Traci and I arrived back from Africa in August 1991 and got settled back into life in Lincoln, IL. It was not a time for making decisions about our future. The next 15 months would be a critical time, with decisions made that shaped what unfolded over the following decade. It shaped me more than I ever thought about until I started writing this. Decisions made by me and decisions made about me would set things up for issues that I would pay the price for later.
But, it’s not as if fate took over. I still was in control of my choices. I don’t blame anyone else for things. And, it’s not as if a dark cloud had settled over me. There were some great things that happened during this time, and I have very fond memories. But this part is about a very dark time for me. Part seven is going to be about the dark, and then shift to the better times in part eight.
I don’t have any photos for this part… understandably so.
After getting back from Zaire in August 91, we had board members from African Christian Mission (ACM) who were wanting to know our plans. I still did not know. There was a part of me that wanted nothing more than to go to Africa and spend the rest of my days there. There was a part of me that didn’t know how I would fit into the overall mission team.
Traci was working full time at the college, and I was coaching soccer and doing pulpit supply for area churches (kind of like being a substitute preacher when the active preacher is away). Life was not bad, and we were living among friends. But still, the elephant in the room was looming before us… what are Rich and Traci going to do?
While driving one day through Lincoln, my mind, heart and soul began to yearn to go to Africa. I was missing the sights, smells, and people. I turned on the radio and “Africa” was playing by Toto. It was tough. I was crying. I felt God was leading. “I miss the rains down in Africa.” We both began to feel this was where God wanted us, growing within us bit by bit.
After a while to make sure I wasn’t just being emotional (which wasn’t too far fetched), we met with the leadership of ACM to let them know we wanted to proceed with becoming members, to apply to serve full time in Zaire. We began the process, filling out papers, answering questions, etc.
It was now almost 9 years since the time of my first calling at camp with Mike Nichols. We were both excited and felt this was where God was leading. Sure there was uncertainty, but we were trusting in God to lead, give us vision, and orchestrate the future as He had up to that point.
The Music Stops
As romantic as it all sounds with theme music by Toto playing in the background, the meeting finally was approaching in Fall 1992 with the board members of ACM that would make us members and begin our road to Zaire. The music was about to stop playing.
In October we had a few different one-on-one meetings with different board members, filled out many different personality profiles, and were told repeatedly that everyone was excited and that we would soon be members heading for the field. Traci and I were excited and were telling all our friends, family, and churches.
On November 15th, day one of the meetings started with Traci and I being questioned about what we wanted our role to be. I didn’t know specifically what that would be yet. I had ideas based upon what we had seen on the field. I told them that and “thought” we were going to be brainstorming together. One of things I mentioned was doing leadership training like Ron Butler had been doing. We mentioned other things as well, such as doing some support work and helping support the effort of the missionaries on the field.
There was far more to day one, but that is the important part… “what are you going to do in Africa?”
November 16th was now here, and ironically, it was Traci’s birthday. We gathered after breakfast sometime and met with the membership committee to have them approve us as members. They said, “no.”
I couldn’t believe it. Twenty-four hours earlier these same people had said we would be members. The previous month they said we were going to be members. Many different people had said we would. Here was their explanation:
They said I was not ready for leadership training (which I would agree – both then and now). I told them they didn’t understand the heart of what was being discussed. I told them that what Traci and I really wanted to do was to work in a support role on the field because we felt that was where our gifts would best meet the need. They in turn said, no, that we were just trying to change what we said the day before in order to get them to change their mind.
I told them we were thinking out loud the day before, brainstorming, sharing different needs I saw from my two different trips to Zaire. They interpreted it otherwise. They basically thought I wanted to step off the plane and begin leadership training at the age of 27.
They apologized, but the answer was still no. Thanks.
We left the meeting and went back to our hotel. I felt devastated, blown away, frustrated, angry, betrayed, lost. The words I had spoken while thinking out loud, brainstorming, just sharing thoughts, were taken as my firm statement about what I wanted to do. No one would listen to us.
That night, in the most honest way I can say it – I snapped. Something died in me that night. I sat in the hotel room that night, beating the bed, yelling, crying. I don’t think I had ever been so hurt or felt so betrayed before. I look back on that meeting, that night in the hotel, and I see it as a point in which I changed. I have even called it a “personality changing” event in my life. I snapped, and I would never be the same.
Happy birthday Traci… Love, Rich.
Reflecting On Things
There were some happy moments between August 1991 and November 1992. I loved coaching. I made some very good friends at our church in Lincoln, Jefferson Street Christian Church. Traci and I started our family (which I’ll discuss in the next part), and enjoyed life on a Christian college campus.
But, this is about the dark. I want this to be clear – I don’t blame anyone, absolutely no one, for any pain that I’ve been through. I shoulder the blame. It doesn’t change the fact that poor decisions were made that deeply affected us. I still look back on that weekend in Illinois and see it as a joke, travesty, and a complete misunderstanding that should have never happened. The primary problem – poor, poor communication.
After all, Traci and I were the new ones here, the candidates. What should have happened is for them to share some of the needs on the field, and see if we saw one of those needs that we could help fill. They could have asked what two or three things we saw ourselves doing and helped us prioritize those things according to our gifts and experience. That would have easily, easily, easily fixed the situation.
As an analogy, let’s say a new bank is hiring. They have openings for president, head teller, teller, janitor, loan officer, etc. The employer would look at me as say, “what position do you want?” If I said I want to be the bank president, they would say “no” because I have no experience. In the real world, what would have happened is they would have said, “based on your experience, we feel you qualify to work as the janitor or the teller. After experience and training, then maybe a loan officer or head teller.” That’s how things work.
Much of this could have easily been averted if they had approached us in a similar way and said, based on your qualifications and your experience, here is what we think you can do. Then, after some years of experience, some further training, then maybe move into something like leadership training.
What came out of that meeting was, in my opinion, an organization that lacked an understanding of our position. There were missionaries on the field who went over younger than us, less experience, etc. But, it all went downhill, and I was punched in the gut, and then an upper cut to the jaw to give me the knockout punch.
That still doesn’t excuse me from my reaction and my lack of vision for my life.
I had no other plan. I had plan A. No plan B. If I had a plan B, I would not have been so devastated when plan A did not work out.
Furthermore, my reaction was totally unnecessary. I gave this group of men and women control over my life. Yes, it hurt. Hurt happens. But to respond with anger and feelings of betrayal was totally unnecessary. I should have and needed to have behaved and responded differently. Traci deserved SO much better.
My primary problems were:
- I wasn’t ready for “no.” I should have been.
- I wrapped up everything of who I was into who I was going to be. Who I was going to be was denied, and I didn’t know who I was.
- I gave these men and women control of me. And I in turn gave the devil a HUGE foothold in my life with the anger and bitterness that would begin to grow like cancer.
There would be a price to pay for a lesson I was slow to learn.
Twenty Years Later
I’m sitting here at my desk, 20 years after all this took place. It wasn’t worth it. All of the anguish and pain I put my family and myself through was not worth it.
We react to things. Life hurts. Life is not fair. Life throws curve balls. We react, and sometimes, the reaction is worse than the initial hurt.
I was 27, and wish for all the world I could have a re-do on this day. Life is too short… yes, life is too short.