Thorns and thistles grow with no effort for the missionary stationed in a distant land. This isn’t something we westerners often brood over until we stand beside them; see and feel their struggle through the endless trial-some task of gardening.
It is dark already when the weekly outside gathering begins. There are only solar powered lights sharing their remembrance of a sun that set some time ago and gave the way to a lesser light.
My mind wanders back across an ocean to a mansion where a similar study will take place in a few hours. It will be well lit and climate controlled. I marvel at so great the disparity.
Our presence means there are not enough seats, so some of us share simple benches and small wooden foot stools. My mind wrongly entertains the thought, “Will my friends across the water appreciate their cushioned seating this evening?”
The missionary teaches his friends in a language we don’t understand. Each of the three takes turns reading passages of Scripture, and on occasion, the missionary breaks to offer us a morsel of their study in English.
The missionary’s son prepares and diligently serves all of us tea throughout the evening. This custom is one we will participate in often during our stay. I think how proud the missionary ought be of so fine a son. This is a small token of the servant heart this young man will display during our visit. In each act of service and every time his presence is visible, I know that it is Jesus making Himself known in a willing vessel surrendered to Him. It is humbling and yet so refreshing to watch the missionary’s primary disciple walking in his labor prepared beforehand.
Afterwards, we share our testimonies and enjoy the fellowship of a meal together. Minus the luxuries we are accustomed to back home, and the number of attendees, it appears we have merely engaged in a Wednesday evening service, but there is so much more resting beneath what is seen on this night.
Persecution, you know, comes in many sizes and shapes. This distant land we visit offers its own version of the enemy’s assault against the gospel. The people here are religious; very religious. It is a strange religion though, one that attempts to homogenize two belief systems; Islam and Animism.
The people are also very relation and tradition oriented. Following Jesus in this land means that one might very well lose everything, including family, friends, and vocation.
One of the men in attendance tells of his conversion being announced by radio to his village. He loses his famed soccer career. Another’s wife reported him to their community religious leaders. She wants nothing to do with his new faith. Each of the men display signs of wavering under the pressure. Is Jesus worth it, I can’t help but think they must ask?
The missionary remains strong before us even though this three could easily be one by next Wednesday. This is a hard land. It is much harder than I imagined. Words I thought I understood take on a new definition, like trust, hope, faith, and perseverance.
We are home in our comforts now, but the missionary and his family remain in the hardened and distant land.
The missionary will awaken again this morning, I know, and take his place among the people who burden his heart. He will build relationships, and then strengthen them. He will pray much as he plants and waters a crop he trusts his God is giving life to. He is where God has compelled him to be… where Jesus has called him to follow; and that is enough for the missionary. He has found the true rest that this disciple prays for even as he writes these words.