TWR Canada past-president Ray Alary blogged every Thursday, telling behind-the-scenes stories and ministry updates you won't find anywhere else. You can still access his stories and read about his time as a missionary with TWR.
“Neon lights” is a familiar saying in our house. Our daughter, Erin, is the one who came up with the phrase. Even though there are not as many as there used to be – unless you are in Las Vegas – most of us know what they are. In our minds, they are something that cannot be missed; they light up the sky and get your attention. So, what’s my point? You may be wondering how this is relevant to our day-to-day lives.
For our family, the term is used when God makes something really obvious to us. It is when he is clearly directing us to go a certain way; it is not something to be ignored. For my daughter, this has been very important. As she has gone through her career, she has asked for these lights, and, amazingly, God has given them to her every time she has had to make a major decision. For example, Erin’s transition from being a teacher to a principal involved a neon light. Through a friend who worked at the school, Erin knew about the principal position. However, she wasn’t going to apply because she wasn’t qualified academically. She actually said to me, “The only way I would do this is if I got a neon light.” Within 24 hours of making that statement, she got her neon light! It wasn’t a light in the sky; it was a phone call in the middle of the night offering her the job. And it included a plan for her to get the academic education needed.
Most of us have asked, “How do we know what God wants us to do?” at some point in our lives. And it’s an excellent question. While Sandy and I never called it a neon light, as we reflect on our life of walking with Christ, we see places where he has given us those neon lights over the last 41 years. It has taken many forms. The earliest one was how we determined if we should move to the Arctic.
The short version of this story is this. I was excited about the possibility; Sandy was not excited at all. Who in their right mind would want to live where it is dark three months of the year, light three months of the year, cold all the time, where there are no shopping malls, no roads that will get you to a shopping mall, and you are six hours on a 737 just to get to civilization? That was Sandy’s view. I can’t tell a lie: my motivation was money. Sandy didn’t care about the money; she simply didn’t want to go. In fact, Sandy said a flat-out “no”; then she started thinking maybe God had a purpose in all of this … but how would we determine God’s will?
Sandy came up with the fleece idea, and I thought it was a great one. To make a long story short, God gave us a neon light to go, so we went. Only years later would we see God’s plan. I maintained a power plant in the Arctic that was using identical equipment to the power plant I would eventually operate on Bonaire … as a missionary for TWR. I went to make money, but God was sending me to accomplish a much higher purpose.
Years after returning from the Arctic, we were living in Kenora and were put in touch with TWR through another mission organization. I was struggling with the idea of missions as I was mechanic, and missions is not about mechanics …. or at least that’s what I thought. I believed I didn’t have anything to offer, but again, God had another plan. TWR got in touch with us; we never contacted them. Part of our introduction and our process of determining if we would even consider this was for us to get a neon light telling us that we should pursue this opportunity. I was given the book, “Towers to Eternity.” As I was reading it, I thought it was an interesting story but I didn’t see how it pertained to our situation … until I turned a page somewhere near the centre of the book where it talked about Bonaire. There I saw a picture of two generators that were named, “Ma and Pa.” My eyes almost popped out my head! They were ALCO diesels, the very same engine I had worked on in the Arctic! God had just given us another neon light. That was in 1985, and the rest is history.
Before we would ever get to Bonaire, God would again provide us with a neon light, giving us clear direction to take a risk that few would probably take. We were struggling to raise our support. It was looking like it would take a very long time to raise our support, if we ever raised it at all. To this day, we are not sure who suggested what we would do next. The idea was to move to Toronto to raise the rest of our support. This may not seem crazy to you, but it truly was a crazy idea! We didn’t know anyone; we didn’t have a place to stay; we had no work, and we were going to support ourselves until we had raised the funds needed to go to Bonaire. How did we determine if we should go? Two simple things needed to happen: I needed part-time work, and we needed a place to stay for free. (And we also needed it to happen quickly as a new school year was starting.) God gave us neon lights within a few days. The part-time job fell into place within hours. I would work for another mission, and I could work whatever hours I was available. The housing situation took a few more days, but the short version is we were offered a house, and all we had to pay was utilities. We arrived there on September 29th, just a few days into the new school year.
As I write this blog and reflect on our years in ministry, there are literally hundreds of times when God has given us those neon lights to move ahead and just trust him. The end of the story of our moving to Toronto is that we raised 60% of our support in four months. God had once again given us the neon light.
Scripture is full of examples of God giving his people neon lights. Sometimes they trusted that God would work out the details; other times they simply did not obey. Have we obeyed every time? I would like to think we have, but I am pretty sure there were times those lights were flashing, and we simply ignored them.
These blogs are about life lessons. The lessons here are be observant, pay attention, watch for those lights and then be prepared to take action. By paying attention to those neon lights, we will have an amazing life of adventure with God.