By Lori Conley
When I accepted a ministry position with a small Ohio church, it was a different kind of calling. While I knew I was supposed to be there, I also felt as if my calling focused on one particular couple—the minister and his wife.
In fact, because the feeling was so confusing, I passed up the first offer the church made to me and prayed for an even more obvious sign that I was to take the position. Sure enough, the light in my household started to flicker and the light at the little church beamed brighter. When they called again after a few months, I accepted the position.
I still did not sense the need to work at the church as much as I had the nudging to work with the minister and his wife. Before the boxes in my new office were unpacked, I realized why the Spirit had led me to the church. The couple was in trouble. Sadly, in less than a year, they were divorced and the church was in a desperate situation.
At times I felt like running—running anywhere—but I remembered someone saying, “The rats jump ship first.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I really didn’t have any place to go. This was the first ministry I had been in since taking a sabbatical to have my son, I was at an unhealthy weight, and my own marriage was suffering.
My Crumbling Wall
As I tied a knot in my rope to hang on, the Lord sent a wonderful minister and his wife to our little church. The minister valued me and my contributions to the church and saw my desire for kingdom work. His wife’s encouragement spurred me to keep at it.
Unfortunately, there came the day I had to tell the minister and his wife that my husband and I were unable to continue our life married. I had explained the details through tears, and in a very matter-of-fact way
(although shaking in my boots), offered my resignation.
This was the most embarrassing time of my life. I didn’t want to attend a support group, because many of the folks there were people I had referred. I was crushed in my Spirit and physically ill. I needed an intervention from God’s people.
The minister didn’t accept my resignation. He and his wife just loved me. They guarded me. They cloaked me when questions came up and allowed me to keep my dignity. I will never forget the way they stood in the gap for me and allowed me to minister through my pain. My walls had been destroyed, and the couple began to help me make something out of the rubble.
The church family followed the lead of the minister and his wife and came together to rebuild my life and my son’s life brick by brick. I began to live out the Scripture as testimony for my life and claimed the biblical promise, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, New Living Translation).
After our divorce, my ex-husband left the state. I wasn’t receiving child support on a regular basis. And yet, brick by brick, we began the rebuilding process. The minister allowed me to enroll my son in his family-
owned day care center at no cost. I began to see
myself and my ministry through the eyes of those who loved me and I saw a masterpiece unfolding. Beautiful women of the church like Miriam came to my rescue on more than one occasion, placing a $20 bill in my hand as she hugged me on Sunday mornings. I even lost about 150 pounds!
Protection from Snipers
Just as certain men tried to discourage Nehemiah from rebuilding, I too had snipers waiting for me. Thankfully, elders’ wives, like Anita, who is a “faith by force” kind of Christian, were at the ready. They stood against those who speculated about what had happened.
Deacons offered to spend time with my son. The support did not stop. In order to supplement my income, I baked at Christmas. People in our church, who I knew could bake much better than I, bought my pies and cookies so I could purchase gifts for my son.
As the support came in, much like it did in Nehemiah 6, the opposition finally stopped and I was able to minister in a way I had never experienced before. By surviving and not running from the snipers, I positioned myself to receive God’s wisdom. More folks came asking for guidance—not just boosting my self-esteem but allowing me to broaden the scope of my ministry.
My walls were being rebuilt during that 10-year period. God’s people didn’t shoot their wounded. I didn’t have to write a letter and explain the horrid details or get up and testify. They allowed me to grieve the loss of my marriage and helped heal my heart. Even more so, the minister and his wife recognized that the more I served the Lord, the more my heart soared and the greater my healing.
My son became the church mascot. He was everybody’s buddy. They truly adopted our family. It would have been easier to pack up and hide in a cave during my divorce. But as I read the story of Nehemiah, I realized the value of pushing through and rebuilding the wall with a passion that does not give up.
The Last Brick
Four years after my divorce, our congregation built a new building on new land. The church’s new name could not have been more fitting: Amazing Grace Christian Church. Surely, if anyone had experienced such grace, it was me.
By the time we relaunched, only a handful remained who knew my story or history. In fact, most people who attended thought I had a husband running around behind the scenes. In May 2010, my boyfriend proposed to me in front of the congregation. The last brick in the wall had been placed. There was not a dry eye in the house.
In my 10 years of ministry in this small Ohio town, I still maintain I was called to the church specifically to serve alongside its minister and his wife. I just had the wrong couple in the beginning. Today I believe God sent me to Dr. Ron and Barbara so God could restore me and my ministry.
Christians today—including those who serve in vocational ministry—are not exempt from the devastation of divorce. Like you, I’ve heard horror stories about ministers who were compelled to leave the ministry because they were forced into divorce through abandonment or a spouse’s indiscretions. My heart’s message is simple: before picking up a stone, perhaps we should look around, pick up a brick, and help rebuild. “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart” (Nehemiah 4:6, New International Version).
Lori Conley is a freelance writer in Batavia, Ohio
God, Change My Heart
Sometimes the church does a poor job of loving, forgiving, and showing grace to others. It hurts to say it, but it’s true.
Ask God to give you a heart of grace for groups of people you often overlook or look down on—people who are addicted to drugs, disabled, immigrants, homosexuals, elderly, homeless, or criminals. Ask him to show you ways to love and minister to them instead of focusing on faults and differences.
Whenever a feeling of superiority creeps in, make Romans 3:23, 24 your mantra. You’re a sinner; they’re a sinner. Start relating from that equal footing.