I almost choked on the bite of muffin I had just taken when my friend Jill told me her husband had said that my husband Chris and I should move back to Arizona and plant a church. This conversation happened last February during a weekend trip to Phoenix. I had packed my schedule with catch-up-with-friend meetings because I figured I might not be back for years.
My last day in Phoenix, I met my dear friend Jill Rhodes for breakfast at a Paradise Bakery. We had a lot to catch up on because we hadn’t seen each other in eighteen months. I was surprised when she told me they had moved to a new area in Phoenix. I was also stunned to find out they were no longer involved at the church they had been leaders in for over thirty years.
“We feel God wants us to be a part of a church plant,” she said.
“Really? Which church?” I asked. She said they didn’t know yet. I told her I was encouraged to know God was calling people like them to help with church plants, because Chris feels God is calling him to plant a church (thinking of the growing Dallas suburbs). That’s when she dropped the bomb. She told me I would never believe what her husband David, known to be quite prophetic the fifteen years we have known him, had just said two weeks before. He had told her to call me and tell me that Chris and I needed to move back to Phoenix, plant a church, and they would help us get it off the ground. I was speechless. David said that?
After I got home and talked with Chris, I realized that the conversation with my friend Jill had kicked off a series of days of messages, one after another, from God, regarding our move to Phoenix. Chris and I received texts from friends with scripture verses they said God laid on their hearts for us, emails from friends encouraging us to have faith for whatever God tells us to do, sermons on the radio that spoke about stepping out in faith, scripture from our Bible readings and songs on the radio and at church that spoke directly to this issue of us answering God’s call to have faith and go. Within three days it was confirmed on every side, including a meeting with our pastor where he affirmed our church sending us to Phoenix to plant a church. Little did I know that meeting to catch up with a friend over a muffin would turn my world upside down and so soon we would know an interstate move was in our near future.
A few weeks later Chris and I were on a plane to Greater Phoenix with one mission: to discern what area the Lord would have us plant a church in a city spreading over 9,000 square miles with a population of 4.3 million. I was pretty sure I knew where we would relocate…next door to (or at least down the street from) Jill and David. After all, God had used Jill and David to get this ball rolling. Jill and I dreamed of morning hikes in the Sonoran desert foothills and the community center where we might lead women’s Bible studies together.
But we had no idea what God was doing in the heart of another dear friend. Our first night in Phoenix Chris mentioned how much he would like to see Darian, a kindred spirit Chris had led to the Lord seventeen years prior. Chris set up an early breakfast at Paradise Bakery with him for the next morning before we started our church location search.
That morning Darian told Chris his family was doing well and after having been away for years, they had settled back into life in Arizona. He shared that he carried a heavy burden for his community, the west valley of Phoenix. Darian explained that while the population had exploded, churches had not kept up with the growth. He said it had been so heavy on his heart that he actually had considered starting a church himself. He had even seriously looked at possible meeting locations. But then a mentor told Darian he believed he was to be an encourager that would come alongside a leader who God would send, just as the biblical Caleb came alongside leader Joshua.
Thinking that part of the discussion was over, Darian then asked Chris what had brought him to Phoenix that weekend. Chris and Darian were both overwhelmed with emotion as they shared an “I might be your Joshua” moment.
Interestingly enough, many people through the years have talked about Chris’ “Joshua spirit.” Our former pastor Jeff Warren drew a caricature of Chris a few years ago that depicts him as Joshua, leading the people.
Just before leaving Phoenix that weekend, we met with Jill and David at Paradise Bakery and talked about how we felt God was leading. We all agreed the location was to be the west valley, and Jill and David said they were all in and would make the half-hour drive.
A lot is cookin’ up at Paradise Bakery these days…and the bakers and their muffins are just a side story. The real story is God himself, leading us at times and places we least expect. “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43.) I know I’m taking the verse out of context, but I can’t help but notice the pattern of unexpected meetings with Jesus at this place. Yes, Father, we are feeling a little bit of Heaven on Earth.
Funny thing is…Chris and I had a date today before I sat down to write this blog. Where did we go? We both had a craving for a Paradise Bakery salad and zucchini muffin.