I arrived in Wichita on the 20th of May. The next day Rodney and his family, plus another man I had met in April came and helped me unload. Over the next week I spent time getting the house set up. What a joy it was to once again be in a home of our own. Each day I unpacked boxes and left everything so Carol could simply decide where to put it when she arrived.
Carol and the kids arrived on May 27th, my 42nd birthday. They had a surprise for me when they arrived. They had picked up Christopher my oldest son from the airport in Dallas. Christopher had just completed his schooling with the Navy and had some leave time built up. He decided to surprise me for my birthday…what a great surprise it was.
On Sunday I introduced my family to the family at 4CI and over the next few days we spent a great deal of time with my parents settling into our home. My dad was always the project enthusiast I knew him to be. He brought fence repair supplies, air conditioning filters, a futon for Collin and many other items. He and Collin also began working on several projects including a portable solar battery charger and an electric car made out of PVC pipe affectionately known as “Tweety Bird.” Caitlyn spent her days at the local pool and participated in synchronized swimming.
Our house became grand central station as we began to renew old friendships. Over the first several weeks we had the opportunity to reconnect with some of our closest friends and we began to see the opportunities God was laying out before us. I also began a mentoring relationship with Ryan, a young man I had known in Dodge City when he was just a boy. Ryan and I agreed to journey through life together and met weekly during the summer months.
Over the summer we spent time with my parents each week and throughout the week, my dad would show up with bundles of “supplies” under his arm. We also spent time praying about our ministry here in Wichita. We plugged into a home Bible study in our neighborhood and continued to attend 4CI on Sundays. In August the Lord prompted us to begin a home group with 4CI and to make 4CI our church home. I looked forward to this group starting, as I was yearning to teach again. During the latter part of summer I found myself being prompted to pray through the possibility of returning to my overseas work in both Africa and India. I contacted my partnering pastors in those regions and tentative dates were set for the winter and spring of 2013.
As we drew close to the beginning of the school year we prayed for direction for our kids. Caitlyn had asked to be home schooled, but Collin wanted to attend public school so he could try out for football. Ultimately, both kids would get their wish, Collin began attending North high and Caitlyn enrolled in the Andover e-Cademy. Carol was able to bring her job from Corpus Christi with her and she also took on another job a day and half per week to provide some additional income.
When school started we found ourselves busy with football practices and weekly games. Our group unfortunately only lasted a few weeks and then disbanded. My dad was thrilled getting to watch his grandson play football and he recorded every game (even though Collin only played about 4-5 minutes each game).
Around the start of school, something else took place. Rodney contacted me about another local church planter, named Scott Parks who had a heart for Uganda. This church planter had been to Uganda before, but his contacts had fallen through. Rodney put us in contact with one another. Scott and I began meeting and quickly found a kindred spirit. I told him that I was planning on returning to the region in early January and invited him to go. Scott not only agreed, but offered to cover my airfare as well. Within a few weeks our team grew as we added Nathanael Parks, a college student who is looking to spend a year in West Africa doing mission work. The three of us will be returning traveling to Kenya and Uganda January 2-21, 2013 where we will be working alongside my partner pastor Apostle Adams.
As we entered into October football season ended and it was time to celebrate the kids birthdays and get Collin’s learner’s permit. Caitlyn turned 11 on the 11th and Collin turned 15 on the 29th. The week before Collin’s birthday, I felt the Lord calling me to a day of prayer. During that time the Lord spoke to me extensively about a changing of season in my life and an elevating of my work. The weekend of Collin’s birthday, my aunt also came to visit. We celebrated their birthdays with my parents, little did I know that Collin’s birthday would be the last time I would talk to my dad or see him alive.
On Wednesday October 31, 2 days after Collin’s birthday, my dad had gone down to the county Emergency Operations Center that morning to do his weekly volunteer work. Caitlyn had finished her school work early, so she went over to their house to spend time with my mom around 1:30. About 2:15, I heard a frantic knock at the front door and I opened it to find Caitlyn visibly shaken and out of breath. She told me that grandpa had collapsed and that mom couldn’t get him to respond. I jumped in the car with Caitlyn and arrived at their house as the ambulance was pulling up. I entered the house to find my dad laid out on the floor, with a crew of paramedics performing CPR and using a defibrillator on my dad. I looked at his eyes and knew he was gone. I ushered Caitlyn outside where a pastor friend was in the yard and I left her with him. I watched as my mother screamed and cried, begging my dad not to go, but he was already gone. My mom’s worst fears had become reality and I now felt the weight of the mantle of being the patriarch of the Willis family coming to rest on my shoulders.
The questions about my ministry in Wichita were now clear. My ministry here is to care for my mother. Over the next few hours, I began to realize how God’s hand had been so powerfully at work. My dad had gone to the bank after leaving the Emergency Operations Center and cleared out his safe deposit box. He had made it safely home, placed the contents of the box on the couch and had gone downstairs and died. Everything needed to put his affairs in order, he had brought home. Dad had been allowed to spend the prior weekend with his sister and he had spent the entire summer with his grandchildren. Dad had shattered my mom’s peace by talking of preparation and yet that shattering of peace had prepared her to let go. God had called my family back to Wichita and placed us two blocks away from my parents. Dad had begun to talk to me about his passing a year earlier. As I reflected backward on these things, I was struck by the way God had been preparing us for this day….in spite of my pain, I knew God was in control.
The following Tuesday, I preached my dad’s funeral. I have preached many funerals in my lifetime, but this was by far the most difficult. I knew that dad would want me to tell those in attendance about Jesus and that is what I did. Over the past 5 weeks, many who would never talk to my mom about the things of faith have shared their continued touch from this message. Some have a new openness towards Christ, but one has also firmly shut the door.
In the week that my dad died I found myself speaking twice at 4CI and also at his funeral. I had been yearning to speak again and in his passing those opportunities came forth. I believe there was a great spiritual significance to his passing, that I may never fully understand. 2 weeks after he was buried, I returned to the cemetery and wept. I paced around the grave site and said the things that I wish I could have said before he left. I then began to hear the Lord speaking into my spirit about the mantle that had been passed and the example that had been set. It was now my turn to be a father to the next generation.
In the 5 weeks since my dad went home, I have seen the Lord holding my mom closely to Him. I have seen a strength in her that is not her own and I have also seen the Lord bring forth a new depth in relationship between she and I. My mom and I have shared many laughs and shed many tears, but we find an unspeakable joy even in our sorrow.
As we approach Christmas I find myself reflecting on the years I had with my dad and looking ahead to my time in Africa. The Lord has blessed me with many sons, both physical and spiritual. He has also given me a great example to follow as I now take the lead.