First Fruits by Nathan and Jane Phillips

It’s now been 19 years that the Lord has made provision for us to go; to minister to those ministering as we use the generous giving that funds these efforts. 

The dream of such a thing was born in our hearts while being dorm parents at a school for missionary kids in what was then Zaire, Africa 1992-95. Just the mention of “Rethy,” the school where we served, brings forth all sorts of singular memories.

While there we would occasionally host an SIL (Sudan Inland Mission) counselor in our dorm. Some of our unused dorm rooms became the safe place for going towards the matters of the couples’ hearts… as well our converting them into a movie theatre, a fancy themed dinner, or a cozy tea room,… so healing could happen,… so they could return refreshed to better accomplish the task to which the Lord had called them. 

This sideline, extra effort made an indelible impression on our hearts. 

I remember driving the counselor back to the grass airstrip (which doubled as a cow pasture) to board the Cessna 208 flight back to his post. When I paused, he curiously looked at me and said, “It seems like you need or want something from me…” to which I replied, “I’m pretty sure I want your job.” All that certainly makes me smile now, and to get back to what I am  referring to as First Fruits let me say this: The Lord has graciously fulfilled the desires of our hearts; to sow into the lives, marriages, and hearts of those precious ones who have chosen to commit their lives to missions. 

We have recently returned from France and are almost over our jet lag. I don’t really feel fully like myself until one day times the time change has passed; in this case, 6. I am experiencing very familiar feelings. It’s so much; money, time, logistics of caring for those who are trusting us with the matters of their hearts that get put on “pause” in some way here in Rome, those who lovingly take care of our home, and dog, and fish, and lawn, and mail. It’s many miles and hours on planes, trains and automobiles, stumbling through language barriers. It’s the stewarding of funding entrusted to us for Kingdom Work. Is it worth all that?

Ultimately it’s about God’s Word being given, demonstrated, and lived in front of those who do not know Him to find Him, grow in Him, and become disciples themselves. 

God uses us to refresh, restore and sow into those who ARE doing all that. Our visits serve to offer sustenance and encouragement. 

Four years ago we were in this same place, a small township in France called Sougé. A missionary couple moved to Tours after over 40 years of service to France and Africa to retire… and start a ministry in this small town. In another nearby town they bought a several-hundred-year-old building and are converting and renovating it into a church, which is in progress. She had gone house to house to invite everyone in this little country village to a meal in their back yard. We bustled about preparing food, tables, and place settings with flowers and scrumptious treats. The appointed time came and those of us who had been prepping sat with anticipation. And sat. And sat.

No one came. 

This time, after four years and their continued efforts to reach out, offer relationship and presence, two efforts bathed in prayer were made; a Marriage Retreat and a Ladies Retreat. And again, many phone calls, invites, conversations, a brochure, and reservations were made. Through a diligent search God helped them find a perfect place for the marriage effort. 

And they came. 

Much could be said about what the Lord put on our hearts to share, or who was there, from their town and ours, or how perfect the setting and care from the staff were. But what I want to center on is a final comment made by one man as we closed out the retreat. 

He was invested as we taught and shared. He asked challenging questions… displaying both interest and resistance. He is an influential part of the community and described as a jovial but closed man. 

He lifted his finger as we were finishing, desiring to add a final comment. 

Through interpretation, with at least four pauses to hold back tears, over about 5 minutes, he finally got this out: “I have never felt this kind of love given or demonstrated, and it’s been from every one of you. And I see it among yourselves.”

That’s God’s love; “King’s Love.”

Delivered to one of His lost, resistant lambs. 

And received. 

In a First Fruits sort of way. 

Yeah, it’s worth it.

After that we had a Biking Marriage Enrichment Adventure in The Loire Valley with some Stateside couples ~ amazing, practically beyond words. 

And then a Ladies Retreat which, again, was meaningful, rich and well received by some women who need peace, who are searching but not knowing how to find it. 

They all testified to seeing what they hope for… in our ladies who led. And they leaned in to their curiosity, intrigued by this Gentle Shepherd of Peace they saw but were still resistant. And yet left hopeful. 

So much could be said. 

So much happened. 

It was life-changing. 

For all parties involved. 

Thankful feels like an inadequate word, but it’s all I’m coming up with. 

We had a number of meals and conversations and prayer with this dear couple who have truly lived their life overseas with their family for the sake of the Gospel. It is a joy to sow into them as  they continue to live out of the abundance of who God is to and in them. 

Thank you for praying with us. Thank you for your encouragement. And thank you for your generous giving that makes it possible for us to minister in Rome, Cartersville and abroad.