Washington congregation supports family’s call to mission field
By Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
For two and a half years Jason and Tifany Clark and their children have been camping. It’s not an extended vacation for the family of six. Nor is it a back-to-nature adventure of living off the grid.
The Clark family, from Birch Bay Bible Church in northwest Washington state, is living in three recreational vehicles in a woodsy rural housing development because that is what it took to follow God’s call to missions. Their Birch Bay church family has stayed with them through their faith-testing path of forsaking earthly wealth and pursuing a life of mission.
Praying for direction
The journey began in February 2011 when Jason lost his job as a heavy equipment operator. They knew their church family would support them in prayer through this crisis, but the prayer the Clarks requested was a little out of the ordinary.
“When you lose a job you think you have to get another job so you can continue to bring money in,” says Jason. “You don’t think about: what if we changed the way we live so we don’t need money, or not near as much?”
Instead of asking for prayer for a new job, the Clarks felt compelled to ask the church to pray for direction for their lives. The answer came within a month as Jason and Tifany experienced a clear call to international missions one Sunday in the worship service.
God’s guidance that Sunday morning is just one of many specific answers in a prayer partnership between the Clarks and their congregation. Over the next three years the congregation continued to pray with them—sometimes in small discernment groups and other times as they shared requests and answers to prayer during Sunday morning worship.
“Many times they’ve stood in front of the church and said, ‘We have a meeting this week. Pray for us,’ and then they would come back and report to us,” recalls church member Joanne Eytzen. Eytzen added the Clark family and their prayer updates to the missions bulletin board she posts in the church foyer.
Walking with their church family
The Clarks’ call to missions was just a first step in a long journey of preparation with their church family walking alongside. When they sold their home property (along with their goats and chickens) someone from the church offered them a 30-foot motor home. Parked on property that belonged to Jason’s parents, the motorhome and two travel trailers gave the family a place to live at a minimal cost.
The church encouraged them to work with MB Mission, the North American MB mission agency, in the search for a place of ministry. The mission required a period of training before pursuing an assignment. By fall both Jason and Tifany were enrolled full time at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC, with funding coming from a combination of their own resources, church matching scholarships and help from other supporters.
With mom and dad in college, new arrangements would have to be made for the Clark children who had been homeschooling with Tifany. “God just put it on our hearts,” says Birch Bay Church member Barbara Wass, who, along with her husband Skeeter, offered to homeschool the children two days per week while the Clarks drove to Canada for classes.
The Wasses had supported the Clarks in their interest in missions and had themselves just retired from 10 years of educational missions in Guinea Bissau, Africa. “We have always worked with kids,” Wass says, “and we just jumped into it.”
She was impressed with the family’s ability to adapt to the many changes required. “When they had to move out of their home into the recreational vehicles I don’t think it stressed them out at all,” she says. “It has blown me away how they can raise four kids in this situation while taking classes and being very involved in church.”
Training for leadership
The Clarks’ involvement in church actually increased during their years of preparation because part of MB Mission’s training requirement is hands-on involvement in church leadership.
“We brought Jason in as an assistant moderator of the church,” Pastor Tim Thiessen says. “He learned about leading meetings and communicating in front of large groups of people. Being able to lead a team on the mission field is important, and we wanted to give him as much experience as we could.”
Thiessen was delighted to be involved in training for leadership: “This is doing what God has called us to do—develop disciples.”
Jason also became commander of Birch Bay Church’s AWANA ministry for children, working together with Tifany. Tifany continued playing flute and pennywhistle on the worship team, but also gave leadership to the church’s outreach-oriented vacation Bible school program. Both programs grew under their leadership and reached new unchurched families. “Our mission field and community impact expanded with them here,” says Thiessen.
Praying for confirmation
With their time of training nearly complete, the Clarks faced another crisis and called on their church family for prayer and discernment. During their studies they had felt a strong call to serve in Thailand or another country in that region. Their school research projects often focused on topics related to the cultures and religions of Southeast Asia.
However, after their final four-month training with MB Mission, the mission offered them a placement in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was a devastating blow and the start of several months of soul-searching.
“We had very clearly expressed and our church had clearly expressed (our call to) Thailand,” Tifany says. “How is it that everything has pointed us toward Thailand and that’s not what the mission heard (from God)?”
The congregation was as surprised and perplexed as the Clarks were but once again rallied around them, praying for God’s confirmation and peace about where to go from here. “When there was doubt we just acted like a family should— listened and prayed,” says Thiessen.
Their church family’s prayer and support were vital to the Clarks processing this change in direction. “The pastors and elders were right there with us, praying intently that we would all see and hear the word that God was telling us,” Jason says.
In time, the Clarks agreed to travel to Mexico for an MB Mission “vision trip” and while there sensed a confirmation that this was indeed God’s call for them for the three-year assignment they had been preparing for.
Safe in the place of the unknown
Tifany credits the prayers and support of the church with bringing them to this point. “If we hadn’t had the community I don’t know if we would have come to the same decision. We felt that safety net around us and felt safe to stay in the place of the unknown.”
As they begin their assignment in Mexico later this year, the Clarks can look forward to the continuing support of their congregation in both prayer and practical ways. Eytzen will keep their current picture and latest news and prayer requests on the missions board.
She will also add each of their names to the 10 missionaries on her birthday calendar. On the birthday of every adult and child in the seven missionary households the church supports, Eytzen circulates a card for the church family to sign.
She encourages people to add a brief note and, if they like, a little bonus. Eytzen invites signers to put a dollar in the envelope, a gift of love from a congregation who finds practical ways to let their missionaries know that they continue to be valued members of the Birch Bay Bible Church family.
The Clark family (left to right): Cayleb (age 15), Charity Ann (11), Jason, Sarah Rose (8), Tifany, and Noah (13); photo provided by MB Mission