Stepping off the plane for the first time in Burundi, I seriously wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. I stood with my husband and children on the airport tarmac after our plane landed. It was warm, the sun was hot, and there was no one waiting for us. There was no air conditioning in the airport terminal, I remember being thankful for the breeze that blew through the baggage collection area. With my left hand, I held tightly to my 5 year old son’s little hand and balanced my 1 1/2 year old daughter on my right hip. We were all tired of living out of suitcases; we had spent nearly a year in France studying French prior to our arrival that day in Burundi. From France, we flew to Nairobi, Kenya and, after a short time, made our way to Burundi where the adventure of our lifetime was about to begin.
Time and again I’ve relived that same scenario; going somewhere where I’ve not been before to start a church from nothing. Where would we start? We never knew until we got there. Who would work with us? We would find them. When would we leave? When the time was right.
It took us 9 years of hard work to see the church grow to a place of maturity where we were able to leave to go plant a new church in a new nation and start the whole process all over again. Now, 18 years and a number of churches later, I have learned a few things about stepping out in faith into the unknown – and I’m still learning! In our affirmation-driven society where many in Christian circles have rarely seen the raw faith that’s required to face the world head-on for the cause of the Kingdom, they find they are ill-prepared for the reality that awaits them when they do step out. Often, they fall victim to discouragement, even despair, when the enemy meets them head-on (believe me when I say that he will seek you out the moment you say “yes” to the Kingdom’s call).
In Acts 14, we read the account of Paul ministering on a journey that had taken him through several cities. In one of the cities, Lystra, a man was healed (Acts 14:10) and the crowds went nearly crazy over the great miracle they had seen: a man who was born crippled, was healed and walked. It was amazing! Paul and his partner, Barnabas, could hardly restrain the people from making sacrifices to them, calling them gods. One would think that this great miracle would open great opportunities to the city; however, that was not what happened. Shortly after this miraculous occurrence, the same people who Paul ministered to were “stirred up” (Acts 14:19) to stone Paul. He was left for dead but, in another miracle, got up and went on to another city called Derbe where many received the Gospel and a large number of disciples were made. Later on, Paul returned to Lystra and other cities where he had preached, encouraging believers along his way.
In reading this account, I was taken by the fact that first Paul was almost worshipped as a god and then he was stoned by the same ones who wanted to worship him the day before. The emotions he felt must have been extreme. In studying Paul’s life, I’ve noticed he was someone who didn’t require a lot of maintenance; he worked to support himself by making tents and never is he seen in the scriptures asking for expensive gifts. His main focus was the Kingdom’s advance in the earth and he wouldn’t let himself get sidetracked by the peripheral things of this life.
Nevertheless, Paul was human and I am sure at this time, and many others, he must have felt conflicted, even tempted to be depressed over the rejection – but he doesn’t even make mention of any anguish over this ordeal in the scriptures. He was simply concerned to build the Kingdom, grow the churches he planted, and be faithful to his call. Affirmation would come later in abundance simply by hearing the words, “well done.” However, until that time, he fought the fight of faith and kept his faith.
Our service to people isn’t based on their merits or their appreciation of our call to serve God. I’ve found that if I can keep this front and center in my own life, I’m not easily disappointed. However, the moment I let my focus on the Kingdom fade, that’s the moment I fall into discouragement. Whether there are people to meet me at the airport or not, I’m moving forward. Whether someone thanks me or not, my eyes are fixed on the prize. Whether what I do looks successful or not, I’m already a success in my Father’s eyes, for His approval already rests on me.
“Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the Kingdom of God established.” Paul W. Harrison