The Next Big Thing!

Dear Friends,

It is with great joy and gratitude to the Lord that I tell you today about the next big thing in our lives!  I have been called to be the Senior Pastor at Mandarin Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida!

I know what you’re thinking, “Mandarin? But Matt doesn’t speak Chinese!” Well, this is exactly what I thought at first and, but it turns out it is named after the Mandarin Orange that used to grow in that part of Jacksonville, now the neighborhood is named Mandarin! So, thankfully, no language lessons are necessary for this move!

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A bit about the church:

Mandarin Presbyterian (www.Mandarinpres.com) has about 1400 members and an average adult attendance of 700 with a 24 person staff.  It has active youth, children’s, and mission programs, a very large preschool, a food pantry, and is deeply involved in a wider outreach/discipleship experience called “The Great Banquet.” There are four amazing associate pastors that I get to work with, and get this: they are comprised of two clergy couples!  Apparently, this bit is intimidating for some, but for me it sounds like a lot of fun!  I took some classes with one of the associates, Jeff Arnold, back in 2006 at Fuller and have many happy memories of laughing together over the joys of Presbyterian polity.  Trust me, if you can enjoy yourself studying this, you can do anything! Mandarin Presbyterian Church is part of ECO (Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians), a relatively new denomination that includes many of the Presbyterian churches I grew up in an around (CPC Merced, Menlo, etc.).   You can read the church profile here: Mandarin Presbyterian Church Profile.

One thing that is striking and encouraging about the church is the longevity of their pastors.  They have only had two senior pastors in the last 50 years!!!  Two of the associates, the Arnolds, have already been there 12 years and plan to stay much longer.  The retiring pastor has been there 26 years.  This is a very encouraging sign to us that Mandarin Pres is a place that loves their pastors well, such that they don’t want to leave!

The transition plan is a sort of inverse of the traditional interim/transition pastor model.  In the traditional model, the current pastor retires and the church brings on an interim pastor for a year or two while it looks for a new senior pastor.  Following some advice from the denomination and Auxano, a church consulting organization, Mandarin adopted a different approach. Kevin Pound, the current senior pastor of 26 years, gave the church long-term notice (a couple years ago) of his intent to retire and asked a search team to begin the process of finding his replacement.  This was a huge gift to the church to give them such long notice and also flexibility on his retirement date.  Not many pastors are able or interested in doing this.  He has agreed to stay on for several months of overlap time with me to help me get oriented to the job, get to know the congregation, and make a smooth transition for the church.  Joy and I are so grateful for this. Getting to know Kevin and his wife Patti, has been a real highlight of this whole process for us.  Here is a married couple who has done it well!  They’ve set good boundaries, lived a manageable pace of life, run the long race, and finished well.  It is so encouraging.  They are also absolutely hilarious, delightful, and wise. We greatly look forward to more time with them in the coming months.

I also really enjoyed getting to know the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC).  These are nine very capable and interesting people who have been working hard for 18 months to find their next pastor.  They said one of their criteria (of many) was to find someone they wouldn’t mind sitting next to on a cross-country flight.  I think they may have underestimated my shoulder width! I’m nobody’s choice on a long flight! But truly, I would love to fly next to each member of this search team. I greatly look forward to being their pastor!

The final step in the call process was the congregational meeting in which I was presented and voted on by the congregation.  I’m told it was unanimous. I’ve included the video below of the presentation and vote. It was really touching for me to watch.  I invite you to watch as well, if you have the time and interest.

Congregational Meeting July 2019 from MPC on Vimeo.

Thank you all for your prayers for us through this amazing journey the last few years.  We could not have done any of this without you!  Please continue to pray for us as we make this major transition.  Of particular prayer interest: Please pray that somehow we can quickly and efficiently gather up all our belongings from storage and homes of friends and family and make this move to Florida!  Please pray also for the kids  and their transition (and enrollment!) back to public schools from homeschool.

We love you all!

Matt, Joy, Hannah, Peter, and Abigail

GRADUATION

A few weeks ago, my family and I celebrated my graduation (2nd time) from Fuller Seminary, this time with a Doctor of Ministry degree I’ve been working on for 8 years.  It represents the end of a long academic journey full of many sleepless nights and a lot of hard work. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to be challenged, broadened, deepened, and sharpened through the experience.

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Joy, this is your day too!  You sacrificed so much in these 8 years of me studying on top of work.  I traveled for courses, research, and writing retreats and always had projects hanging over my head. This always meant more responsibility for you.  Thanks for making this possible with all your hard work and sacrifice!  In this photo, the stole I am wearing is Kente fabric from Ghana to delight my Ghanaian colleagues at IJM. Kente is the central metaphor for the Bible that I used in my doctoral project: The Justice Thread

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Fuller graduated over 600 students amid various programs with almost 4,000 people in attendance. It was fun to see each professor wearing the academic regalia from their alma matter.  Such a wonderous variety!

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I had the great honor and priveledge to be one of four student speakers at commencement, each of us interviewed as we received our diplomas. The four of us are pictured here with Mark and Janet Labberton. Mark is the President of Fuller Seminary and was my content reader (Academic supervisor/mentor) for my doctoral work and has a passion for biblical justice and has written some great books you should read such as “The Dangerous Act of Worship.”

You can watch my reflections in the video below…

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My son Peter giving me some love.

A brief slideshow from the commencement ceremony…

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The day before the commencement (which was for all programs in the entire seminary) was a much smaller “hooding ceremony” for Doctor of Ministry graduates.  I’ve included some photos from that below…

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The big moment: receiving my doctoral hood! I was touched that Mark Labberton (who was my content reader/supervisor) made it to the ceremony to put on my hood. He is the reason I was able to continue my DMin from Ghana. I am so grateful for his positive influence in my life.

It was so great to have a cheering section at the ceremony, just like they cheer me on in life.  My sisters and their families, my parents, and Joy’s Mom and sister all made it.  For my older sister, it was a long trek down from Sacramento.  Thanks everyone for coming!

 

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End of Financial Support

My dear supporters,

We have come to the end of our time of receiving mission support. I never thought I’d say this, but please don’t send UCC any more checks on our behalf!  UCC has graciously given us these months of transition support since we moved back from Ghana so that we can rest, debrief, re-acclimate to American life, finish my Doctor of Ministry at Fuller (hurray!), and interview with churches as I seek my next call. That transition period is drawing to a close.  Our last support check from UCC will cover July and there is already enough funds in the account to cover that.  Any further checks the church will receive will be used for UCC’s general fund, not for our support, so no trying to slip one more through!  🙂  While I have not yet accepted a new job, I have received several offers and I hope it will not be too much longer until God makes it clear where I am to serve next.

You have been so incredibly faithful in your giving these past two and a half years! Your generosity and partnership have made everything we have done possible!  THANK YOU!!!  I cannot tell you enough how much this has meant to us.

At the end of this road I remember with profound gratitude the first time I withdrew money in Ghana. I had just flown my wife, 3 young kids, and a dog to a country in West Africa I had never been to start a new life and ministry.  Everything was foreign to me, and a bit scary. I had all kinds of trouble getting my ATM card to work and so was having to borrow cash from a colleague to feed my family and pay taxis.  I just kept praying and fretting and feeling that I was “way out on a limb here.”  The first time my ATM card actually worked and Ghanaian Cedis came out of the machine, I cried. I just stood there and wept.

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As I wept, God drew to my mind your faces, the faces of people who gave their own money in the U.S. to join me in this work. You are the ones that put those Cedis into that ATM machine for me, so to speak. I still get teary when I think about it. I had felt so alone, with so much responsibility on my shoulders to make life work there for my family while I serve with IJM in Ghana, and then the Cedis popped out of the machine and it just proved to me that I wasn’t alone.  You were with me.  You were also with me in your prayers, your blog comments, your emails and questions.  Thank you.  Thank you so much. Thank you for believing with me in the mission of IJM, in the value of the children enslaved on Lake Volta, in a God who cares and rescues, and in the potential of our family to make a difference.  Thank you.  Thank you for continuing with me these past two and half years!

Now stop giving!

Or, if you want to keep giving, give in a different way!  You can give directly to IJM by becoming a freedom partner: https://www.ijm.org/give/freedom-partner.  If you do, I’d love to hear about it!

You can give to another missionary or ministry at your local church.

A third option: We also want to let you know of another opportunity to continue to be involved in the work in Ghana through us. Over our two years in Ghana, we developed relationships with multiple aftercare shelters (with IJM clients), a literacy center for impoverished children (where Joy volunteered), a ministry to street kids around our city (Accra). We know the people who run these ministries very well and we are keenly aware of glaring needs they each have.

We are setting up a fund under the umbrella of Aslan Child Rescue Ministries (www.aslanchildrescue.org), run by a friend named John Ramey, that can be used to help with critical needs in these ministries to Ghanaian children in need. All admin costs are donated by the Board of Directors, so 100% of donations goes straight to projects serving children in need. You’ll receive a tax deduction receipt at the end of the year.  We will continue to send updates about how these funds are used to make a difference in children’s lives. If you would like more information about this, please let us know.  You can give online by clicking here.  You can also mail checks to Aslan Child Rescue Ministries, 1110 Rudger Way, Sacramento, CA 95833 (with “Ghana” in the memo line).

Thank you once again for sticking with us in the long haul of this work God in Ghana!

Matt Robbins