I don’t know where to begin with this thought. I’ve been staring at an empty screen for some time, typing, deleting, and typing again only to erase my thoughts and start over. I don’t want to write something that is simply entertaining or interesting – I want to achieve something with this entry that comes from a part of my heart that I rarely share.
Most of my life has been spent working in missions and there are times when it has felt as if I’ve been trying to empty an ocean of need with a teaspoon. I’ve been shoveling and shoveling for many years and it would seem that the water level hasn’t moved a bit.
We began our work 30 years ago on the continent of Africa and what we are doing today was the farthest thing from my mind when I first stepped on the airplane with my husband and 18-month-old son. I thought we were going to serve under our senior missionaries Ralph and Shirley Hagemeier for the foreseeable future; church planting wasn’t even a thought that I had allowed to cross my mind! My husband Jamie wasn’t intending on pastoring, he had grown up in a pastor’s home and knew the stresses that went along with the job all too well. Yes, I was happy to settle in and be a teacher and a preacher’s wife. We had the luxury of a reliable schedule during the week and on the weekends; my husband was invited almost every Sunday to preach in churches in the surrounding area. Looking back, it was an amazing time where we were allowed to land “softly” into missions. We had seasoned senior missionaries watching over us and we worked in an established Bible school. What more could we possibly want?
Then came the call to plant churches. This disturbed my idyllic life on the mission field. I can’t say that the call came in the form of a great vision or prophecy. It came more like something we knew we had to do. At first, it was exciting – the very idea of starting a church from nothing was intriguing. Where would we go? How would we start? Who would come?
While we had no idea which city we would start in, we knew we had to learn another language: French. We had already learned Swahili but in the Central African region, we knew that learning French would only be an asset to us in the region. For nearly a year we studied in France and prayed about where we would plant the church. We knew we wanted the church to be planted in a capital city and in time we felt in our hearts that we would go to Bujumbura, Burundi.
On a warm October afternoon in 1991 we landed at the airport in Bujumbura. There wasn’t a person around to receive us; this was my first indication that we weren’t “in Kansas anymore.” When we were asked why we were in the country, all we could say was, “We’re here to plant a church.”
That evening, we somehow found our way to the home of a family that was gracious enough to let our little tribe settle with them for a few days until we found a home of our own. Within a week we had rented a house and began the task of applying to register the church.
Months passed; we faced sickness, civil unrest, and our own nagging fears. Nevertheless, God was with us and the church finally was approved and we were able to begin. I thought, naively so, that things would get a bit easier with time but that was not the case at all. Civil unrest turned into war when the president was assassinated and we wondered if the church would even survive. No one ever taught us how to lead a church during war – so we did all that we could do. We prayed.
Survive it did and it thrived during the years of war and 9 years after the church was planted, we handed it over to our national leaders and moved on to plant another church. Time and again this scenario has repeated itself: we move to a previously unknown city in an unknown country, we arrive with no one to meet us and begin at ground zero. Each country has challenged us, each church we have planted has touched us, and each pastor we’ve been allowed to mentor has changed us.
Looking back over the years of seeing churches born and leaders raised up to lead those churches, I find a smile forming on my mouth as I think of how incredibly reckless this kind of life might seem to those who are looking from the outside in. How did we dare raise our children when life was, seemingly, so uncertain? There were times we wondered whether or not we could continue, there were times we rejoiced over great miracles; that our children grew up in such an atmosphere of faith and trust in God and His plan is nothing less than a great honor for us as parents. While we may not leave them a great financial inheritance when we step over into eternity, our children have a heavenly inheritance of faith that will see them and their families through their own personal journeys.
Back to that teaspoon emptying an ocean of need; all these teaspoons later and here I am still scooping away. Somewhere along the way I have found it’s not what we perceive on the surface, like the level of the ocean’s water, that matters. Tsunamis form on the ocean floor, far from the surface. When they form out in the deep places, it isn’t immediately apparent the size of the wave since the ocean’s surface covers a vast area. However, as the wave moves toward land, it gains momentum – it’s size and power is only evident once it reaches the shore.
God has seen fit to place us where He has placed us for reasons only known to Him. On the surface it may seem to be little, and indeed it is, but the power of the wave that has been created will be seen, perhaps years from now, when the wave reaches its intended shore.
Be encouraged as you take your journey. You may feel as if your part in the great puzzle of life is so small that you don’t matter – nothing could be farther from the truth. Keep on being faithful to what you have been called to do, for you are part of a great wave that will, in God’s time, surprise the world.
Colossians 3:23 NLT “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”