not obvious, he is well past normal retirement age.
As a result, three weeks later, John called Glen back and told him that he had talked to the chairman of the board and that if Glen would consider the possibility of eventually replacing him, they would call off the search and investigate the feasibility of this.
Although Glen was flattered, he assured John that this was impossible. We had both made a covenant to ministry and it did not seem reasonable to consider any other option. We were there until retirement. Strangely enough, our retirement policy was changed a few years ago, to provide the option that we could request early retirement if certain criteria were met. We happened to meet those criteria.
When Glen first mentioned the conversation with John to me, I dismissed it as just another one of those opportunities that come along, but need not be pursued. However, it refused to go away. John asked if we would meet him for lunch and let him tell us about Health Partners International. We agreed and about a week before he asked if I would mind sending him a copy of my CV. His explanation for this was that they felt that I also had skills that would be useful to their organization. Figuring that there was nothing to be lost, I quickly put together my credentials and sent it off to him. What amazed me was that in over thirty years I had never had occasion to prepare a CV, yet it just seemed to take shape with little effort on my part. Even more astonishing to me was the job offer it generated.
Meanwhile, Glen consulted those whom he thought could offer wisdom. He met a retired friend with whom he had worked closely in ministry. “Give me some reason why I should not consider this,” Glen requested. Our friend instead saw no reason to resist it.
Another Christian friend from another denomination helped to clarify our situation. “Your calling to ministry will never be revoked,” he assured us. “What you need to know is if you have been released from a calling to a particular denomination.” This was the issue on which we focused and it became clear to us, through unique, individual experiences within a day of each other.
My concern was a need I felt to have the approval of my aged parents who had also given their lives in ministry to our denomination. Would they understand?
It so happened that one afternoon I was driving my father back to the long term care facility where he and my mother live, when he asked me how long it would be before we retired. I told him that depended on whether we opted for early retirement. Then I explained some aspects of the situation we were facing. He affirmed that in such circumstances early retirement could make sense.
A few weeks later, over lunch, I had the opportunity for further conversation with my parents about our future. I explained the possibility of employment with Health Partners International, in the city where we planned to retire. When I asked what they thought, my father replied, “If you have the health, why wouldn’t you?” Then he sought the opinion of my mother, who at 93 seldom expresses her opinions freely any more. Without hesitation, she said, “Sounds good to me.” It was then that a felt the release from our denomination to enter into a new avenue of ministry.
I never imagined the opportunity would come so soon to be able to make the choices about where I could live and what I could do. These were things that I had to give up as part of my current ministry. But God is faithful. This Christmas I am aware as Mary was that with God nothing is impossible.
What impossible things do you see Him doing this Christmas?