The church I have had the privilege of pastoring for over twenty-three years graciously grants me a two-week writing sabbatical each year. I recently returned from this year’s writing retreat and wanted to express some heartfelt thanks to the Lord and a number of people who have blessed me with this tremendous opportunity.
Some pastors are granted a sabbatical every several years by their churches to get away for a few months to rest, be refreshed and pursue some line of study to strengthen their future ministry. With my ongoing sidelight writing ministry (which is secondary to my primary pastoral ministry), a few years ago I proposed and our congregation kindly approved my taking a mini writing sabbatical annually, rather than being away for a more extended sabbatical all at one time.
This arrangement, it seems to me, works out advantageously for our church and myself. On the one hand, I’m not away from my pastoral responsibilities for a long period of time, a situation that can sometimes prove challenging for a smaller church like ours to manage. But on the other hand, each year I can get away and make a significant leap of progress on the writing project I’m pursuing at the time. I find that I can accomplish in an intensely-focused, two-week retreat what it normally takes me a quarter of a year to complete, while writing very part time in the midst of the normal responsibilities and activities of life and ministry back home.
I cannot adequately express my appreciation to our congregation for granting me this annual writing retreat (and advance! J). In doing so they are affirming and supporting an important sidelight ministry that God allows me to have to the larger Body of Christ that extends far beyond our local church and community. Without such support that broader ministry would be considerably curtailed.
In recent years my writing sabbatical has taken place at an attractive ministry retreat setting called Prairie School Retreat, located several miles out in the country from Sidney, Nebraska, in the state’s western panhandle region. You can check out that ministry’s website at www.prairieschoolretreat.com for much fuller information about it. This retreat home used to be a two-classroom rural school building, and it retains that look from the outside. But the inside of the building has been entirely refurbished into an appealing, comfortable modern home, which looks and feels nothing like a schoolhouse.
The sizeable schoolyard, lined on two sides with bushy evergreens, has playground equipment for guest families with younger kids, and is home to an assortment of wildlife including rabbits, pheasants and several other types of birds. The landscape on all sides of the retreat home is surrounded by scenic sloping farm fields and an occasional farmstead. One can see for miles in almost every direction. About the only outdoor noises to be heard in this tranquil setting are birds, a few vehicles passing on a paved and a gravel road, and an occasional train in the distance.
Don and Nancy Cruise are the founders and operators of the Prairie School Retreat. They established the retreat several years ago as a secluded, peaceful place for individuals or families involved in vocational Christian ministry to come to rest, relax and be refreshed. The Cruises have a great interest in and heart for the welfare of people. I have always benefited from their kind, generous hospitality and service.
Another person to whom I owe a debt of gratitude when it comes to my annual writing retreat is my wife Leeta. She fully, willingly supports my getting away for this yearly time of focused writing, knowing how important it is to me. She always sends me off with more food than I can possibly eat during the two weeks away – including casseroles and other home-cooked meals which I just need to heat up in the oven or microwave. I have to be careful not to gain a pound or two while on my retreat as a result of enjoying all those nice meals a little too much!
I’m currently in the process of revising an extensive biography I’ve written on the life and ministry of David Livingstone, the eminent pioneer missionary and explorer to Africa. Revising a section of that work was the sole focus of this year’s writing retreat. The Lord greatly blessed my retreat with health and strength, travel safety, few distractions and many supportive individuals. For all those blessings I’m truly thankful.
I’d like to close this feature by sharing a special providential blessing that God granted during my recent retreat. This blessing occurred in the middle of the first week of the retreat. Here’s what I wrote about the blessing (which was clearly a “God thing”) in an email to our congregation the day after it happened:
“I tried to be careful to bring all the resource materials (research books) that I would need during this retreat. Yesterday just before noon I discovered to my chagrin that somehow I had left back in Aurora [the town where I live] one of the primary resource books which would be needed throughout the remainder of my retreat. That book is so important to this portion of the revision process I immediately concluded I would need to drive to Aurora then back here (spending nine hours of time and $40 of gas) in order to have it to use during the rest of my time here.
“The couple who own and operate this ministry retreat home had been away visiting relatives in recent weeks and were driving back home from Kansas yesterday. I phoned to let them know of my unexpected round-trip to Aurora and back, so they would know why I wasn’t here when they arrived at their home (otherwise I knew they would wonder and be concerned). This thought had not even crossed my mind, but they “just happened” to be about thirty miles from Aurora, so volunteered to pick up the book as they passed by Aurora and bring it to me. Leeta gave them the book, they dropped it off to me late yesterday afternoon, and I started using it last night. I’m so grateful to the Lord, Don & Nancy Cruise and Leeta for working all that out, thus saving me considerable time and expense which would have otherwise been spent in making a trip to Aurora and back. If I had discovered the missing book even an hour or two later than I did, this providential connection would have been missed and I would have needed to make the roundtrip.”
Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie
It’s always exciting and encouraging to hear testimonies of how God makes a way, even in what some would consider “the smaller things of life” (although this could have been a “big deal”, if you had to make the trip back for the book yourself). Good to see how your church places a priority on your writing ministry, also. By the way, I perused the articles on Andrew Murray from your site. In the early days of my Christian walk, his works were instrumental in guiding me into a deeper sense of what it meant to follow Christ. I would get up early every day and read “The True Vine”, “Absolute Surrender” (my favorite), “Waiting on God”, etc. I kept going back to the local Christian bookstore to purchase more. As a pastor, I try to encourage my congregation to read these great men of the faith. It’s sad that today’s non-reading Christian culture is often so ignorant of those who have paved the way and whose lives are rich with examples of Christlikeness. Keep writing!
Thanks for your encouragement, Norm, and for your faithful service of Christ and His people. One of the outstanding aspects of Andrew Murray’s life that has always stood out to me was the remarkable blend of deep heart devotion and active service that he maintained simultaneously. That is, Murray was fervent in both his devotional relationship with the Lord and his active service of Christ. That’s a commendable blend I desire to cultivate more fully in my own life. VEC