By Adam Miller
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s sometimes easy to forget that missionaries deal with real family issues just like the rest of us. We don’t expect that a family called of God would have kids with real teenage dilemmas about leaving friends and high school football triumphs to go to a place they’ve never been. We don’t expect the missionary mom to have second thoughts and hesitations about uprooting her kids yet again. We don’t expect the missionary dad to have to juggle these things in real time with real emotion and yet still come to the conclusion to leave.
But this is exactly what Hal Haller III, his wife, Sharon, and two kids, 17-year-old Hal IV (who likes to be called “Hal 4”) and Alexandra, 15, are doing over the next several months as they take residence in New York where Hal will be State Director of Missions serving to grow church planting movements in greater metro NYC.
“My kids are being very open about how they feel about leaving Florida,” said Hal.
His daughter has had the hardest time warming up to the change.
“I don’t really like the idea,” said Alexandra. “I’ve moved every couple of years. I’m really outgoing. I’m kind of scared. I’ve moved around Florida but never really moved out of Florida. I don’t know if I’ll make friends.”
But uprooting and replanting their lives is nothing new for Hal and Sharon.
Before they started their family, the adventure of planting churches and relocating often seemed to define their lives. Even after their kids came along the Hallers planted churches in Miami, started churches elsewhere in the state, served on the staff of three existing churches and served, most recently, at the Jacksonville Baptist Association in Jacksonville, Fla.
“My background is in church planting. Every few years we get up and go plant again,” said Haller. “They’re familiar with it, but it comes with sacrifice. We’re not wanting to be disruptive, but we’re doing what the Lord wants us to do. We’re walking through that journey with our kids.”
And in the beginning, much like her daughter, Sharon said “no way.” She winced at the thought of taking her children away from the lives they invested so much in–including football, soccer, friends and stability.
But now her response is different, and the kids are coming around.
“It’s the kind of opportunity our past has prepared us for. We don’t take it lightly,” she said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling to make this move but to say ‘no’ to God … we can’t. We have to do what He says to do.”
Hal and Sharon had seen their children take root in their community. Alexandra has a vast network of friends and plays competitive soccer. Hal 4 plays football, and his team is in the running for the conference championship most years. Moving to New York will mean finishing out this season but giving up his senior year.
One by one, though, each member of the family has independently come to the conclusion that New York was supposed to be their new home. His son said that he’s even looking forward to seeing the snow, which he’s only seen once or twice.
“I was kind of blown away by my 17-year-old’s response, especially,” said Haller. “He said ‘If this is what God is asking us to do we have to be obedient.’“
Among the many reasons for the move is the seemingly-impermeable culture of places like New York. While churches have successfully launched in North America’s key cities, a widespread gospel influence in these cities is a long way off.
“George Barna came out with his top 85 unchurched places and five of those cities are in New York state,” said Haller. “I think that people’s hearts are ready for the gospel. I think there are people who need to see that we are willing to do the work to cultivate it. They need to do the work of sharing and building relationships, and I think people’s hearts are a lot more receptive than we think they are. I also believe there are men and women God has set aside for Himself who need to be mobilized to action to do whatever it takes.”
As a NAMB missionary serving as State Director of Missions for New York, Haller will work statewide, including in New York City, to build relationships and mobilize churches to plant churches in strategic locations throughout the state.
“The very first thing I’m going to be doing in New York is build a coalition with the partners who are there,” Haller said. “A lot of my job will be learning and listening and also drawing from my own experience for what might work best.
“I believe the growth of the church and kingdom is found in the unity of its leadership so I want to make sure we’re all on the same page and like each other. If we like each other we’ll trust each other and if we trust each other we’ll all work together to accomplish what needs to get done.”
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.
Published December 16, 2013