Hardship can foster joy, Harper tells ministers' wives

DALLAS (BP) -- Even when his life was falling apart, Job clung tenaciously to the truth that God is good, Lisa Harper told a sold-out crowd of 1,200 ministers' wives at the 2018 Ministers' Wives Luncheon on June 12.

Even when his life was falling apart, Job found joy in tenaciously clinging to the truth that God is good, Lisa Harper told a sold-out crowd of 1,200 ministers' wives during the SBC annual meeting.
Photo by Adam Covington
The theme of joy, in fact, is all through the Old Testament book, but "you have to get to the pit to get there," said Harper, a popular speaker and author of "Job: An Unlikely Story of Joy" and "The Sacrament of Happy."

Harper, who spoke at the gathering in Dallas at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, also is mom to Melissa (Missy) Price Harper, whom she adopted from Haiti in 2014.

Missy's biological mother died from undiagnosed AIDS, leaving Missy orphaned with HIV, tuberculosis and severe malnutrition.

"Other than salvation and the accompanying graces of the Holy Spirit, Missy is my greatest gift" and "my prize at the other side of the river of tears," Harper said regarding the miracle of being a mother at the age of 55.

But, she acknowledged, it wasn't an easy journey. Like Job, who lost everything important in his life when tested by God, she said she had seasons when she didn't know if she would survive.

"The nadir of my life was right before God brought Missy to me," Harper said, recounting how a woman told her, years earlier as a single woman who had endured sexual abuse in her life, she was not fit to adopt a child.

What Harper heard was "You're too damaged to be a mom," a thought that held her back many years from motherhood.

"The enemy usually takes a grain of truth and weaves it into an outlandish lie," Harper said. "Do not let well-intentioned but crooked Christians speak death into life."

Author and speaker Lisa Harper shares a moment with her daughter Melissa "Missy," whom she adopted from Haiti in 2014. Harper was the keynote speaker at the 2018 SBC Ministers' Wives luncheon in Dallas.
Photo by Shannon Baker
Eventually, Harper began a precarious journey toward a private adoption of the baby of a prostitute. Days before the adoption was to be finalized, a call from the adoption agency brought everything to a screeching halt.

Stunned at the loss of her new baby, Harper received two more calls, this time from her separated parents, who both learned they had devastating health news. Her mother had Stage 4 bladder cancer. Her father's cancer had returned, and he had two months to live.

Harper remembered thinking, "Jesus, you've got the wrong girl.... This is too hard!"

But then she had an epiphany. The words she would soon speak at a leadership event sunk into her own heart: "God is faithful -- even in the hard times."

"I've never seen His back," she affirmed. "I've never felt His absence."

The God of Job who brought calamity also made the veil over Job's eyes thin during his pain. It was as if Job suddenly had a greater view -- "a Trinitarian view" -- of the True Redeemer to come.

As did Harper.

Within two weeks, Harper's mother and father both had recovered and had reconciled as deep friends. A phone call from Haiti introduced Harper to Missy, who now has no trace of HIV or tuberculosis.

Harper reminded the ministers' wives: "It's not over yet. God is bringing redemption and restoration to your story."

Elizabeth Luter, the 2018 SBC Ministers' Wives Luncheon president and wife of former Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter, addresses women at the luncheon June 12 in Dallas.
Photo by Adam Covington
Elizabeth Luter, the luncheon's president, closed in prayer for healing, renewed hope and for the joy of salvation to be restored in all who came.

Also during the luncheon, Dalia Gonzales received the 2018 Willie Turner Dawson Award, which recognizes a minister's wife for making a distinct denominational contribution beyond the local church and for her Christian character and service to others.

Gonzales, wife of Michael Gonzales, director of Hispanic ministries for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, is the first Hispanic minister's wife to receive the award.

Attendees to the Ministers' Wives Luncheon also approved two motions regarding the updating of the Southern Baptist Ministers' Wives Endowment Trust Fund (also known as the Nancy Sullivan Endowment Trust Fund), the major financial undergirding for the annual luncheon.

The first motion sought approval for the current trustees of the fund to seek court approval for its termination as a trust in Florida and enter into an agreement with the Southern Baptist Foundation in Nashville, and to authorize the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Ministers' Wives Association to make decisions and act on behalf of the association in lieu of having to wait until the next annual meeting.

The second motion acknowledged the full disclosure by the current trustees of accounting regarding the endowment fund. Accordingly, Susie Hawkins, executive committee member reported the association's current assets as $377,978.27 and its checking account as $2,378.42.

Both motions were unanimously approved during a short business meeting during the luncheon.

Officers for the 2019 luncheon in Birmingham are Kim Hamm of Gardendale, Ala., president; Liliana Lewis of Marietta, Ga., vice president; Vicki Leavell of Millington, Tenn., corresponding secretary; and Brigitte Harrison of Apex, N.C., recording secretary/treasurer.

Author and speaker Lauren Chandler, wife of Matt Chandler, lead teaching pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, will be next year's featured speaker for the June 11 luncheon, with the theme "Steadfast Love."

Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware in Columbia, Md.
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