One morning in Guatemala, I walked into our office and found sitting around the table the regional leadership of a group of churches we were working with. They were visiting politely with Melvin, a national pastor we worked with.
I greeted them and visited a moment and then excused myself and made my way to my office.
Of course I was curious what was happening. Still, I said nothing until they had left.
Why were they there? Why were they meeting with Melvin? What were they discussing? (That was only my beginning list.)
When Nothing’s Making Sense
Allow me to pause and ask: What keeps you going when nothing else is making sense?
When you live and work in a country and a culture you didn’t grow up in, but have adopted? When everything is hard to understand? When you aren’t sure you are communicating? When the cost/benefit ratio of missions feels fuzzy or downright disappointing?
Missionaries wrestle with that question somewhat regularly. I wrestle with that regularly.
The Background Story
I found out more of the story after the regional leaders left. But you need the background to the story to understand his answer–and understand what keeps me going.
Our small team had been working with these rural pastors and lay leaders for a couple of years, attempting to bring them resources and training that would help them serve their people and teach their congregations to walk as Jesus would want them to walk.
Periodically in this ministry, we welcomed groups of youth and adults who came down from supporting churches in the U.S. to spend a week. It took a lot of thinking and planning to create a situation which we felt would be a blessing to the churches we worked with and to the group coming down.
so here’s the plan
The groups completed work projects for four hours each morning, then showed the JESUS film each evening in a meadow in a location where our churches were trying to plant a Bible study or home church.
The churches were moderately interested: Maybe it would be worth doing. The JESUS film project offered the use of one of their staffers, along with a projector and screen. We took care of him and covered his costs; he showed the JESUS film in the crowds’ Mayan language and preached a short message and gave an invitation in that same local language. And it multiplied the churches’ reach at no cost to them!
Our group of American gringos, frankly, were the bait to draw a crowd.
Each night we had a good turnout. Some people walked three miles to attend. They seemed interested and somewhat responsive. The church elders stood around watching the crowd and conversing with those who came.
We completed the same routine for four nights in different locations. Then, the group headed home.
The idea: Church leaders would try to follow up with the people they saw at the film-showing over the next 10 days, visiting them in their fields or homes.
Two weeks later we repeated the process with a second national church group and four more locations, showing the JESUS film in a language none of us knew.
“Was it worth it?”
And then we all went home and I asked “Was it worth it?”
I wanted it to be worth the month we had spent with those two groups helping them see what we did there in the mountains. I wanted it to be worth it for both the wide-eyed group from Texas and the collection of churches we had tried to serve.
And then about a month later I walked into the office and some of those same church leaders were there.
I’d had no idea they were coming. But they seemed to have a good meeting.
It turns out they had indeed followed up with the people who they had seen at the showings of the Jesus film. And at each location they’d added 3 or 4 families to the Bible studies or home churches they were trying to start!
They had come to visit with my national teammate, Melvin, to find out how they could arrange to do the same thing all year long on their own.
What Keeps YOU Going
Yes, that made my day. That’s what keeps me going; it’s why I came. So what if they hadn’t talked to me about it?
Their question verified that the new untried evangelism event we had put together actually helped them. It apparently had turned out to be more productive than any “outreach program” they had tried.
We’d ensured all costs of the group would be covered–and the churches had experienced a new tool for growing their churches. And now they wanted to make it their own!
God had obviously showed up. Now, decades later, it’s an event I hang my hat on after all the mysteries of missions: Is what I’m doing working? Are there results to show from all I’m giving up?
(Wondering about what measuring stick to use for success–and what should be the kind of thing that keeps you going? A Life Overseas’ blog offers three criteria.)
When you get to see results that clearly, it keeps you going for a good long while. It did for me!
And even today when I think back over that and other events, unique though each one was, it is a constant encouragement. God calls us to serve him and others, and he is the one who creatively weaves the threads of ministry to produce what he calls success.
It’s well worth remembering those times when you got to see his fingers weaving success into what he’s called you to do.
Global veteran David Armstrong has set foot in 15 countries, and confesses that Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants. Catch his classic post here on 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas.