(Picking out our first live Christmas tree in 7 years)
The frost of winter is fading. This is a statement full of meaning for the Smith family as we enter this new season of life and ministry. As the new tulips break through the hardened, dark dirt on the edges of our lawn in South Carolina, new opportunities and vision are also breaking through the newly turned over soil of our lives.
The three months of sabbatical provided a space for our fields to lie fallow, for pruning lifeless areas and for new things to be nurtured. The fallow field is a metaphor for a place of rest. In the ancient days the Lord instructed the forefathers of our faith to “let the land lie unplowed and unused” every seventh year (Exodus 23:11). This was a discipline of sabbath rest, a place to do the uncomfortable thing of not working the resources entrusted to their care. The seventh year was an invitation to a sort of wholistic rest that precipitates life.
The sabbatical in our seventh year since beginning the work of East Mountain was a place of wholistic rest. During this time we intentionally set aside the work of doing ministry, building Christian community and making disciples. In the absence of these activities some of the things that needed pruning were given space to fall away. One of these things was the lie that our ultimate value is in what we can do for God. This year we wrestled with the theme of identity, realizing that too often we have connected our worth as people to the work entrusted to us. In the ninety days of sabbatical we were forced to face who we are without our titles, positions in organizations, and places to use our giftedness outside of the home. What we discovered is that we are deeply loved by our Father in Heaven who calls us his beloved. What an incredible joy it is to discover that despite all of our shortcomings we are his beloved, chosen by him and invited to be part of program for the world!
This theme of letting dead things die and allowing new things to be sown in our lives took on different meaning for each of us. I (Gabe) was confronted with my propensity to feel responsible for everything and everyone. This soul killing belief had too often governed my decisions and motivated my actions, leaving me drained and apathetic. For Janet it was letting go of the idea that she needed to be a stay at home Mom to be a faithful Christian wife. For Madeline it was a painful process of mourning the departure from South Africa, the place she considered her home.
On the other side of the letting go and leaving we discovered new life.
(Our farewell committee from East Mountain the day we left South Africa)
I (Gabe) am growing increasingly confident and excited about my giftedness as a visionary leader made to build innovative, disciple-making Christian communities. Janet has embraced a new opportunity to start a business and is finding a big, new life in the marketplace where she is learning that she is really good at marketing, sales and motivating others on her team. Madeline has made four new friends at school and is finding new freedom as a creative person designing her daily outfits at her new school (no more uniforms!).
We are filled with incredible amounts of gratitude as we contemplate your generosity and steadfast partnership for the Gospel that enabled us to take this sabbatical time. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
So what’s next?
When we went on sabbatical we went with the idea that the Lord may be calling us to lay down the work of East Mountain permanently. We hoped that wasn’t the case, but also realized that we must be open to that reality. To our great surprise and joy what we discovered upon our return were multiple requests from all over the world from people and organizations interested in starting new East Mountain communities. There is too much to share in one letter, but in short we are in conversations with leaders in Australia, Germany, Thailand, Scotland and India as they build or consider building an East Mountain Community in their context. I just returned from a two week trip to South Africa where I spent time with our two East Mountain communities there and to helped teach twenty or so pastors in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape.
Why East Mountain?
You may be wondering why folks are interested in joining the East Mountain movement. The easy answer is that the Lord is on the move and East Mountain Communities are part of his work to make all things new. The more complex answer is that people are longing for authentic Christian community where they are invited to be known, loved and given a place to use their giftedness in a common work of discipling others.
The East Mountain way is to build an authentic relational space where members are called to love God and neighbor as they find a rhythm of their life together, pursuing intentional relationships and living according to a common rule. The community seeks to partner with others for wholistic Kingdom mission, engaging in intentional relationships with church, non-profit, business and school leaders to ask the question, “How can we help?”. The community works with, and through, these partnerships to craft discipleship and leadership development pathways that make sense in the particular context.
(The East Mountain UK Community on retreat)
In the pilot community in South Africa, we started a year long residency, a six week summer internship, and several theological cohort models. As we engage with leaders interested in East Mountain, we are learning that our language of community, partnership, discipleship, and leadership development resonates with what people have already been contemplating.
What part does our family play?
I (Gabe) see very clearly that my role is to continue to envision, equip, and encourage leaders with a particular emphasis on those starting new East Mountain communities. This kind of work gives me energy and joy as I see other leaders move into their giftedness. What a joy it is to invest in a few who are investing in many.
We also see very clearly that the Lord has equipped us to start a new community here in the Greenville area. We will be sharing more about that vision soon so look out for our next letter!
Janet will also keep growing her business to supplement our income and explore a new entrepreneurial passion. In the meantime, we will continue to depend on the support of our friends who have chosen to partner with us in this amazing work for the Kingdom.
And last but certainly not least, Madeline can’t wait to finally finish the fifth grade and enjoy her first American summer vacation.
How can I be a part of what’s going on?
(With pastors in the rural Eastern Cape of South Africa with West Point classmate and friend Erik Borggren after leading a weekend theology intensive last month)
On sabbatical, we saw the viciousness of the forces of darkness that want to discourage and destroy us. We also experienced the incredible power of prayer. Prayer is the space where the temporary meets the eternal, the mundane the divine, the terrestrial the heavenly. We are desperate for people who will commit to praying with us and for us each week. To facilitate this serious Kingdom work we have set up a place to sign up to be a prayer partner. If you are willing to serve in this way, we ask that you commit to praying for us and the work of East Mountain at a designated time each week. You can expect to receive a special weekly email detailing prayer needs and invited to a monthly webinar prayer service online. You can register here to serve in this capacity. (https://goo.gl/forms/xhtfJjBXuGtZ3Q4D2)
This kind of edge of the Kingdom, global work is necessarily funded by generous Christians who see it as part of their calling to commit to radical giving so that leaders all around the world can be properly discipled, envisioned and launched to build the church. Right now we have a BIG fundraising goal of finding families or individuals who can commit to giving in the following amounts for the next year:
- Five Givers @ $500 per month or $6,000 per year
- Ten Givers @ $200 per month or $2,400 per year
- Twenty Givers @ $100 per month or $1,200 per year
- Forty Givers @ $50 per month or $600 per year
- Sixty Givers @ $25 per month or $300 per year
If we can successfully find and partner with these 135 Givers we would:
- Personally be 100% funded for the year. A tremendous stress relief!
- Be able to seed fund 2 new East Mountain Communities.
- Be able to personally encourage, envision and equip leaders on 5 continents.
- Be able to offer scholarships to deserving young leaders from some of the world’s poorest communities to attend East Mountain residency.
If you would like to either become a Giver or increase your current gift, please visit our donation site by clicking here
Gabe, Janet and Madeline