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My Forward Edge Story

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sheri Stanley, our Director of Operations & Mobilization, to hear her Forward Edge Story. While what we spoke about was only a fraction of God’s incredible works in her life, these significant moments were an inspiration to me, and I hope they will be the same for you. 

Forward Edge stories are often, as team member Sheri Stanley puts it, “an illustration of the fruits of the Spirit.” She explains that they are worth sharing because they glorify God and His Kingdom. Sheri’s story does exactly that. It is full of illustrations of joy, love, goodness, obedience, and faithfulness. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 

-Galatians 5:22-23 

But as Sheri and her family have learned, these virtues also come with trials. At times, pursuing the Kingdom can feel like stepping into a fog with no sign in sight. Other times, God will literally move a flier in front of your eyes to lead you toward your next destination. For the Stanleys, in both cases, the next step is to act in faith even when it takes a while to realize how God will provide    

Initial Steps in Faith 

In February of 2000, God began to guide Sheri, her husband, David, and their three young kids toward their Forward Edge journey. The Stanleys have a passion to facilitate worship in the body of Christ, and at that time, they were leading worship at their Portland church. The pastor asked, last-minute, if they would lead at a “Facilitator Gathering” for a friend’s Christian missionary group called Forward Edge International because the scheduled worship leader fell ill. Without realizing the much bigger plans that God would have in store for them, they agreed.   

Between sessions, Sheri’s husband, David decided to check out the various conference materials and a flier for a mission trip to Kosovo caught his eye. Sheri explains her husband’s account, “the flier moved on its own.” Without a breeze or nudge by anyone’s hand, it, or rather God, made Himself very clear.  

What David believed God was asking him to do wasn’t an easy request though. He would have to convince himself and his family that God was calling him to travel halfway across the world to a country that was dealing with the aftermath of an ethnic genocide. And David was perfectly content never to leave American soil. But the Lord continued to show up and nudged him toward Kosovo. Even a former co-worker and non-believer called him unexpectedly one day to ask if he was going to take that trip. “It just sounds like something Jesus would do, and you were always saying you wanted to be like him.” That was a real turning point. God had made the steps visible for David and so he decided to move forward even with the fog ahead. 

After months of God’s pursuit through sleepless nights, dreams, and encouragement by trusted peers, David acted in faith. He drafted up an email for his boss about his plans to leave for the trip despite an upcoming project that needed his attention. This email could cost David his job. But before he pressed “send,” his boss called him in to say that project had been canceled. When he told the company he would leave for Kosovo, they fully supported him. David kept his job, the Stanleys would be able to keep their health care insurance, and David’s boss even asked that he formally share about his journey at a company-paid lunch when he returned. And so, he went.  

While in Kosovo, The Forward Edge team cared for widows and children who had been affected by the recent war. They used their labor and love to repair houses and restore safe water access. Sheri recalls that her husband felt frustrated. Standing in a sewage-soaked drainage ditch, he asked God, “Why can’t we just help the local economy and hire people to do this?” and God responded, “I have seen you worship with a guitar. Now I want to see you worship with a shovel.” It was a moment of clarification; in the Kingdom, even for a family of worship leaders, worship is beyond music, it is an act of service and servanthood. 

“And God responded, ‘I have seen you worship with a guitar. Now I want to see you worship with a shovel.’” 
David (right) with team members.

After this initial mission, the Stanleys strived to embrace an evolving clarity for Kingdom living. They became more involved with Forward Edge; David joined more missions and facilitated teams at multiple locations with Sheri as his partner on some trips. Their kids became pen pals with children in Kosovo after David had returned there and even went on some domestic trips of their own. Forward Edge and missions became a family affair. God’s initiative for the next steps of this journey only became clearer in 2003 before the Forward Edge Fall Banquet when Landi and De – an Albanian couple who led the trips that David took to Kosovo – came to the States to speak.  

At the last minute it worked out for the couple to stay with the Stanleys, and it changed their lives. “I shudder to think what wouldn’t have happened had they not stayed with us!” says Sheri. On the last day that Landi and De were in town, Sheri, David, and their friends spent the night talking and praying about Albania and Kosovo. Then moved by the Spirit, the couple asked if David and Sheri would join their long-term team returning to Albania now that the widows project in Kosovo had been taken over by a local church. The Stanleys were surprised. They hadn’t thought about a longer-term mission in Albania. At this point only David had served in Kosovo (north of Albania) and none of the family had been to Albania. Nonetheless, they prayed asking for guidance and right on cue, God answered.  

Sheri explains that God usually communicates with her through scripture, but that night He gave her an image. As Landi, De, David, and Sheri were praying together at the dining room table, holding hands lifted at shoulder height, she saw “a beautiful white fabric draped over us. It resembled a sort of white crown and wedding veil.” 

It was late. Landi and De went to bed, and David took off to deliver some drawings to Sheri’s employer. When he returned, he was surprised to find Sheri still awake. He started to share: “You wouldn’t believe the image that God gave me during our prayer.” But Sheri quickly interjected, “Wait! I got one too!” They shared with each other, in amazement, the exact same image! David’s included a blue flame in the center of the crown—an added assurance that the Holy Spirit was in this. And just like that there was no question. They would be going to Albania for a year.  

In preparation for their year abroad, the Stanleys ran into bumps in the road. Sheri recalls that throughout the whole journey and frankly, in all of life, “There was lots of struggle and silence. We tried to focus on the last thing He asked us to do, until we heard otherwise.”  

For example, their ten-year-old daughter, Katie, didn’t want to go. “I think it was the most difficult obstacle we faced because it required a change of heart.” Conflicted between listening to their children’s needs and God’s initiative, Sheri and David prayed and fasted and prayed until two weeks later their daughter did have a change of heart. And when they did go, “Out of all of [the family] Katie ended up being the most engaged with the culture and language” says Sheri. 

And then there was the exchange rate that dipped drastically just a couple months prior to departure, meaning that they had not raised enough support to go. Eight-year-old Ian asked what needed to happen and then began to pray each night at bedtime for the entire country’s economy to change. Sheri and David thought, “how sweet of this boy to pray with such faith, but we’ll see…” They were ashamed at their own lack of faith as the exchange rate actually began to shift. When they set foot on Albanian soil, the rate had returned to exactly where it needed to be!

“There was lots of struggle and silence. We tried to focus on the last thing He asked us to do, until we heard otherwise.” 
Sheri, David and their children.

In July of 2005, the family was ready for the next steps of their journey. They were going to go to Albania for a year to help consult on a worship center, but their plans were shaken by God’s will once again. The project fell through and even though the Stanleys were facing the unknown for the next year, this was another opportunity to demonstrate obedience. In confidence that it was God’s plan for them to go, they told their friends back in Albania, “If you will have us, we will come.” 

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. 

-Proverbs 16:9 

God’s plan for worship 

Only weeks before leaving, the Stanleys were asked to prepare to produce worship CDs with the community in Albania. Of course, they had no experience in producing worship CDs. Sheri says, “But we just said, we’ll figure it out.” They had randomly picked up a free music production software at the check-out counter of a music store, and their oldest son, Seth, ended up mastering it there in Albania. They put together a makeshift recording studio and set off to record the Albanian voice of worship. They wanted to embrace Albanian culture, allowing locals to use their voice and style to create worship albums. David and Sheri’s hope was quite simple, to eventually “hear Albanians worshiping God in the streets of Albania.”  

However, the Albanian people asked for English worship songs to be translated into their language. That was what they knew. It was how they were introduced to Jesus. For the Stanleys this request was conflicting. For all the years Christian missionaries have come to non-western countries demanding that locals convert to western ways, they did not want to do the same. It felt wrong. But that’s how the locals knew how to worship. That is what they asked of the Stanleys and those were the steps God had put in front of the family for that time. So, Sheri, David, and their three kids helped their Albanian friends in any way they could, hoping in the future, more original Albanian worship would emerge from the hearts of the believers. 

During their time in Albania, they invested in the community through worship—CDs yes, but more importantly worshippers—people. They created eternity-long relationships. When Sheri reflects on God’s work in her family and the people that they lived with, it is clear in that year and since then God had widened their family immensely. On returning and staying connected in recent years, she says, “They don’t need us anymore. And that’s just how it should be. We merely come alongside to love and encourage them.” 

“They don’t need us anymore. And that’s just how it should be. We merely come alongside to love and encourage them.” 

The Stanleys returned to Albania several times to visit and help with projects. When they returned about 10 years later, they got to experience Easter Sunday and a celebration where the songs of worship were playing in the streets literally, over loudspeakers over the capital city. Today Christian Albanians continue to create their own music, inspired by their own hearts, for the worship of the King. 

Re-entry 

For many Forward Edge missionaries, re-entry can be the most difficult part of the trip. Even for seasoned missionaries, like Sheri, it can get emotional. On the flight home, she reflected on how to best continue the mission. She wondered; how does someone best tell the right story at the right time? How could she be sure to glorify God and do justice to the moments she had experienced with her family in Albania? Even when believing that that Holy Spirit will intervene, it can feel burdensome to have a story with so much potential impact. Being human, you can’t undoubtably know the right way to say it.  

With overwhelming feelings lingering from her trip and for what might be ahead, God spoke to Sheri words of comfort. He reminded her of Mary who “treasured these things in her heart.” 

So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  

-Luke 2:16-19  

The Lord said to Sheri, “You treasure these things in your heart [that’s all you have to do,] and I will give you the words when the moment is right.”  

…  

After returning, Sheri says she realized that “sometimes what God calls you to be is very incremental.” It can be difficult to readjust to ‘normal life,’ but She adds, “it was a luxury to be able to decompress as a family.” Reminiscing together, mourning together, and continuing the mission together has been essential for the Stanleys. And of course, God has been the pillar through the entirety of Sheri’s journey and will continue to be the pillar she looks to for support in the future. She says, “God was so faithful to be in all the mess, the beauty, and all the chaos. All of it.”   

“God was so faithful to be in all the mess, the beauty, and all the chaos. All of it.” 
Sheri and David's ever-growing family.

A few years ago, after spending many years in engineering and project/program management, Sheri longed for more Kingdom work in her everyday life. That was when God pointed her to Forward Edge, again. After some time of prayer, reflection, and God’s faithful guidance, Sheri took on a position at the International Headquarters in Vancouver, WA. For now, these are the steps that God has illuminated in front of Sheri Stanley, and she has decided to joyfully and obediently follow even when the next step may be uncertain. In line with an on-going theme in Sheri’s story and the fruits of the Spirit, she says, “success is in the obedience—that’s it. 

EMMA CHESNUT

Emma is a two-time Forward Edge short-term missionary, and former communications intern for Forward Edge International. She believes honest storytelling has the power to shape the values and lens people see the world through. 

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