This is the 2nd post in a five-part series.
At our first board meeting in February 2009 we spent a considerable amount of time praying for each other. I had chosen a board of men who had mentored me or friends who had mentored them. I remember Dave Deuel turning to me and saying, “This is going to be bigger than you realize.”
The big issue of course was money. I was still pastoring part-time at Pine City, which was not enough to feed my family. We lived on food stamps during that time. I called a few people I knew and sent a letter to a few others. Having grown up in a loving but non-evangelical home, I did not know a lot of evangelicals who could give. All of my Christian friends were either new pastors or still in seminary.
Tom Steller and I decided to write a letter that was sent out in the Bethlehem Star, which at that time was mailed out to the entire church and people who had requested it be sent to them. One of those subscribers was a seminary student attending Trinity. When he read the overview of what we were planning to do, he emailed me and said he and his wife wanted to support what we were doing. I thanked him politely for his interest and gave him my home address, where all donations were mailed. Two weeks later I received their gift - a $25,000 check made out to Training Leaders International. I ran into the house screaming to show my wife. I never knew a seminary student could write a check over $100.
I immediately dumped all of it into a website and by early 2010 we were up and running. Somewhere toward the end of 2009 I had a lead on three potential trips. One to Kenya, where my best friend was a missionary. One to Uganda, to a new school I got connected to when their missionary came to Bethlehem asking for support. The last one was to Tunisia, to be led by a board member.
With a website, recognizable board members and the name of Bethlehem Baptist Church
endorsing what I was doing, I emailed seminaries letting them know of our existence in the hope of recruiting some of their students. It worked, and in the summer of 2010 I led a team to Kenya with two couples from Covenant Seminary, a former missionary (now on staff), a young man desiring to be in ministry and a church planter. The first night half the team slept on the floor of my house and we ate my wife’s awesome spaghetti together. When in Kenya we taught theological foundations to pastors from the Anglican diocese and Pentecostal pastors in various slums. I was the leader and mentor. When I was gone my wife processed all the donations.
When I returned I spent 8 days at home and then turned around and led a trip to Uganda. I even left the team 5 days early to get back in time for my friend's wedding. He now serves on the board.
Training Leaders International was launched. Of course, the devil hates me and while I am not one to identify whether the devil is involved in anything, it’s hard not to believe he was after me, restrained by the gracious leash of God.
In the early stages of TLI I worked part-time and tried to piece together enough to live. It crushed us financially. I also fell down the stairs, and while the Apple computer I was holding made it, I got a hairline fracture in my spine. Our house was randomly spray painted with a swastika and racial slurs. Our appliances broke. Our kids got really sick. On the first trip to Kenya all three of my kids (3 and under) got pink eye and when I returned for 8 days from Uganda, I spent a lot of the time in bed sick myself. God was in it, but it was tough. I wish I could say my prayer life consisted of long trusting prayers and sweet fellowship with God. They were more abrupt and desparate. I didn't know what else to do.
We were also unsure of whether TLI would be financially feasible long-term and I began looking at churches to see whether I could combine my role with TLI with a Senior Pastorate. One church in Colorado became a very strong possibility, but in the middle of the process, their church had a big blow up and they went with the more experienced candidate. We were left to trust God would provide for our family.
Our first trip to Kenya in 2010 also coincided with leaving Pine City. The last Sunday in June we said an emotional goodbye and two weeks later I was headed overseas. I was now full-time with TLI with no promise of a paycheck in July. God knew.
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.