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Lessons Along the Road

Over twenty years ago we started this mission journey, packed our trunks, and boarded a plane. Our heads were full of strategy, training and information, and our hearts full of expectation of all we hoped to see God do... through us, for His Kingdom. We look back now and see our naivety, our small thinking on some matters and our cluelessness on others. Like many have told us, and we can now heartily agree, "It's amazing what God gets done with what He has to work with!"

It's not that our training was useless; it probably prevented some serious mistakes. The facts we learned about Islam laid an understanding of who we were reaching out to; the facts we knew about God and His Word gave us a solid place to stand. But the things that shook us were in our inside world. Circumstances like fearing expulsion by the government, team turmoil, finding suitable tent making jobs, two teammates with cancer - one who survives and one who didn't, being robbed several times, and plenty of betrayal all brought emotions to the surface that we didn't always know how to handle. It took near-burnout for us to limp back to the US and get the kind of input that helped us know how to lament, how to wrestle out our fears and despair with God, and also how to build joy and peace relationally around us. We wish we had known about all that before we went... but maybe we wouldn't have listened as well. Some times it takes a few hard knocks to tune our ears!

In any case, that awakening to our inner world, to our false pride and inner demands that God honor our sacrifice, and then to relinquishing the "it's all about me" mentality and joining our hand with His and walking together… that is what made a difference for us in the end. We finally began to learn how to not measure with human standards - "how many_________". Fill in the blank with whatever your ministry says is important..."saved", "fed", "delivered", "taught", "rescued," etc.

We still prayed and asked for big things, like people movements and mass repentance and national transformation among our people group. We still wait and ask for these things. In the meantime we started noticing God at work in the miniscule, in the glimmers of hope and small shifts when people change their mind about something, in the ways they imitated the true path before they knew that's what it was. Small miracles are still miracles! Slow miracles are still miracles! When we finally witnessed new life unfold before us, as someone said ‘yes’ to Jesus, we marveled at the wonder of it all. Yes, we wanted more, yes, we wanted many. But we could still stop and shake our heads at the amazingness of God at work, one person at a time.

If we could sum up twenty years of lessons in overseas ministry, we would say it boils down to "Do life with Jesus." Along the way we dropped our measuring sticks of success; they didn't work very well for us. We began to accept that God seemed just as committed to changing us as He was about changing anyone else we were reaching out to. And we began to taste His joy and share that more alongside carefully spoken words of Truth. He also invited us into His sorrow, because when someone can't see who He is and what He holds out to them, then it breaks all our hearts.

"Doing life with Jesus" also means there's a lot to be thankful for along the way. “Coincidence” changed definition to "ordained", “trials” became "training", and “interruptions” became "divine appointments". Not overnight, and not always... but more and more. Because He is with us, always, and He is up to something, we just need eyes to see it. We discovered that gratitude gives buoyancy to face sewer problems, a flooded house, power cuts, cockroach infestations, chikungunya episodes, and termites. The more we clutched God's hand and remembered we were not alone, the better we faced inconvenience and frustration, and eventually could even see the good in the hard, and say thank you again.

 We left South Asia grateful for all we learned there, thankful for what we saw God do, and more aware of our need for Him than ever before. We want to say THANK YOU to you at Grace Fellowship for sending us, and THANK YOU to God for bringing us back to our passport country as different people than we left!

Paul and Carolyn

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