Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A New Category for Involuntary Isolation

Written by: on March 19, 2015

It was sixteen years later when I found myself sitting once again in the seats of my first church. I was a member of this church after my salvation at the age of 18. It was in this church where I began ministering to junior high kids, received my calling to ministry and it was here that Michelle and I were married. Sixteen years had passed. Since leaving, I had been training for ministry, engaged in ministry, and felt that I had failed in ministry. I had resigned my senior pastor roll of my church in Wichita, Kansas and launched out into international missions work.

Unfortunately, partnership raising was not going to well. Bills were piling up next to fear and there were more no’s to our request of financial partnership than there were yes’s. We are back in our hometown and home church to do partnership development, the task that every missionary living on faith must do to generate the finances that will eventually allow the missionary to do what God is called them to do. If ever there was an isolation that would fit into both of Trebesch’s categories of voluntary and involuntary isolation, it is launching out in full-time faith mission work. You want to go out and do ministry but you first have to raise the finances which could isolate you from doing any ministry at all.

Back in Beaumont, TX, after a week of entering into lavish homes only to be rejected because of perceived tight budgets and small hearts we were in despair. Sitting on that familiar row where I once sat as a young exuberant, excited, and newly called minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I, now a seasoned-weary-worn veteran of ministry was questioning everything. As a father of four I had left the comfort of the shores of provision to launch out into deep waters where I believed God to be calling me to serve him in a new way. Yet the nets were not full and night after night there was no great catch to haul in. WHAT HAVE I DONE??

Where was God and His “faithful provision,” His, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” presence? As hard as it was for me I knew that it was even more so for Michelle who, as every woman, appreciates security. It was when my thoughts turned to her that the preaching ended and she went down front for the prayer time. She did not need to inform me of what she was going down for. We had bills back home that needed to be paid and our efforts this week turned up nothing toward dealing with them. I’m sure the same struggle that was going on in my heart was also raging in her’s. She came back to the seats with an unusual expression on her face. I could not decipher what emotions she was exhibiting. Yet there seem to be a peace that “surpassed all understanding.”

Later Michelle shared with me what God has spoken to her using a very powerful image. As I had deduced correctly she was pouring her heart out to the Lord requesting financial assistance for the many obligations we had to cover and having no provisions with which to address them. Suddenly she saw hands, as if they were coming down from heaven. One of the hands began to pick up, something similar to birdseed, provision of some sort. It placed an amount in the other hand which then Michelle reached out and took. When that hand was emptying it would be refilled and Michelle once again took the provision. The Lord then spoke very profoundly to Michelle’s heart. “During this season you will learn to feed out of my hand.”

We did not voluntarily choose to enter into a season of financial distress, emotional struggle, nor isolation from ministry, but that morning marked the beginning of a four-year process that we truly learned to feed from his hand. It was during this season that, regardless of our efforts, our partnerships for missionary work reached only 50% of our needed budget and increased no more. I ended up with six part-time jobs: substitute teaching, coaching gymnastics at two different gyms, handyman with my own business, on call chaplain at a heart hospital, volunteering as the mission director at a new church, and trying to do missions ministry as I could manage. It was a difficult and isolated season; one that met all the characteristics of Trebesch’s involuntary isolation yet not listed as one of the reasons. It was not sickness or injury. It was not imprisonment. It was not organizational discipline, nor war or natural disasters. P. 31. Our involuntary isolation was do to a lack of finances. Yet in the midst of this isolation God worked all the benefits that Trebesch listed out.

All three of the transformations that Trebesch listed out took place. There was inward transformation, spiritual transformation, and ministerial transformation. Our dependency on God increased as we continued to be isolated from full-time ministry. There were many times I was doing some kind of handyman job that I would cry out, “how much longer Lord?” I hated my jobs and was very frustrated till God changed my perspective and I realized that it was his hand that provided even the very jobs that I despised. During this season we truly learned how to eat out of God’s hand.

About the Author

Mitch Arbelaez

International Mission Mobilizers with Go To Nations Living and traveling the world from Jacksonville Florida

6 responses to “A New Category for Involuntary Isolation”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Mitch, thanks so much for sharing your very personal and hurtful story of financial struggle. What you went through would have overwhelmed the best of us, but the person I see today that came through these experience is a man of great faith, wisdom and joy in the Lord. You are a great example of how these isolation experiences can grow a person rather than crushing them. I am wondering how much you learned through that experience — not only about God’s provisions, but about yourself! I am presently working with a spiritual advisor who went through an amazing transformation of life and ministry and attitude a few years ago, and he suggested that as he came to know God more, he also came to learn to better love and appreciate his wife so much more. It seems that you too found great closeness and encouragement through your wife through these experiences as well! Maybe this is an area too that we should explore, how isolation might be a good tool to strengthen marriage. Thanks Mitch for sharing your story. The more I learn about you, the more I am blessed and encouraged by your life and your ministry. Keep up the great work!

    • Indeed John. My wife and I did grow closer together through this time. She played a very significant role in helping us reach our goals that allowed us to move to Jacksonville. We often say it if it was not for her we would still be living in Wichita doing multiple part-time jobs. There is a growing closer together that takes place through the process but also a danger that the intensity of the isolation causes friction within a marriage. Too much friction in isolation causes further isolation from each other. This is never good. I do not see how couples survive intense times without the Lord.

  2. Deve Persad says:

    Hey Mitch, thanks for sharing this story. It has been an encouragement to get to know you on this side of these experiences, although I know that you continue to face some of these battles regularly. As you think about your call to ministry, as a pastor and then your call to mission work, what were the main differences in your preparation for them? The reason for my question, is that there have been a few occasions where you have shared the difficulties and disappointments of pastoral ministry compared to the joy that you obviously have for your current work. If you had benefitted from these later lessons, prior to entering pastoral ministry, do you think the outcomes could have been different?

    • I would definitely have to say yes to the question. Had I had some of these experiences prior to my past pastoral work, my work would have been so much different. It was a crucible time that God used to drain me of my own self sufficiency and create a greater dependence on him and him alone. I learned so much in seminary that had I not had that training my time as a pastor would have been an even more difficult time. Though seminary education provided certain strengths there were other deficiencies that had to be made up only through real life experiences. What I would do is actually assisting me in when I do today assisting past navigate the difficult waters of pastoral ministry. One pastor friend of mine, commenting on my experiences at my church, said that I was experiencing several things of which any one of them would have been an extremely transforming experience. I had the blessing of going through several of them in my short stint of 7 1/2 years as lead pastor. Perhaps God knew what he was doing in preparing me to assist pastors around the world.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Wow Mitch,
    What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing something so personal and so touching. What an amazing picture God gave to Michelle. He certainly knows how to meet us when we’re in desperate need of Him.
    It’s really wonderful to hear what God did during those four years. His ways are so different to ours, but He knows what He’s doing. You’ve encouraged me Mitch to not question the ‘why’s’ of where we find ourselves, but just to trust Him with the journey. A great blog. Thank you.

  4. Mitch,

    Thanks for sharing this very encouraging post. I loved reading it.

    We have very different journeys but also some similarities. I, too, have lived through a faith-missionary season. I know what that is like. And, frankly, I didn’t like it. It made me feel like I was living in a fish bowel. During that season, I also had to supplement my income, so I also did menial jobs. But, like you, I began to see that this was just as much God’s hand of provision as was money that would come in through donors. For me and my story, I decided to leave full-time ministry altogether. Since then, God has provided in many ways for me and my family, mostly though an old-fashioned concept called “hard work.” He has opened amazing doors for me and my wife as I entered into higher education and I have seen His hand provide for us again and again, even when my wife retired in July. I am grateful for the many ways that God provides, even and especially in those seasons of difficulty.

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