Following God into the Unknown
By Linda Slaton
Joy White had no intention starting two new ministries when she asked God one simple question in her late forties, “What would You have me do with the rest of my life?” No, that spring day in 1989 she was just taking a walk and talking to God as she did almost every day. In fact, had God responded then with the full picture of what her next 18 years would hold, she might have run away like Jonah, as far from Him as she could get. Had He told her that she would learn a new language-sign language, of all things-and start the first deaf ministry in Central Arkansas, then learn another language-this time Spanish-and help launch a ministry to Little Rock’s Latino community; she’d likely have thought that her own hearing had gone bad. But God didn’t do the big reveal immediately; instead, He slowly guided her to ponder her life and began showing her one small step at a time.
As she walked, Joy began thinking about David, the youngest of her four children, who would soon be off to college. Now that her full-time mothering role was coming to an end, what would she do? Little did she know that she would, in the not-too-distant future, begin a new role as full-time Kingdom builder. As she walked and prayed, Joy began to connect key dots of her life and hear God’s reply.
Dot #1: A Son’s Birth
It seemed like only yesterday that David had been a healthy baby, but different from her other three children. David had been born deaf in one ear.
Dot #2: A Daughter’s Path
Daughter Carrie was currently pursuing a degree in deaf education.
Dot #3: A Football Game
While sitting in the bleachers rooting for her children’s football team as they battled the team from the local deaf school, Joy was struck with one disconcerting thought: But for one good ear, David might be playing on the rival team instead of on this one, and living not at home but as a resident of the deaf school. That night, as she watched the opposing crowd use sign language to communicate, Joy realized how very different her life would have been had her baby been born deaf in both ears.
Dot #4: A Mother’s Example
Joy’s mother had spent the first half of her life much like Joy had, both had poured their lives into their children and home. But Joy in no way wanted to emulate her mother in the second half of life.
Joy sat down recently with JBU over a cool glass of iced tea to share how God has reshaped the second half of her life.
JBU: at was it about your mother’s later years that made you so determined to do it differently?
Joy: When all of us kids left home, my mother’s world fell apart. She began drinking heavily, apparently trying to fill the void left as we began leaving the nest. She died years later, a sad and lonely alcoholic. Watching Mother descent into the throes of alcoholism left a huge impression on me. As I saw her spiral downward, I remember saying to myself that it was not going to happen to me!
JBU: Tell me about spring of `89 when you first asked God what He wanted you to do with the rest of your life. Did you receive an answer that day?
Joy: It was more of a process of hearing that began that day. But I did come away with one huge insight: I wanted God to define the second half of my life and not the world. As I looked around me, I saw many people who were simply doing what everyone else was doing: taking up new hobbies, traveling, buying second homes at vacation resorts, and entertaining themselves. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, yet so many still seemed unhappy and unfulfilled, not altogether different from my mother.
JBU: How did God lead you into the ministry for the deaf?
Joy: As I thought about my son David’s hearing loss, I wondered if God would have me become involved in the deaf community. I could learn sign language and become a teacher’s aide at the deaf school. Surely that wouldn’t be too hard. As I prayed about it, God seemed to answer simply, “You go and I’ll lead. Learn to sign.”
About that time I ran across a verse that became an overriding principle that guided me and continues to guide me. In Heb. 11:8 the writer says of Abraham that “he went out not knowing where he was going.” God impressed on me very strongly that I was to do the same: Follow His lead, even if it meant stepping into the unknown.
So I enrolled in a sign language class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; I was 46 at the time and a bit out of practice when it came to schoolwork! It wasn’t a lot of fun and it was a lot of hard work. I often thought, “This is crazy! I’m too old for this!”
JBU: What made you keep going if it was so hard?
Joy: The people! So many wonderful people like Barbara Northup and her husband Ernie, who were hearing-impaired, and Barbara’s mother Zelma, who had been deaf from birth and, in her later years, also blind. I first noticed Barbara sitting in church one Sunday, quietly interpreting the service by signing into her mother’s hand. It fascinated me to watch her, to realize that it was only through her daughter’s hand motions that Zelma, then both deaf and blind, could get anything out of that service. I remember thinking, “How did other deaf people hear God’s Word without someone to interpret?” Then I found a verse that God used to speak directly to my heart. Romans 10:13-15 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard (emphasis mine). And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” I knew I needed to do something, so that’s when I enrolled in the class.
JBU: How long was it between your enrollment in the sign language class and the start-up of the deaf ministry at your church?
Joy: Would you believe it was only about a year? Barbara and I teamed up to begin the ministry on Sunday mornings. I served as the ministry coordinator and Barbara interpreted for the hearing-impaired. That was more than 16 years ago!
JBU: Did you have a clear vision of what the ministry would look like when you began?
Joy: I was certain of two things: I wanted the language barrier that kept the hearing-impaired from learning about Jesus torn down, plus I envisioned a ministry not if for the deaf community but of the deaf community. They were the ones who should lead the ministry. But this was all so new to me and to them! I soon realized that many of my new friends had very little Bible knowledge. They first needed to be taught God’s Word. That’s where my husband John came in. He was an elder at our church and knew the Bible well. He was also a gifted teacher. When I told him of my concerns, he volunteered to teach them if Barbara would interpret.
JBU: You sound as if that really surprised you.
Joy: Oh, yes! I never thought John would become involved. He had been so supportive of my new adventure, but he made it clear from the beginning that this was my ministry, not his. When he volunteered to help, I couldn’t believe it! We started the first community group for the deaf in 1992 which continues today. John still teaches and Barbara interprets.
JBU: Looking back, did you ever imagine that God would use you in this way?
Joy: Heavens no! I laugh just thinking about it; I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing. That’s my whole story-that God could use me, an ordinary woman with no training or skills. It’s a miracle! And if there’s one thing I would say to others contemplating the second half of life, it would be that God can use you, too, right where you are, if you’re willing to follow His lead.
JBU: Your story doesn’t end there, does it, joy? You stepped down as coordinator of the deaf ministry in 1999. Tell us about the next venture you pursued.
Joy: I began visiting a new multi-ethnic church named Mosaic and learned about its outreach to the Latino community. One of the teaching pastors was a friend of ours who had been the youth director at our church for a number of years. The church had become involved in one of the poorer areas of Little Rock, a trailer park which was home to many Latinos. The first time I went to the trailer park, I was shocked! The stark poverty they lived in was like a Third World country and only 15 minutes from my home. Again, the Romans passage rang in my head as I thought of those people, most of whom couldn’t speak a word of English. “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” I thought, here’s a mission field in my own backyard.
Once again I asked God, “What would you have me do?” And once again, one step seemed obvious-I would need to learn another new language! I began taking Spanish and studying whenever I had a free minute. Again, it was a lot of hard work and not always fun and I was older now: 59 to be exact!
JBU: Did the task seem easier this time around?
Joy: No, it was so hard! But God had been faithful before and He had kept encouraging me all along the way through His Word. Deuteronomy 10:18 gave me very practical direction for the work ahead: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” Food and clothing-what better way to show love for these aliens? It was almost Thanksgiving 2000 what better time to get to know the people? Many of us from Mosaic collected racks of clothes and prepared a Thanksgiving feast at the trailer park; then we invited everyone to come. And come they did! That marked the beginning of countless relationships, salvation for many, and a sense of community among the people in the trailer park.
We’ve started two clubs, El Club de Amistad (“The Friendship Club”), the first, where women volunteers serve the needs of the women who live in the trailer park by simply befriending them. They may take them shop-ping or to a doctor’s appointment, visit them in the hospital, tutor them in English, or simply provide a listening ear.
JBU: How have things changed there since the outreach began?
Joy: When I first met the women, there was such darkness and despair; they were very lonely and frustrated. Their husbands were away at work all day and the women were left with no money, no car, no companionship, and few of the conveniences that most of us take for granted. Today, many of the women are involved in a weekly Bible study where they share their lives-instead of complaints-and talk about a better way of living instead of about each other, all while getting to know God’s Word. So much has changed in just a few short years!
JBU: You mentioned a second club. Tell us about it.
Joy: Befriending the women led to relationships with their children, whose needs were just as great as their parents’. They especially needed help with homework, so El Club de Tarea (“The Homework Club”) was formed. During the school year on Monday afternoons, 16 children go directly from the school bus to the Mosaic trailer for snacks and help with homework from three or four of us who serve as tutors. The children get the help they need, relationships with parents of the kids are strengthened, and the children’s lives are being changed.
JBU: Do the people understand what you’re trying to do and why?
Joy: Oh, yes. We made it clear from the very beginning. They know we’re there because we know Christ and we want them to know Him and to experience the life-changing power of His love. That’s what we’re there for to see lives changed. And we do see that in the lives of those being served as well as those who serve!
JBU: Tell us how God has blessed you as you have followed Him so obediently into the unknown.
Joy: First, I know I’m not wasting my life. We all have a story to tell. I want mine to be Eph. 2:10 that I am God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for me to do. I believe I’m doing the work that God ordained for me. What a blessing!
Second, my life is an adventure! So many people in mid-life are bored with their lives complacent and sad. They try to do only what makes life easier and more comfortable. And that’s okay for them, but there’s no adventure there.
JBU: at is the mission statement that sums up your life as an empty nester in this second half?
Joy: It’s anything but empty! I didn’t have a mission statement when I began, but I do now and it reflects exactly where I’ve been and where I’ll continue to go. My mission is to stay in God’s presence, listen to His voice, and follow where He leads. That for me is the key to finding a life of true adventure, following God not knowing what lies ahead and living life to the fullest in the second half!
Linda Slaton is the Women’s Release Director at Fellowship Church in Little Rock, Ark. Married for 30 years, Linda and her husband Dave live in Little Rock and have six grown children and four grandchildren. For more information about Linda and her ministry, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article “Following God into the Unknown” written by Linda Slaton is excerpted from Just Between Us a Winter 2007 edition.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”