How did we get from agreeing to move to Canada to being approved as Church Planters with the North American Mission Board? All the deets are below!
May 19, 2014 - I contact Canadian church planter Chris Ney and tell him Amber and I are committed to coming to Alberta. He directs me the North American Mission Board (NAMB) website, and I fill out the initial application.
May 19, 2014 - NAMB has me complete an exhaustive assessment program to determine if I have the right "personality" and history to be a church planter. After several hours and hundreds of questions, it turns out that my strengths are casting vision, inspiring others, and communicating. My weaknesses are overlooking details, failing to see goals all the way through to completion, and needing to be liked.
May 26, 2014 - I begin the official application to be a church planter with the North American Mission Board. It is quite involved, and I get it nearly all filed out. I hit a problem though when it comes to references. Our references will be our pastor and several friends here at Medulla. That means telling them that we are leaving.
I am really not looking forward to this.
May 27, 2014 - Because of crazy summer schedules, we decide to put off telling our plans to those friends we will use as references. June 16-20 we will be in Summer Camp in SC, and June 29-July 5th we will be on the mission to trip Cochrane, AB that started this whole mess.
John and Shari Burkey will be references for us, and are coming on the trip to Canada. They are also our closest friends and will be the hardest to tell. We decide not to tell them prior to leaving for the mission trip. Our fear is that while in Canada, they will focus on our coming departure, and miss out on the fun and ministry of the trip. I realize we are not giving them enough credit, but we decide this is the best way to handle it.
June 29th-July 5th, 2014 – We spend the week in Canada, in the summer this time. Our ministry consists of knocking doors and conducting community surveys for hours each day. We find out Canadians are VERY polite, but most are not interested in religion at all. We also host community barbeques in the evenings. These are very well attended and we make some great connections with people in the community. It is exciting that some of the people you talked to while knocking doors earlier in the day came to the parties!
Our team falls in love with the people, and the area as well. Canada is so like the US and nothing like the US, at the same time!
July 8th, 2014 - We have John and Shari over for dinner. We tell them what we are planning. It's an ambush. It's unfair, and I feel like a jerk. But there is no other way to do it. I can barely talk.
Though sad, they are extremely supportive. They've seen the need in Canada
July 10th, 2014 – We tell our pastor, Mark. He is surprised but extremely supportive, and willing to help us however he can. He gives us full freedom on our timeline and announcing to Medulla. I’m grateful for his support!
We bring in a few other people - we will need their help in prayer, and as references for NAMB applications. Everyone is encouraging and supportive.
When we tell family, they are cautiously supportive. I think they aren't sure if we are really serious or if we have really thought this through. They ask tons of questions, many of which we don't have answers to yet. I think this worries them, and they don't love seeing us move out of the country.
I do know their concern is motivated out of love for us.
July 21st, 2014 - I continue my official NAMB church planter application. It consists of about 6 different in-depth assessment tools (e.g. personality/temperament, spiritual gifts, marital assessment, 3rd party inventories), background checks (criminal and credit), references for both Amber and I, and several other things.
The hardest is the personal assessment tools. The questions are difficult, and you realize how hard it is to be honest with/about yourself. The good news is that all testing, checks, references, etc come back show that I am a good candidate to be a church planter! Being a church planter is a very specialized sort of ministry and not everyone has the gifting and personality to succeed. The tests say I do, but only time will tell if they are right.
I finish all aspects of the application on August the 20th.
August 1st, 2014 - Amber and I spend countless hours researching Calgary in an attempt to discover where to plant a new church. There is so much to consider: Who are we trying to reach? (in general, we believe it will be young Anglo Calgarians). Where are they concentrated? (In the northwest, southwest, and in bedroom communities like Airdrie, Chestermere, Cochrane etc) Where are there evangelical churches currently? Where are there very few? Should we live in Calgary or focus on the satellite/bedroom towns?
One of the biggest issues is housing. We will have to rent a home, but 3 bedroom homes rent for $2000-$2500 per month. That's double what we pay to own in Florida! Plus we have to find a place that will allow our two dogs to come with us. Yikes!
We have to trust God will give us the right place at the right time.
August 10th, 2014 - Amber and I decide that we need to go to Calgary and spend several days exploring communities and talking with people who live there. We schedule our trip for Sept 11th - 16th.
August 27th, 2014
We schedule a meeting with Stan Felder, NAMB's Church Planting Catalyst in Alberta. I've spoken with Stan a few times on the phone so this will give us the chance to meet in person and talk about the process of moving and planting.
September 2014 - I begin to work on the design for our prayer cards. I want something attractive, informative and engaging. Also, Amber and I are trying to come up with a "name" for our time of deputation (when missionaries gather needed support and prepare for the move). We know we want a website, Facebook page and more so that people can learn what we are doing, where and why. But we have really struggled to come up with something more appealing than "The Sweazas move to Canada."
It doesn't have much of a ring to it.
Several days later, God gives us some inspiration out of the blue: "Follow Us North" - a phrase that generally encompasses where we are going, the informational aspect (like "following" on twitter, and the partnering aspect ("Follow us north as a church planter or on a short term mission trip") we buy www.FollowUsNorth.com, as well as register @FollowUsNorth on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
September 11th, 2014 - We fly to Calgary and go immediately to a leadership meeting for Vertical Church. Amber and I sit in as they plan that Sunday's 1 year anniversary service. The group also discusses some of their frustrations with planting and with NAMB. It was a little overwhelming to get hit with as soon as you step off the plane, (and after you have committed to uprooting your life and moving there). But, we do appreciate their honesty and are reminded that we are about to enter a long and difficult journey.
September 12th, 2014 - First thing, we go to the bank to open some Canadian and US dollar accounts at TD Canada. Afterward, Amber and I get into an argument with each other. The combination of jet lag, the complaints we heard last night, and the weight of what we are planning hits us hard.
We sit in a rental car, crying in the bank parking lot. We ask ourselves a really tough question: Are we sure we really want to do this? To be perfectly honest, in that moment we weren't sure. I tell Amber that we can still decide to stay in Lakeland. The embarrassment of changing our minds now will be far less than moving up here and moving back only a few months later. The one thing we both agree on, though, is that God is calling us to Calgary. That was has always been very clear. We decide that the most important thing to each of us is to be able to say we followed when God called. We catch our breath and decide to go check out some neighborhoods; maybe it will remind us of the need for people like us to sacrifice their lives to go and share the gospel.
We visit Airdrie (a bedroom community to the north), and Panorama hills (subdivision on the north side of Calgary). Both are wonderful communities and ripe with opportunity. But, we don't feel an obvious leading from God to either location.
September 13th, 2014 - We spend the day in Canmore, Alberta. We do some hiking and picture taking, enjoying one of the most beautiful places on earth.
That evening, we go to a Calvary Stampeders football game. Tens of thousands of people are gathered to watch Canadian Football (which has substantially different rules than American football - Why are there only three downs?). We are reminded that God created every single one of these people, and He loves them every bit as much as He does us. They are the reason we are coming.
September 14th, 2014 – We attend Vertical Church’s one-year anniversary service. It’s awesome to see several brand new families visiting. Amber helps lead worship. Later that afternoon, we drive to the easternmost bedroom community we are considering, a town called Chestermere.
We drive around Chestermere and even get out to walk around the town's central lake. Everybody we talk to loves Chestermere and gushes about what a great place it is to live. The town reminds Amber and I of Lakeland, just a bit.
Afterward, we head to Symons Valley on the far north side of Calgary. It is a collection of 5-6 brand new subdivisions (several of which are still in the build out phase). Amber and I immediately see the potential of the area and we pray that God would give direction and power to our plans.
September 15th, 2014 - We start the day by meeting with Stan Felder and Dan Morgan (NAMB's head honchos). It is essentially our final interview before approval as church planters. After sharing our calling, timeline and vision with them, they give us some great advice on moving to Alberta. They also have some questions for us regarding our strategy for planting after we get to Calgary. Because we are running short on time, they invite us to dinner that night to finish the interview.
During the afternoon, we had planned on looking at a few other locations around Calgary, but we felt so strongly about Chestermere and Symons Valley that we went back there to spend more time and pray over the locations. We still didn't get specific confirmation about where we should plant, but God did reaffirm a passion for both communities.
That evening, we conclude our interview with Stan and Dan. We go over our assessment results, and they challenge us in some areas where we need some more training or strength.
They give us our official approval as church planters with the Southern Baptist Convention, and we set a start date of August 1st, 2015.
September 16th, 2014 - Amber and I arrive home in Florida, and several people in our church ask (only half jokingly) why we have been gone so much. They wonder if we are taking a position at another church.
December 2014 – We spend the month of December finalizing our informational and financial infrastructures ahead of January announcement. Our website, social media accounts, prayer and contact cards, plant prospectus, video and more are completed.
My mind constantly mulls over the January announcement that we are leaving. What do I say? How will folks respond? What will happen to the student ministry after I’m gone? It’s a tough time, only made tougher by the realization that in just a few short weeks, everything will change.