Vanderveen Story pt. 1
Vanderveen Story pt. 1
By Chase Vanderveen
Prayer is what got us here.
And I don't mean the occasional praying in our heads some nights, tucked into our covers, minds drifting away into dreamland only half-focused on what we are saying to the Lord and half-focused on some event from our day—kind of prayer. I mean worshipful, focused, time-consuming, passionate, faithful, actually-on-our-knees daily prayer. That kind of prayer got us to this place. That kind of prayer is why my husband, Robbie, and I live in low-income, majority refugee housing here in Omaha. But it was quite a journey to this shabby space that has become the single greatest thing to ever happen to me outside of my Salvation and my marriage to my precious husband.
It is May 2018 as I write this now, but the story starts in March 2016. In March two years ago, our church, Citylight Benson, hosted a Holy Spirit conference. It was in those two days that I became vastly aware of not only my neglect of the Holy Spirit in my entire faith journey but my intense need for Him. I was thankful for truthful reminders that the Spirit was God's merciful gift to us so that we would not be alone on this earth after Jesus was resurrected and that we would have another advocate in the Spirit. (John 14:16-20). I knew the Spirit was within me now, as He had always been, but now I was passionately calling on His name, pursuing Him, and asking for His guidance every day. It began radically changing my heart and Robbie's too.
Surrendering to His Call
A few things were happening at the same time in 2016. I was a full-time wedding photographer running my own business, and by the end of April of that year, I felt a powerful urging from the Spirit that I was not supposed to book any work for Autumn of 2017, a year and a half later. There was no indication to me of why, but I was on a life-changing path of daily reading, praying, seeking, and finding (as God so wonderfully promises: Matthew 7:7, Jeremiah 29:13). So as I felt that very certain urging from the Lord, I knew I didn't need to know "why," I just needed to say, "Yes, Your Will be done." I announced this to Robbie as soon as he returned home from work that same day. His total trust in God and affirmation of me and what I heard was such a picture of the Gospel—total faith and surrender, even when he didn't hear that word himself but he knew it was for both of us. So, we began to pray and pray and pray some more, reading scripture just as much, together and separately. These acts of worship were so interwoven into our daily lives throughout that year, that I found Jesus in everything. And even though I didn't have the answer or a clear plan, it was my joy to walk in that dependence on Jesus with my husband. My faith was tested, as I began receiving dozens of inquiries for weddings in the time frame God had told me to let go of. I said no to each of them, blindly, not having any idea what God was going to do. Of course there was a little bit of swallowing my own pride knowing people would never see those job inquiries, they'd only see my lack of work—and I was always selfishly determined for people to see that I could be successful running my own business. But it only seems risky now, because in those months, it felt like everything but a risk. It was full surrender in a way I had never experienced before. I knew my Jesus was going to make His will known in His perfect timing. I had radical faith for it.
The posture of my heart was different because of the literal and physical posture of my body. Being on my knees every day, bowed before my great King, allowed me the humble opportunity to bond deeper with my Father and see His greatness at work from a better vantage point. What our body does affects our souls, and I was seeing it more and more across the next year.
In addition to this, in spring of 2016, Robbie and I were leading a Bible study and looking for a way for our group to serve in the community regularly. An acquaintance at the time (now-turned close friend), Quinn, was looking for people in our church who were willing to dedicate time to starting an ESL ministry with some Karen (pronounced "Kuh-Ren") refugees. It would just be once a week on Sunday afternoons. We would go to their apartment complex on 51st and NW Radial Hwy, sit on their floor, teach English and be their friends. We didn't know anything about refugees in general, much less anything about this particular Burmese minority group. We had zero qualifications and If I'm being completely raw and honest with you, we never saw it as something that might impact us, but only as a way we could impact others. And that disappoints me now to think about that. What a Mighty God we serve that He would still use that faithless "yes" to change us for His glory. Little did I know this dirty, bed-bug-ridden, oftentimes smelly place that I, at the time, was so happy to spend only an hour a week in and get to leave it for my nice, well-kept apartment in Dundee, would be my future address, my future home, my future heart place. I wouldn't have believed it if you would have told me.
By the end of the summer, Robbie and I were certain the Lord was asking us to leave the country, travel, and open our minds to new people, places and experiences. There were things He wanted us to see, lessons He wanted to teach us, people He wanted us to meet. And He was asking us to just go, with no real plan, for months. Questions abounded. "How would we pay for this?" "What about Robbie's job?" "Can this truly glorify God?" "What will people think?" But we said, "yes" and remembered how a life chasing after your Savior is way more thrilling and extraordinary than any story you could ever write on your own.
Over the next year before we left on our journey through 15 countries and 22 cities, our once-a-week ESL time with our Karen friends became something we were waking up in the morning thinking about and going to sleep thinking about. These people, this culture, their stories, their kindness, their love, their welcoming nature. All of it was pointing us to Jesus and we wanted more of it. What had once been an obligation, was now an unimaginable privilege. With my flexible photography schedule, I was able to make time for them during the day when they had appointments and other needs. I was beginning to see that maybe the Lord's end goal in photography was not for me to be this great "photographer" but more so, to give me the opportunity and profound blessing of a schedule that would allow for these new relationships to form.
August 5, 2017, we embarked on our grand journey—a one-way ticket out of the U.S. with no exact route or return ticket. There are unceasing amounts of words I could say about our four-plus months around the world through Europe and Southeast Asia and Asia, but Gabe told me I have to keep this essay to 1,600 words and I'm already to 1,400. So, I will say this: my heart was absolutely captivated by two things: the utter kindness of strangers no matter where we were in the world, and the extreme beauty of language (and how through no effort of my own, I have been privileged with speaking the language that most of the world accommodates. This was utterly humbling.). I knew that if we were going to come back to Omaha, it was going to be alongside the people and culture we loved most dearly, and it would involve me attempting to learn their language.
When we returned in December of 2017, I will admit, I felt frustrated with the Lord for not giving us any clarity about moving overseas. I thought for sure we would come back from our trip and have no doubt about where God wanted us and how He wanted to use us-- after all, I had turned down more than 25 weddings for the year in order to have nothing holding us back from being "all-in" on God's plan. I do know we had prayed and read the Word and prayed some more and read some more and prayed even more and we still didn't know. I know now that so much of my expectations for knowing what plan God had for us was rooted in my own pride and selfishness. Because, as Americans, our identities are so wrapped up in our careers, I felt I needed to have a firm identity to hand people every time they asked the question, "So what are you going to do now that you're back?" so I would believe in my own legitimacy and in God’s. I really put God in a box and it was so wrong of me. We came back having made little to no progression toward understanding the path God had for us in 2018. So we continued to ask the question, “What do you have for us God? We will do anything.” The nudging inside of us was crystal clear. We were supposed to move into that shabby apartment complex on 51st and NW Radial Hwy. You know, the one where we left our hearts before we left five months before.
Even though it seemed right on paper, and seemed great to speak out loud, it did not seem great to my selfish, privileged heart. I tried to negotiate with God about moving into a house nearby the apartments, so that we could still be there often, but then we wouldn't have to actually move into the place with centipedes and bed bugs and mice and smells and toilets that sink into the ground and lack of hot water and did I say bugs?? But God wanted our full yes. And moving in across the street into a perfect home safe from any sacrifice was not only just a half-hearted yes, but actually a "no." And Robbie confidently reminded me of that time and time again. We needed to give God our yes; our full, unadulterated, passionate, faithful YES. Because Jesus sacrificed so much more than what we could ever sacrifice. He gave up perfection in Heaven to come to this dirty, rotten earth to redeem us and bring us salvation. He made the low, high and the high, low. And trust me, this was such a small sacrifice as I see it now. So we did it, we moved in on January 6th, 2018. It wouldn't be fair if I didn't tell you I did it kicking and screaming because I don't want any reader to just think this story happened like a fairytale or believe for a second that God's will is always going to appear like the best option or the dream life. But what I DO want you to get out of this story is that being on your knees, begging God for His will to be done in your life, giving him your "anything" He asks of you, and following through will take risk, guts, and tough obedience, but even greater reward, even greater peace and much greater joy than you will ever be able to muster on your own through you being in control of your story. Travelling was phenomenal and wild and beautiful, but being here in Omaha, walking alongside these beautiful people has been the truest and greatest adventure of our lives and Jesus has never been more real to me than now.
So will you be on your knees this week and this month and this year? Will you tell God you will do anything for Him with no exceptions? He has planned good works in advance for each of His children to do (Ephesians 2:10) and He is asking for your "Yes" to accomplish them. And He has given you an advocate in the Spirit to guide you every step of the way and an advocate in Jesus that already paid the cost of your sins (hallelujah!). So don't be afraid. I promise it'll be the most worthwhile thing you will ever do.
“I want you to see that the crazy people in this world are those who experience God’s love and remain complacent, not those who let go of all they have and follow Him completely.” -Francis Chan