Why Billings?

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Recently I gave my new interns the assignment to write an essay about how they ended up in Billings.  One intern, though a Montana native, never intended to move to Billings from Lewistown, let alone quit his well-paying job to commit himself to the work of the Lord in the South Side as part of a nine-month internship with CLDI.  Our other intern, born and raised on the mission field in Africa, upon graduating from Covenant College near Chattanooga, TN stumbled across our internship and a few months upon graduation, drove cross country to intern with CLDI starting in September.  I am always amazed by the sovereignty of our Lord to lead and guide His people.  In the midst of transition, I believe it is important that we look back upon these milestones to remember that the Lord is in charge, that He has led us to where we are, and that He has a purpose for our being here.  I am excited for these interns and ‘the work’ the Lord has for them to partake in (Ephesians 2:10).  Though I am unsure what they will be doing come June of 2016, I trust that between now and then the Lord will decisively direct their steps.

Over the past six years, I also have found it helpful to reflect back and consider – How in the world did the Basye’s end up in the South Side of Billings, Montana? 
Born and raised in Jackson, Wyoming (a third generation native), the Lord directed my steps to graduate with a degree in Social Work and a minor in Psychology from the University of Wyoming.  Upon graduation, I moved to Denver, CO to obtain my Masters from Denver Seminary, something I never imagined doing – attending seminary – as the last thing I wanted to do was ‘ministry’.  Finishing my first year of seminary, I met this amazing girl – Shelly – who happened to be ‘playing’ in Denver for a few months prior to starting medical school in Memphis, TN.  As the Lord would have it, just one date with this amazing woman led to my taking her hand in marriage the following year (June 1, 2002) after graduating from seminary and moving to Memphis, TN where we would spend the next 7+ years while Shelly completed medical school and her four-year medical residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.  During that enriching time in Memphis, I was blessed to receive a hands-on ministry education as I began working with an inner city ministry (Service Over Self, Inc.) and before we knew it, Shelly and I were living in the marginalized community of Binghampton where I worked, participated in a church plant with other Christians that had purposely relocated to the inner city, and learn the ropes of ‘incarnational ministry’.  I often think about those days in Memphis – a small town Wyoming kid, living in a 95% African American community, seeking to make known the gospel of Jesus in word and deed to the most amazing neighbors and friends.  I can’t imagine where we would be without having had the opportunity to rub shoulders with and learn from the amazing disciples of Jesus in Memphis, TN.
With 18 months left of Shelly’s residency, in 2008 we began asking the Lord what He had in store for us the following year upon her completion.  Would He have us stay in Memphis to continue the work we had been a part of, or would He use us to start a new work?  Through my time of fasting and prayer, I heard very clearly from the Lord that if we were to move, the following criteria must be met: 1) a job for Shelly that would allow her to work but also be a mother and wife; 2) that we would live in a city large enough for me to continue working with college-age students; and 3) that wherever we moved, there had to be a neighborhood of poverty where we would live and continue the work of incarnational ministry to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and make disciples.  The third criteria, a city with real poverty, was the most important factor for us.  As much as we would have loved to be back in the West, it was clear to us that the Lord did not intend for us to move to Jackson (the wealthiest county in the nation), or even other places of beauty such as Boise, Bozeman, or Missoula (all cities that we had considered moving to), as poverty simply did not exist in these places on a large scale. 
     When I was 12 years old, I traveled with my dad to take my eldest sister to Billings as she had transferred from a college in Idaho to what was then Eastern Montana College.  I had never been to the ‘big city’ of Billings.  What I distinctly remember as we entered the city was how industrial (and unattractive) it was, especially coming from Jackson; and not only that, but for the first time in my life I saw homeless people begging on street corners and even saw a woman prostituting herself.  I distinctively remember thinking to myself: I would never want to live in Billings!  Spring of 2008… many years later, this memory came to mind as I sought the Lord as to what He would have us do.  I immediately jumped on my computer and pulled up the US Census data for Billings, MT.  Sure enough, it was a large city (the largest city within 7 hours) and it had two communities of significant poverty – North Park and the South Side.  The very thing that would have once been a deterrent from Billings now had a very strong pull!  In a matter of weeks, we were scheduled to travel to Billings where Shelly had an interview with Billings Clinic.
Arriving in Billings the spring of 2008, while Shelly was busy with interviews, learning about the medical community and job opportunity, I was busy meeting with as many people as I could to learn more about the South Side and North Park, especially as to what ministry work was being done in these places.  My prayer that weekend was that the Lord would clearly speak: either move to Billings or not; and if we were to move, that He would make clear where specifically.  Day 1… nothing.  I had some great meetings, drove the neighborhoods, but the Lord was silent.  Day 2… I had a 30 minute window after I dropped off Shelly for her interview, so I aimlessly headed down to the South Side.  Driving the streets, looking at homes, praying, it happened… I stopped in front of a bright green, burned out, vacant home on South 31st Street.  Very clearly the Lord spoke: This is it.  Move to Billings.  Buy this home.  Heading back to the hospital, I excitedly told Shelly about our new home and brought her to the place that was to be our future home.  I was convinced that Shelly would be offered the job and that we were to buy this home.
Over the weeks to follow, Shelly was in fact offered the job to begin work the following year as a physician at Billings Clinic the fall of 2009.  We began the process of buying this burned out home.  While leaving Billings, I had been given the name and phone number of an individual someone suggested I talk to – Dave Hagstrom.  Settling back in Memphis, I called Dave one day and introduced myself, “Hi Dave.  My name is Eric Basye and my wife and I are moving to Billings in a year.”  All I knew is that we were to move to Billings, reside in the South Side to raise our family, and plant a church.  When I mentioned to Dave the house we were trying to buy, he (in a very Dave kind of way) said, “Oh yes, I remember that house burning… I watched it burn from my front porch.”  Dave, founder of Community Leadership & Development, Inc., lived across the street from the home we were trying to buy!
Over the months to follow, I became well acquainted with Dave, CLDI, and even the book he wrote about the South Side, A Mandate for Good Works.  Very clearly, the Lord had directed my family to Billings, specifically the South Side.  Though there is much I miss about the work in Memphis, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of His work here in the South Side.  When I begin to question what we are doing or whether or not we are effective in making known the beauty of Jesus, I remember His leading and His very divine way of bringing us to Billings… to the South Side… and to CLDI.  At the end of the day, my resolve is this: We are His servants, here to do His work – proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, love God with all that we are, love others, and make disciples.  
Grateful for the Lord… grateful to be in Billings… and so grateful to be part of His work in the South Side 
– Eric & Shelly
Speaking to His disciples, Jesus gives the illustration of a servant and his master.  Then He said, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)

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