“I don’t know.”
That was the only answer I could muster, choking back tears as I sat in the newly vacant office down the hall from mine. The Tolberts had just finished packing. Luke’s office was empty, and he had turned in his keys.
Luke Tolbert was our student and discipleship pastor for seven years. He and his family were leaving for an appointment, through the International Mission Board, to Latvia. Caroline, his middle daughter, had smiled and asked, “Who is going to work in here now?”
My answer was not wrong, and it was not untrue, but it was all I could manage at that time. The lump in my throat seemed more like a boulder, choking off meaningful conversation with Caroline. I wish I could have moved that boulder aside long enough to say all I wanted to say.
I wish I had told Caroline that even though I don’t know who is going to fill that office, I am confident that, just as God has His people for Latvia, He also has His man to fill that office at our church. God has a plan, and He is in complete control.
I wish I had told Caroline how proud I was of her and her whole family. Though we are saddened by their departure, we are also thrilled to see them obey God’s plan, and we are blessed to be a part of God’s plan to get the gospel to the nations. I may not know who will fill the office down the hall, but I know who holds the future for Malvern Hill, and I am confident that God’s plans are better than ours.
I wish I would have told Caroline that if God is faithful to our church and we are obedient to Him, there will be more tearful departures. That’s part of what healthy churches do — they send out healthy members to go and make disciples in other places.
As a church family, I hope we can look forward to all that God has in store for our missionaries and for our church. Let’s commit to praying that God will bring more tears in the years to come, as we say goodbye to more people whom He will raise up out of our church to be missionaries, teachers and pastors. Let’s pray that He will send our people across town, across the country, and across the globe for the spread of the gospel and the glory of His name.
May God bring tears to your churches as well, as He raises up and calls out missionaries and ministers who will leave your fellowship to pursue His calling to carry the gospel. Healthy churches shed tears for the lost who need the gospel. Healthy churches will also shed tears for the missionaries who leave to carry the gospel to those who need to be brought from darkness into light.
As God’s kingdom advances, there will be tears, and that isn’t always a bad thing.
You can learn more about the Tolberts and their ministry at www.thetolbertfamily.com.
— Craig Thompson is pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden. This article first appeared at CraigThompson.org.