In 2001, the Devineys went to Annual Conference with every expectation of being in Seguin for the next four years – through Aislinn’s HS graduation. At the opening worship service on the first night, we learned that we were moving to Austin so that I could serve Bethany. It was both a surprise and a shock. That night, I told Bishop Martinez that I was willing to go – as all good UMC pastors should be – but that I wanted a commitment to leave us in place until Forrest graduated from High School. Bishop Marinez was willing to commit to that with the proviso that the church remained happy with my leadership. At that time, we never imagined that we would stay beyond ten years. I am still incredulous that we have been with Bethany for 22 years!
While I find much to celebrate in those years, there are certain things that stand out in my memory: multiple building projects culminating in the construction of the Worship Center; the establishment of a small group movement/ministry; the engagement with the New Room movement; the huge expansion of mission and service ministries; and, for me especially, the amazing ministry I have seen God do in both El Salvador and Matete, Kenya.
I celebrate those events. But I am so grateful for the people of Bethany: The leadership teams I have been blessed to work with have taught me so much and strengthened me in many ways; the staff I have had the privilege to serve with has been a deep source of blessing and joy; the families who have honored me by inviting me to be part of weddings, funerals, Quinceaneras, reunions, anniversaries … all those significant events which mark the chapters of our lives; the constant support of prayer from the prayer team and many members at large; the warm and prayerful support when we suffered the deaths of my sister, mother, and step-father; the recent support and encouragement as we welcomed baby Thomas and struggled with his health issues; and the friendship that has been extended to us in so many loving ways. Your willingness to allow me time and space to experience God’s work in places ranging from Bethany’s front door to the far side of the world has stretched and expanded my understanding of the Kingdom of God in ways I never could have imagined.
But this is what I am most grateful for: you were the community of faith that significantly impacted our children. In the social circle of pastors, there are many stories of pastor’s kids (PKs) who have left the faith or engaged in destructive behavior – or both. Of course, there also stories of PKs who have grown up to be amazing servants of Christ. Often, we wonder why there is such a difference. But when we gather with pastor friends and share about our children, Cindi and I both are so very grateful that our children have matured into such amazing spouses, parents, and people of faith. In fact, we often are forced to admit that they are more mature as persons and stronger in their relationship with Christ than we were at their age. As we’ve marveled at and wondered about that, we have become very clear that we deserve little to no credit for it. God has blessed them deeply through His Holy Spirit and been at work in them way beyond our ability or comprehension. And God has surrounded them with wonderful communities of faith in Corpus Christi, Llano, Seguin, and Bethany. (God also blessed them with amazing spouses!) For the last 22 years, you were the community of faith that filled in the gaps in their personal growth and spiritual formation that Cindi and I either did not see or could not fill. You were the “village” that, with us, raised our children. For that, we are eternally grateful to you and to God.
There are so many things to celebrate and give thanks for in these years at Bethany. But seeing our children as mature husband, wife, parents, and spiritual leaders fills both of us with such deep and powerful gratitude that it is hard to find words that suffice. In Kenya, people would come up to us, take our hands, look deep into our eyes, beam a beatific smile, and tell us, “Asante Sana!” (Swahili for: “Thank you so very much!”) I invite you to picture Cindi and me doing the same. With joy and love, we say, “Asante Sana!”