I haven’t felt so courageous lately.
One might think that after 30+ years of living and serving in missions that battling the fear of the unknown would be a past issue for me. Really, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about tomorrow, the “what ifs” don’t keep me awake; I’m too tired to let worry keep me awake.
I’ve often said that there are a lot of benefits to growing older: I don’t worry about people’s opinions about me as much as I did in my 20s. I am more “comfortable” with who God made me to be, I am more relaxed. I’m so relaxed that the older 3 kids say of my parenting style with our 4th child that they don’t know who I am. Yes, I am that parent who doesn’t worry if her child has chocolate more than 3 days in a row. “Just brush your teeth, dear,” is what I say. All the while the 3 older ones wonder what has happened to their mother who they knew to be more like a sergeant who had no mercy.
On the other side, after having lived a bit and seen what can and sometimes does go wrong, I have found myself learning anew how to defeat the ugly fear of what “might” happen or what “could” go wrong. By nature, I tend to be more pessimistic than optimistic (yes, working on that), so the temptation to fear the worst can, and sometimes is, a big battle for me.
There’s a recklessness of youth that I remember having that I want to recapture now that I’m older. When I was younger, I had no experience to draw from so I had nothing to refer my fear to – I remember thinking, “What can possibly go wrong?” If you ask me that question today, my pessimistic side laughs a bit cynically and will answer, “Plenty!”
When we first began working in missions, I didn’t even consider the “what ifs” of living in a foreign country:
- What if we aren’t granted visas to stay in the country?
- What if we can’t get the work registered in the country?
- What if we can’t find a good doctor in the city we will live in?
- What if money runs short?
- What if, what if, what if? I have run into each of them. Forget the TV show, this is the real fear factor!
Landing in Kalemie, Zaire (now the DRC) in July 1987, I wasn’t afraid at all. I found the dilapidated building surrounded by delinquent military vehicles intriguing, but not frightening. I didn’t even think that something could go wrong – until something did.
I began building up my storehouse of experience not long after our arrival on that obscure landing strip. Not 6 months into our first year in Africa, our nearly 2-year-old son developed malaria, and I felt real fear for the first time in my young life. That kind of fear wasn’t a pleasant feeling to experience at all and boy, did I learn how to pray. Of course, God came through, we got the proper treatment for him and today he is grown with a family of his own.
I’ve learned to roll with the punches and keep moving forward but moving forward after being punched makes getting up a bit painful. We moved from Bujumbura, Burundi in 2001 to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after planting a wildly successful church. We saw God perform miracle after miracle during a time of civil war and the church grew to about 1,600 people. What could go wrong in going to Tanzania to plant another church? God was with us and we’ll see another Bujumbura-like church born. The long and short of the story is that we couldn’t open the church in Tanzania since our file was never approved. The rejection was painful, brutally painful, I don’t think I’ve ever shared with anyone how difficult that experience was, my heart “melted” and it felt as if all my courage was gone.
Joshua 2:11a NKJ “And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone…”
After selling everything we had in Tanzania, we moved to Zambia and I felt as if I was running away like a dog with its tail between its legs in fear. We landed at the airport with 13 pieces of luggage; I feared that we would be stopped by customs but they simply waved us by. The work was registered in less than 3 months and we had our work permits (visas) in hand 3 weeks later. Out of the ashes of Tanzania came the work in Zambia.
Time after time we’ve planted churches, registered in countries unknown to us, landed at every airport in every city for the first time without knowing anyone. Exciting as it sounds, the process is fraught with “what if it happens like it did…” Thankfully those thoughts have never overwhelmed us – but it’s been a battle of faith to simply trust.
In February of last year (2016) we landed once again with 13 pieces of luggage in a city unfamiliar to us where we knew no one. We found a Toyota minibus to transport us to the guesthouse where we were going to stay until we found a house we could rent. The vehicle shouldn’t have been on the road but nevertheless we made it and here we are a little over a year later with a church planted, a piece of property where we will build facilities when there’s money, and we are making preparations to open a school next year (a first for us). It feels like we’ve once again climbed a huge mountain and we’ve made it to the summit. Now, we’re staring at the valleys we will traverse before making it to the next mountaintop. It’s the valleys that give me reason to pause!
There are so many memories (good and bad) to draw from as we are once again starting over here in Blantyre, Malawi, but it seems that as I continue to step out into the unknown every day, the memories of trial surface a lot quicker than the memories of victory that followed the trial:
I remember times when we wondered if our future ministry was secure due to war in the country, times when our church’s future was in question due to waiting for approval to work in the country, times when our health or our children’s health was under attack, times when finances just weren’t there. Those times gave me valuable experience; I learned how to pray, have faith, stay faithful, and pray for miracles. Those experiences schooled me in trusting God and it’s from those lessons I must draw my courage.
But, like you I’m sure, there are seasons when it’s harder to be brave than others. I think I’m there in that place right now; but one thing I know is that these times of raw trust are the ones that bring the most satisfying of victories.
I’ve learned that having courage is not an absence of fear or feeling – it is a determination to move forward in the face of adversity. That determination sometimes has to come in its rawest form, when we have no energy, our faith is depleted, but in our hearts we know God can’t lie. He won’t leave us and we will come to another mountaintop despite the deep valleys.
Let Him give you courage today in the face of all that life is throwing at you – He is faithful – He can make you brave.
Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJ “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”