restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Chapter 7: Stateside Ministries

Becky Lynn Black  

I have always thought of ministry as anything of service to another. I praise God that I have never been handicapped by limiting this word to professional or official positions. The joy of my relationship to God has bounded forth in service of any kind to any person or even any animal or plant. To me, the whole of life has been ministry.

I praise God for giving me this perspective. I believe it is the biblical perspective of ministry. I do not serve a God that compartmentalizes ministry. There are no holy days and regular days; there are no holy songs and regular songs; there are no holy words and regular words; there are no holy relationships and regular relationships; there are no holy places and regular places.

All of life is holy because all of life is dedicated to the One who made life. I believe that this is the abundant life that Jesus promised to everyone who follows Him and it is a joy-filled life, even when it is difficult, even when it is stressful, even when it is strained.  It is full of joy because God is present in such a life and I praise Him that this is the life that I have known.

I learned early in life to serve others. My parents as young missionaries in Ethiopia were servers, and the whole feeling within the mission family was that of service. I remember clearly as a young child of 4-6-8 years of age having a sense that my life was not my own. There was a world bigger than me. There was a purpose higher than my comfort and issues. There was a program bigger than my desires. As a missionary child I learned early the joy of giving up or of abandoning my menu, my sleeping arrangements, my clothes, and my playtime for things that were more important.

What could be more important? The needs of other people and the realization of the kingdom of God within those people!

So, early in life, God impressed upon me that His great agenda for me was the needs of others and the role of God in the lives of others. When we returned from Ethiopia, my mother was essentially an invalid, crippled with smashed vertebrae. My first place of service was in helping her with my siblings. I say first, not as a rank of importance but as a rank of nearness. Such service was close at hand; such service could be rendered as I myself was going about the necessary functions of life. So, I tried my hardest to guide my siblings in the right way, in the way that honors God. I tried my best to facilitate the operations of the home.  I tried my best to fill her shoes. Aside from Christ, she was my model in servanthood, and a great model she was! Though she suffered severely from headaches, she did her best to nurture her children, to care for her husband, and to make our home a place of beauty and rest. I will forever be thankful to the Lord for my mother.

Teaching me the joy of service was a great gift she gave to me. When I was almost 11 we returned to Texas and my ministry took on a new aspect. When we lived in Ethiopia we had no formal church. Missionary families living on the compound met together for church service but there was no choir, Sunday school, AWANA, or children's programs. Wednesday night was devoted to prayer only. We had no organ or piano, so our worship was very simple. We children were incorporated into the adult services.

But when we moved to Texas, our church life changed. We began attending Grace Bible Church in North Dallas, and for the first time in my life I was introduced to segregation within the church. Suddenly we had nursery, children's services, choir, elders and deacons, youth director….all these divisions of activities. The unity of the body was somehow lost in all this fragmentation. To this day I enjoy being in small fellowships, without all these “modern,” “progressive” church structures.

The simplicity and beauty of the unity of Christ is a treasure. It is clear from Paul’s writings that there should be no divisions between us. To the extent that we are focused on the Gospel and living in the Spirit, we will enjoy the unity for which Christ prayed in John 17. So at age eleven I was introduced into this fragmentation, and though in my heart there was no fragmentation, in my function I had to fit in. Being the servant that she is, even in her sickness, my mother organized her daughters into places of service. The idea of unity of the body, and my mother’s guidance in service, found me helping at every opportunity in the children's work, in Vacation Bible School, in special programs. It was just understood that, if a need existed, Becky Lynn Lapsley was going to be there helping, and I enjoyed helping. It was not drudgery to me. I enjoyed being with the family of God and I enjoyed pouring myself out for the needs of others, especially for the needs of the family of God. It truly gave me joy. As I traveled through the teen years, I joined Pioneer Girls and participated in the youth program, both of which invested in me. But I think I can say that my greatest joy was not when I was receiving but when I was giving. As a teen I used many of my gifts and abilities to help advance the message of God, the message that salvation is available to everyone who wants it, the message that God’s love is personal and He is faithful to those who walk with Him, the message that He is bigger than any trial.

God had gifted me with organizational skills and a visionary mind. He made me able to quickly size up a situation and to know if and what kind of intervention was needed. So I was often placed in leadership roles. I enjoyed teaching children, often using flannel graph.  I had several years of piano lessons and was quite advanced as a piano player, so at every opportunity I was the accompanist including Sunday school and choirs. I also had achieved Senior Lifeguard rank with the American Red Cross and used that skill as a life guard at the Christian camp of Pine Cove in Tyler, Texas. So God had gifted me naturally and by education to serve. Without that service the giftedness and education amounted to nothing! 

To this day I ask myself, “How can I help?” What has God put in my hand for this situation? Just as God met Moses in the desert, so he meets me daily. Moses had been appointed to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. He has been appointed to go against the highest power on earth. He had been appointed to leave his few sheep and goats and to go to millions of Israelites. Instead of leading his small group of insignificant animals from watering hole to watering hole, God told him to lead the chosen people under his direction through the vast Saudi Arabian desert, to the Promised Land.

Apart from Jesus Christ I do not think any human being has been given a greater assignment. Is it any wonder that Moses doubted his ability to serve God in this way? Those doubts have come to all of us. It is the human nature to suddenly feel inadequate when faced with a great work that God has ordained. I remember Isaiah’s response to God when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. He said, “Woe is me! I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a generation with unclean lips!” And then a messenger flew to him and touched his lips with a live coal. In that simple exercise he symbolically cleansed Isaiah. The mouth issues forth what is in the heart. From the mouth we see the insides of a man, and when it issues forth ugliness, we know that the entire man is ugly. But the message of God can cleanse us, our whole being, so that we are ready for service. After Isaiah was cleansed, God asked, “Who will go for us?” (meaning “us the trinity of God”). Having been cleansed, Isaiah readily volunteered. “Here am I, cleansed by your Spirit, empowered by your Spirit, send me Lord, send me!”

Hundreds of years before Isaiah, Moses had a similar encounter with God. He was overcome with his inability. He said “Woe is me, I am only a human and I am a criminal human. I am only fit to live with sheep and goats. How can You choose me for this great task?” Then God asked Moses a question that He has often asked me. He said to Moses, “What is in your hand?” What do you have control over Moses? Moses replied, “A stick. A simple stick.” But a stick in the hand of a shepherd is very powerful. It guides the sheep.  It protects the sheep.  It helps the sheep. Moses knew how to use a stick on the human plain as a shepherd. God said to him, “Throw down the stick.”

Then Moses did something that changed the whole situation. Moses obeyed. He didn’t discuss with God why he should throw down the stick; he didn’t debate with God that he had just cleaned the stick and didn’t want it to get dirty; he didn’t argue with God that he needed the stick for other things; he didn’t turn away from God in disgust that he had better things to do.

No, to Moses’ great credit, he simply obeyed. He threw down the stick. And in throwing down the stick he surrendered everything that was precious to him, because a shepherd without a stick is utterly worthless as a shepherd. There is no way he could perform his responsibilities without that stick. When Moses threw down the stick, he thereby surrendered his whole identity to God. And at that moment Moses saw the power of God in that stick. It was transformed into something living, breathing, and powerful. At that moment Moses saw what God could do if his identity was surrendered to God. God told him to pick up the stick, and Moses reached with courage to touch the power of God and for the rest of his days Moses was a new man.

Each one of us must throw down our stick, each one of us must surrender all that is precious to us – our money, our health, our time, our spouse, our children, our careers, our abilities, our bloodlines, our possessions. Everything must be surrendered if we are to know the power of God. After we have the power of God infuse those things, then we too are able to do tasks as great as Moses. I praise God that early in my life He taught me instant obedience in throwing down my stick and the courage to pick it up again, infused with God’s power.

My dear friend, perhaps you are wishing that your experience was like mine and like Moses and like Isaiah’s. I want to say to you that God is not willing that any should perish. Jesus came to make abundant life available to every person. He has no prejudice; His heart is as open to you as it is to me, and Moses and Isaiah. He has already said to you, “Throw down your stick.” He is waiting for your obedience. Will you, dear friend, throw down your stick and watch the power of God move through your abilities and your education and your money to accomplish something great for Him?

Getting back to my life story, one of the great blessings that my grandmother and mother gave to me was participation in Bible Memory Association (BMA). This was a Bible memory program that ran from September to April. Every week we memorized a chapter in a book along a special theme. Some books were the Message of John, or Fruits of the Spirit, or Praise and Worship. Each week we memorized about ten verses and recited them on Sunday afternoons to my grandmother. Every few weeks BMA sent us an award that we got to choose. Almost always I chose things that would help my spiritual growth. So I chose the commentary on Hebrews by F. F. Bruce, or plaques with Scripture that I could put in my room. I mention this only to say that God created a hunger in me to know Him, and by God’s grace the world’s system had little appeal to me. Those who completed all the memory verses in a book qualified to go to BMA camp. There were several camps around the country; the one we went to was in Ringgold, Louisiana. I loved this camp. I went year after year from age 12 to age 18. In the early years I was a camper; in the latter years I was a camper and also a youth assistant called “White Feet.”

The camp had a small lake. On one side were the boys’ cabins, on the other side were the girls’ cabins, and at the end (where the dam was) was the central area for activities. Our day always started with morning devotions by the lake. We sat on hard benches in the midst of God’s creation listening to devotionals. Then we went to breakfast. We ate family style. I remember a black lady singing “Were you there” at the first meal of any camp. What a blessing she was to me!  After singing her song she returned to the kitchen to cook our meals.

After breakfast we broke into small groups with other campers who had memorized the same book. We sat on covered picnic tables scattered around the property. We had an adult teacher, and we went through the book with lessons about the meaning of the verses. After our morning sessions of the picnic table Bible classes we had lunch, again family style, and in the afternoon we had free time. Free time was swimming, horseback riding, archery, canoeing, hiking, or sleeping.

The dress code of the camp was very different from today’s camps. Boys and girls swam at different times. Girls wore conservative clothes (none of the immodest showing of cleavage, belly, and buttock that is so prevalent in today’s “Christian” events.)  At BMA camp, consideration was given to the spiritual welfare of the opposite sex. After supper, we had a camp-wide service. A national speaker came for the week. This was where I first met Dr. Feinberg (a great national preacher and Jewish convert of the 1960s). After the evening service we returned to our cabins for time with our counselors.

I would like to share with you three of my special memories of BMA camp. As a youth assistant I attended camp to serve. I was assigned a cabin to assist a counselor with the campers. During the day when the campers had their Bible instruction and play time, I was assigned work. My work, of course, was done free of charge, and I remember the ladies in charge of my work, Mrs. Mame Fix in particular. One of my jobs was to iron shirts for all the men, the White Feet (youth assistants), and the workers. She gave me specific instructions on how she wanted these shirts ironed, and she taught me that when I finished ironing I should not button all the buttons but only close the top and the bottom buttons, because this held the shirt in place in the closet but did not create an unnecessary burden to remove. To this day I iron Dave’s shirts as Miss Mame taught me! I am sure that when my husband gets to heaven he will thank her.

Another important memory that I have of BMA camp is my first boyfriend. He was 21 and I was 16. He wanted to be a missionary in South America and he was attending Mid-South Bible College. His plan was to get his pilot’s license and serve as a missionary pilot. There is no doubt in my mind that Jon loved me with a godly, manly love. But I was too young to understand all the dynamics of a man/woman relationship. By the grace of God, He put Jon in Memphis and me in Dallas. So our relationship was mostly by mail.  I can honestly say that I had no emotional attachment to Jon, though Jon had an attachment to me. And he envisioned our marriage. However, when I went to California for nursing school our ways parted and he met his future bride and three years later I met my future husband. Jon and his bride made it to South America as they had planned, and God eventually took me to Ethiopia ministry as I had hoped.

The greatest gift God gave me through BMA camp was this: He taught me the role of the Holy Spirit and He allowed me to experience what it means to live by the Spirit. In case you are not familiar with this, let me explain what I mean. I am not talking about some wild, out-of-control movements of the body and tongue. The Scriptures say that the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, meekness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. And it states clearly that against such there is no law, meaning that the Spirit-filled life is the ultimate fulfillment of all religious law.

A Spirit-filled life is one in which the Holy Spirit (who indwells every believer from the moment of their salvation) takes the word of God to comfort, to convict, and to direct the believer in issues of everyday life. So the moment I tend toward anger, the Spirit steps in to my consciousness and stops me. The instant I meet a person He intends for me to serve, the Spirit steps into my consciousness and the Spirit creates in me the thought and desire to serve. The second that my thoughts wander from things that are holy and acceptable in His sight, the Spirit steps into my consciousness and reprimands me. It is a wonderful way to live with God. The word of God written from Genesis to Revelation comes alive in the hand of the Spirit as He applies it to the minute by minute issues of daily living. What a joyful way to live with God! It is a way that is free of worry. I no longer bear the responsibility of trying to figure out what God wants of me. I simply rely upon the Spirit to do His job and show me. I no longer struggle with guilt that was birthed in my own issues of self righteousness; instead I trust the sweet voice of the Spirit whose whole purpose is reconciliation (not punishment). I no longer beat myself up doing this good deed, and that good deed, and the other good deed, trying to figure out if I have done enough good deeds. Instead I allow the Holy Spirit to bear the responsibility of instructing me in which good deed God has before-ordained (Eph. 2:10).

I think living in the power of the Holy Spirit is similar to being a passenger in a car. When I get in the car with my husband and he takes the steering wheel, there is only one thing I have to decide. And that one thing is this: Will I get in the car and thereby surrender to his driving or, will I get out and try to find my own transportation? When I surrender to my husband I do not tell him how fast to drive, what route to take, what gear to use, what road obstacles to avoid. Instead, I sit in the passenger seat. If he goes 60 mph I go 60 mph, if he is in second shift, I am in second shift, if he is passing a car, I am passing a car. If he is pulling off the freeway, I am pulling off the freeway. There is only one decision I need to make and that is to get in the car and let him be the driver.

At any time I want to bail out as a passenger, my husband will plead with me about the purpose of our trip. He will reason with me according to logistics of travel. He would appeal to me on the basis of our relationship as husband and wife. But if I in my stubbornness decide to bail out, then, to prevent me from being hurt, my husband will slam on the breaks and pull to the side so that I can exit safely. And at that point a wall of great sorrow will fall between us. My husband is now greatly torn. Should he abandon me to my own stubborn will or should he continue to plead with me and reason with me to get back in to the car?

My dear brothers and sisters, it is the way of joy to be in the car with the Holy Spirit. It is the way of love. It is the way of power. It is the way of victory. It is the way of peace. And when we get out of the car, we are buffeted by the storms of life. We are victims of the abuse of others and we drown in our own sorrow and weaknesses. The Holy Spirit of God is a gift to each of us. He indwells each of us who has embraced Christ as our Savior, but He will not rule us as a dictator. Just as Christ did not force us to accept Him as Savior, the one and only Savior, so the Holy Spirit does not force us to accept Him as the Driver of our lives. In my life there have been times when I have not agreed with the route the Spirit has taken, I have had a gigantic pity party, I have not listened to His reasoning, I have not listened to his appeals to trust Him, and I have jumped out of the car. The inevitable storms that came when I removed myself from His protection wounded not only me but all those associated with me. I praise the Lord that the blood of Christ is stronger than my stupidity and my stubbornness, and by His grace I can still wear the robe of His righteousness.  I bear no guilt for those times when I was outside the car.

When I left for Biola College in 1971, my service (ministry) changed. Biola College was a Christian liberal arts college, and part of the curriculum was a mandatory Christian service assignment each semester. Like all students, I faithfully completed this service, but my real heart was in preparing for the mission field. In the summer of 1973 I was accepted for Practical Missionary Training (PMT) with the Central American Mission. This was an eight week program of introducing college students to various aspects of the mission field. There were 40 of us divided into two teams. In addition to generalized exposure, the activities of the teams were tailored to individual students. So our team was exposed to medical missions, radio missions, jungle missions, and Bible education mission, in addition to living and serving in another culture.

My team served in Mexico and Guatemala. Our first exposure to mission living dealt with food adjustment. For three days and nights we ate nothing but peanut butter sandwiches on the train traveling from the Texas border to Mexico City. For the next eight weeks we ate mostly refried beans and rice, breakfast, lunch, and supper. There was one exception to this: after jungle camp (where we spent a week eking out an existence in the raw jungle) we hiked out of the jungle to a meal of hamburgers and hot dogs. We thought for sure we had died and gone to heaven! I learned then that though food is made basically to serve the needs of the body, there is a definite emotional/psychological side to what is put on the table. I have often thought of the lesson learned from the jungle as I have prepared food for my own family and guests.

As I shared in chapter 3 (“Early Marriage”), I was gearing everything in my life to a lifetime in the rural areas of Ethiopia as missionary nurse. However, while I was in college King Haile Selassie was overthrown in a coup backed by the Soviet Communists. This marked a major change in mission work done in Ethiopia. Obviously, under communist dogma, anything of a religious nature and especially a Christian nature was expelled.  For 15 years the believers in Ethiopia saw their churches closed, their pastors imprisoned, and their schools confiscated. This was a time of great trouble, but it was also a time of great growth in the Ethiopian church. The missionaries were essentially all evicted from the country; only a skeletal staff remained in the country. Though we ourselves had been gone from the country since 1964, Dr. McClenny (my uncle) remained in the country with his wife to run the lepersarium in the town of Sheshamanee. The Communists put him under house arrest in order to retain his skills as a physician; however, they did not give him the supplies he needed to help people. After much stress the Ethiopian church got him out of Ethiopia. They traveled by night and slept in private homes by day. He escaped through Kenya and returned to the U.S. I know of other stories where missionaries were saved from Communist regime leaders who had no respect for the missionaries, their home countries, nor the God they served.

In the fall of 1973 God appointed my marriage to David Alan Black. At that minute I knew that pursuit of missionary life in Ethiopia was no longer my primary goal. People have asked me if this shift was in some way a failure, as if to say that mission life was a higher calling and more sanctified than life as a wife. My response to them is this: God never told me to be a missionary to Ethiopia; that was my personal desire. Ethiopia was my home, I loved the people, and I wanted to help them. But when God said to me, “There is your husband,” He was giving me a direct command. How could I forsake His command in favor of my feelings for my homeland? When I graduated in 1976 and took my marriage vows, though I loved Ethiopia and she was always in my heart, my ministry focus was now upon serving my husband as his God-appointed helper. As such, keeping my home neat, tending to nutritional needs, managing the household budget, working outside the home, tending to the children, the way in which I dressed, everything was an act of service to my husband under the appointment of God. I never saw my marriage as a negotiated arrangement. I certainly was equal in value to Dave, both of us standing on equal ground at the foot of the cross. But my function in service to the Lord was to facilitate the ministry God had appointed to my husband. As such, his need became my focus. Much of that need centered on my ability to provide income for our living expenses and also for his education. So, working outside the home was extension of my marriage commitment.

Another way in which I served my husband was in facilitating our home education of the boys. Another way was in bringing to his classes and his students that special touch that only a wife can bring. Throughout our 37 years I have often baked cookies and cakes to encourage his students on exam day. Every semester that Dave has taught, with rare exception, we have opened out home to students. These students could bring their roommate, spouse, parents, anyone they wanted. In California, we often had 100-150 students come for the day. I learned that my hostess capacity was 85; after 85 I needed help! In California we called it a Roots Potluck. We asked the students to bring food that was reflective of their ethnic background. What a joy it was to watch American black students in shorts and flip flops serving soul food next to Korean students in three piece suits serving artistic Korean specialties and scattered along the table were the everyday American things like pizza and fried chicken. Those days were a bit of heaven as I marveled at the diversity that makes up the church of God. When we moved to North Carolina, the scene changed dramatically. Gone was the ethnic diversity, the food was boring casserole, casserole, casserole. Praise God that in the last few years we now have Mexican food, African American food, and Korean food covering our tables.

In addition to these ministries to Dave’s students, I also began to serve as Mama and mentor to assorted students, and though I did not feel qualified I was happy to serve them, my husband, and the Lord in this way. Aside from my ministry to my husband, my service to my patients and my clients was very real to me. Each day when I went to work at the hospital I anticipated serving my patients, the doctors, my fellow nurses, and hospital staff as the hands and feet of Jesus. It is by His grace that many felt “safe” to discuss spiritual things with me in the wee hours of the night or in the privacy of a patient’s room. Often I was assigned the patients that were dying. With my financial clients I pledged before the Lord never in any way to allow financial incentives to drive my client recommendations. This was a covenant between me and God, because I was there as His servant to help these people in their financial distress. Another area of service was to my children; you can read more of this in Chapters 5 (“Children”) and Chapter 8 (“Lies, Lies, Lies”).

A final area of service and possibly the least significant was my role in our local churches. Over the years, I served as Sunday School programs director, deaconess, pianist and organist, Choir member, VBS teacher, AWANA worker, etc. It was in the Choir of Granada Heights Friends Church in La Mirada, California under Warren Ediger that I first learned to sing not only with my voice but also with my heart and mind. The issue of excellence in service, bringing the whole person into the service, was emphasized. And so I learned how to sing well with my body, how to meditate on the music with my mind, and how to attune my heart throb to the message. I thank God for the years I spent in that choir. At College Church in La Mirada, California, we had a fantastic Bible school teacher; he was extremely systematic in teaching the flock, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. It took him years to go through a book of the Bible but I can tell you it was very profitable. God put upon my heart to create a tape library of the sermons. I created a system of cataloging of checking out the tapes and a ministry of shut-ins that someone told me was the equivalent of doctoral work. Today that collection of tapes is still in the possession of the church now called First Baptist Church of La Mirada.

There have been three highlights to my service in these later years of my life. The first is the joy of mentoring so many young wonderful ladies and even men. I never in my wildest dreams expected God to give me such a joy and privilege. He has sent me young women, middle aged women, and even a few older women who are seeking the Lord and want to experience Him in their life. It is pure joy to share with them truths about Him that I have learned and watch them implement those same truths in their lives. I have no words to describe the joy this has brought to me. The second ministry in my later years has been the ministry of retreat. I have always had a heart of hospitality to have people in my home in order to “mother” them. I like to shelter them in life’s storms, I like to create for them a safe place where we can laugh together, cry together, and search through life issues together. In the 1970s Dr. Francis Schaefer and his wife Edith established a place of retreat in L’Abri. Edith Schaefer has written books about her role in that ministry. People came from all over the world to discuss the place of God and the Scriptures in their life situations. She sort of became my model for that hospitality ministry. She quietly attended to creating a nurturing environment, and then she allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work using whatever means He wanted. When we purchased our farm in Virginia in 2001, one of the primary purposes for the purchase was to create a place to retreat for those who needed it. Here we have 123 acres of woods and meadows, of creeks and wildlife, and of domesticate animals. In our home at Bradford Hall, we have two guest room suites, we have camping areas, and we have recently completed an 1810 Farmhouse called Maple Ridge. The whole farm belongs to our Lord Jesus, and we desire to serve Him through this ministry of hospitality and retreat.

September 30, 2013

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