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Be Brave

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Jesus was unsafe. Imagine being a disciple. You never knew what He was going to say or do. People regularly wanted to kill Him. His followers would regularly leave because the cost of being a disciple was too high. To follow Jesus, you had to be brave.

Jesus hasn’t changed. He is still unsafe. As followers of Jesus, we often say we want to become more like Him. But what I’ve learned is if we are truly going to follow Jesus and be like Him, it means we have to be unsafe too. In The Alliance we talk about that as “faith-filled risk.” But no matter how you say it, you have to be brave to follow Jesus.

The problem is that for as much as we believe in faith-filled risk, most of the time we choose safety over the Savior. The risks we take don’t require much faith, and we don’t have to be very brave to follow Jesus, but if that’s the case, are we really following Jesus?

Honestly, I don’t feel like I take that many faith-filled risks. I like being safe. But in 2016 Jesus asked our family to take an unsafe step of faith that we could not ignore, and we have learned, at least a little bit, what it feels like to follow Jesus somewhere that is risky.

Loving My Neighbor

In 2007, I moved to Logan, Ohio, to serve at an Alliance church with my wife, Bethany, and two—soon to be three—kids. When we were looking to move, we felt called to live in a certain neighborhood and that God had a ministry for us there.

Left to right: Micah Neville (7), Alex Neville (14), Amber Bryant (16), Bethany Neville, Brian Neville, Abbie Bryant (13), Wyatt Neville (12), Alyssa Winland (8), Addison Winland (6). Photo by Risen Media Group

One winter a few years later, I felt called to shovel the snow from my neighbors’ sidewalks every time it snowed, and if any of them asked about it, I could use it as an opportunity to share my faith, and part of that faith included loving my neighbor.

As it turned out, one of the people in the neighborhood was a registered sex offender who lived across the street with her four girls. She drank a lot, had men in and out regularly, and drugs were involved too.

So imagine our surprise when eight years later, she gave her heart to Christ and began attending our church. She was serious about making changes in her life. The drugs and drinking stopped. The men stopped coming, and she was serious about making sure her girls learned about Jesus. He was creating something new.

A Lot to Ask

Six months later, she came to our house crying and told us that some of her past from before she accepted Christ had caught up with her and that she would be going to prison for a long time and was going to lose the girls. She didn’t want them to end up in foster care; she wanted them to stay in the same school, with the same friends, and most of all, she wanted them to keep coming to church.

Then she asked, “Would you and Bethany be willing to take the four girls? I know it’s a lot to ask with your three kids, but I don’t have any Christian friends, and I want people that will raise them right.”

We were stunned. What could we say?

“Well, give us a couple of days to talk, pray about it, and think it over.”

We talked it over. And over. And over. We talked with our parents. We talked it over with other pastors and strong Christian friends. We talked about it with our kids. To be fair, their response was, “We have to. What else can we do?” (They are braver than we are; it’s a childlike faith thing I guess.)

We got lots of advice. We got warnings about what it could mean for our family, but ultimately everyone told us the same thing: “You’ve got to hear from God.”

Living for Eternity

Now we had been praying about it. We had been fasting. We had been asking God to show us His will. Here’s the funny thing about God. So many times when we ask God to show us the way, He says, “I already have” and points us to what He’s already said.

Every time we prayed, we were led to His Word. Here is a picture of our conversation with God:

“God, what should we do?”

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

“God, are You sure?”

“Pure religion our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to care after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).

“Yes, but God, I really need to hear You on this.”

The Nevilles’ 2,318-square-foot home in Logan, Ohio, has three bedrooms and one bath. Photos by Jord Christopher

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17).

“Yes, but what about our kids? Won’t this be hard on our kids? And these girls—they probably have emotional issues. Won’t that be a lot of work and stress? And how in the world are we going to pay for this? I’m a youth pastor, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom. You know that, right, Lord? And they’ve grown up with different values and different rules, and to go from that to being pastor’s kids, how will that work?”

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me. The spirit you received brought about your adoption. If anyone is to follow me, they must take up their cross and . . .”

“OK, OK, I get it.”

It didn’t help that I had just started reading Francis Chan’s book You and Me Forever, which I had picked up at Alliance Council the year before. The book kept talking about living for eternity rather than for this world. It seemed that God might be trying to tell us something.

We were at a crossroads. Do the safe thing, or do the God thing? Do we believe in Jesus, or do we follow Jesus? Do we want to do what counts for this life, or do we do what counts for the next one?

Adventure and Heartbreak

On the last day of school in 2016, we started the first day of our new life, adding four girls to our two boys and girl for a grand total of seven children plus two dogs, two cats, and four rabbits (the girls came with animals). It was terrifying, but it felt like we were really living for Jesus, living like Jesus talked about. It was an adventure.

Now like any good adventure, there are struggles. Many struggles. We had to go from being neighbors to being family. Honestly, there are days when we are still trying to figure that out.

Many of the things that people warned us about, we’ve had to deal with: All the girls have PTSD from past abuse. Eating disorders. Struggles with suicide. Depression. Oppositional defiance disorder and more trauma than anyone should experience in a lifetime.

Our biological kids have had to deal with splitting their parents’ attention three ways to splitting their parents’ attention seven ways. Sometimes following Jesus can be hard.

Another adventure was the juvenile court system. We got custody of three of the girls relatively quickly and easily, but one of the girl’s fathers decided to seek custody, and we began two years of lawyers, case workers, children’s services, integrated services, guardian ad litems, inspections, interviews, and then devastation as the judge ruled that biology trumps best interest.

So in May of 2018, our eight-year-old moved away from her sisters she had always lived with to a father she had never lived with, who had a history with the local authorities and who, after getting custody, accidentally burned down his trailer and has been living homeless for the past three months. Sometimes following Jesus can be heartbreaking.

Hope and Healing

But here is what Jesus has done. He has given us four daughters whom we love. He has given our three biological kids four sisters they love like siblings (and argue with like siblings). He has provided for us every step of the way.

It’s a full backseat with (L to R) Addison Winland, Wyatt Neville, and Micah Neville in tow. Photos by Jord Christopher

He has placed an entire team of Christian friends, counselors, mentors, and a family around the girls. For the first time in their lives, they have a dad they know, who loves them and cares for them as a father should. They have a mother who is always there and is strong and courageous for the Lord. And our family has a story of how God used a terrible situation to bring hope and healing in unexpected ways. To make a family in a way we would never have dreamed. It’s a family that loves each other and understands in a special way how God loves us and makes us a part of His family. Sometimes following Jesus can be beautiful.

We are learning to follow Jesus. We are learning to be brave. We are learning that following Jesus is hard, but it’s worth it, because when you step out of the boat into unsafe waters, you’re also stepping out to where Jesus is.

It turns out that Jesus was right all along: The more we give up our lives for His sake, the more we find the life we were always looking for. That living a life of doing the unsafe, risky thing might just be how we change the world for Jesus. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, one neighbor at a time.

9 responses to Be Brave

  1. Thank you, Brian and Bethany for sharing your amazing story of faith and obedience. Praying for your family.

    Christy

  2. pastor brian,knew youre church but didnt know this journey you have taken,walking by faith .thank you for being a true servant.

  3. Consider it joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the tesing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…..Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to thsose who love hIm. James 1:2-4, 12.
    Whenever you need reminded, go back and read your own testimony of how faithful the Lord is.

  4. Such a Testimony for Christ. Thank you so much for sahring your walk through the Bravery you displayed. May the Lord Continue to Bless your Family..

  5. What a heart-warming testimony of your faithfulness to step out in obedience to be Jesus’ hands and feet to this family.
    Praying the Lord will guide you in this journey of love, encourage and give you strength, and meet your every need, that the girls will find healing in Jesus, and many in prison would come to know Him through their mother’s testimony.

  6. God’s perspective on what He wants us to do is rarely seen, accepted and pursued. Great news to read this month!

  7. A beautiful testimony my friend. I am blessed to know and love you all. I am thankful to be on this journey with you and know God will carry us all when we are weak. God Bless Nd Happy New Year!

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