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An Interview with Lisa Espineli Chinn - Part Two


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Church plants often start with small prayers. Lisa Espineli Chinn looked out from the kitchen window of her northern Virginia townhouse as she did dishes, and prayed for her neighbors as they got their mail. Within a short period of time, she and her husband, Leighton, were instrumental in the founding of Church of the Redeemer. For fourteen years, Lisa was the National Director of International Student Ministry at InterVarsity. Recently she sat down with The Rev. Canon Andrew Gross to share more about what she learned in that role, and what might be next for her ministry.

Click the links below for the entire interview:

Part One: From the Philippines to Washington DC
Part Two: From Accidental Church Planter to InterVarsity Director
Part Three: International Students Ministry
Part Four: Next Steps
Part Five: Marriage and Cross Cultural Ministry


PART TWO
From Accidental Church Planter to InterVarsity Director


I understand that you planted a church in northern Virginia.

Yes, it really was fascinating. I’m not a church planter in an official sense, nor given the assignment by the bishop, or the pastor. I remember clearly that I was standing in front of our kitchen sink and I could see our neighbors. It was a corner townhouse, and the neighbors would pick up their mail because there’s a common mailboxes. I would see my neighbors there and I prayed for them. Even if I didn’t see them, if I remembered them as I did the dishes. When I was praying that’s when God said, “Well, why don’t you start a Bible study with them?” I clearly heard God by my kitchen sink. And I said, “Why not. We’ve been praying for them.” So I told my husband and he said, “Let’s go for it.” He did not ask, “What do you want me to do?” He just said, “Let’s go for it.” It has been important in my own journey that I have a husband who believes in me, who recognizes my gifts and my strength, who has been willing to say, “I’m with you. I’m behind you. I will be there for you, and cheer you on.”

So I gathered my neighbors, literally the one’s with whom we shared walls. And other people too. There was one couple who was not at Truro. The other couple had been through Truro, but they were people I knew and the ones that I was praying for. So I said, “Look, I don’t know what God has in mind, but I feel like God wants me to start a Bible study with you. Would you like to be part of it? I’m looking for a group to journey with.” They said, “Sure.”  I said, “Let’s meet at my house.”

Normally I’m a planner. I would have what we’re going to do, how we’re going to end up in three weeks, and here’s the long-range plan. This time it was more like, “Trust me. Go down this path. I’ll tell you what to do next.” So I told the group, “I’m going to lead the Bible study two times. After that, the rest of you will have to pick it up.” These are people with no Bible training, no idea what a small group looks like, but they were ready to journey with us. I led the Bible study first, and then you should have seen the couples getting excited and scared about how to lead. I said “There are materials you can study.” I was part coach, but literally just obeying the voice of God. You know when you hear the voice of God in your heart? From that Bible study we grew to be 40 to 50. We only had one home that could hold us with all of our kids. At that time the church planting effort at Truro was already in progress, so we became a church plant, Christ the Redeemer.


Is that when you left Northern Virginia? Did you go to Wisconsin at that point?

They were looking for a director for InterVarsity USA. I had left InterVarsity after I married.  I had been working with my husband with International Students Incorporated. InterVarsity sent a resume because they knew we had wider connections. I said, “Oh, this is great. Let’s help them find a director.” However, we couldn’t come up with a name.  The job description sat on our kitchen counter until one day I said, “Let me just take a close look. Maybe I could do this.” So I looked and asked my husband, “Do you think this is something I could do well?” because he’s an honest man he wouldn’t say, “Hey it’s a dream job.” No, he said, “This part is good. This part is good. I don’t know if you can do this or this.”  He wasn’t fully encouraging me, but he was being realistic and honest.  He said, “You can do this part. This other part will be a challenge, etc.” As I pursued it, I realized there was no harm in pushing forward. I felt like there was a green light to keep moving and God would show the way. I asked InterVarsity and they said “Sure you can apply.”  The short story is that they offered me the job. You could trace that thread of seeing God at work, and hearing God, and moving in the direction where I thought I heard God. God put me in a place. We uprooted our family. All of our kids were born in Fairfax, Virginia, and now we had to move to Madison, Wisconsin because we heard God was clearly opening up the way for us. I sought the blessing of Martyn Minns who was my rector.


I was doing the math earlier and thinking, “16 or 17 years ago that would be Martyn Minns.”


Yes, Martyn Minns. Neil Lebhar married us. John Howe, was our pastor before—so we had all these people in our lives. We hired Tom Herrick to pastor Christ the Redeemer.

I wanted to make sure the key people in my life were in agreement. To my husband, Leighton, I said, “Honey what do you think?” I needed his whole support. It couldn’t be just half hearted. I needed the blessing of my parents, who were close to their nineties, because we were their 911. In their old age they were living with my older sister, so it was like everybody else was saying, “Yes, we want to bless you. We want to send you out.” Including my church, Christ the Redeemer which was very supportive. So we went to Wisconsin and that was 14 years of service as the Director of International Student Ministry with InterVarsity. 11 years of that in Madison, and three years in South Carolina. So I commuted the last three years.

In one sense it was kind of a winding kind road, but in another it was a straight path.  My call was to university students, and that has never changed since I was 19. It only changed in terms of who the college students were whom I was working with: Filipinos, Americans, and then the world. That has always been clear. I love kids but God has never call me to children’s ministry. It was always the future leaders, always a very strategic group of tender hearts and inquisitive minds, you know, world changers. I think I was very excited about the potential of the people I worked with; who they could become locally in my context in the Philippines and in the US.

Part One: From the Philippines to Washington DC
Part Two: From Accidental Church Planter to InterVarsity Director
Part Three: International Students Ministry
Part Four: Next Steps
Part Five: Marriage and Cross Cultural Ministry

Lisa Espineli Chinn will be a plenary speaker at Assembly 2017 in Wheaton, IL (June 27-30, 2017).  Click here to learn more and register for Assembly 2017!