This is Missions emphasis week at Proclaim & Defend.
Why Aren’t You Afraid?
Our area of Italy has recently been shaken by a series of earthquakes. August 24, 2016, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake destroyed Amatrice (about 1 hour away from us) and other nearby cities, killing about 300 people and rendering many others homeless. Significant aftershocks continued for weeks, keeping our neighbors in constant fear. Several slept in their cars days after the initial earthquake for fear of being crushed in their apartment buildings during the night. Life slowly returned to normal, and people forgot their vulnerability before our Almighty God, when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake on October 26 struck Visso (a little closer to us), causing significant damage. This earthquake was followed by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake 4 days later in roughly the same area.
In the midst of such times, we all face uncertainty: uncertainty of our possessions, uncertainty of our lives and the lives of those we love. After each earthquake, many people exited their apartment buildings or houses (no matter what time of day or night) out of fear and the desire to talk to people—to be reassured of life. Everyone wanted to talk about the earthquake and how they felt about it.
One day, after I listened to several of my friends at the playground discuss how terrified they were of these earthquakes and how difficult it was to sleep at night, they asked me, “Are you afraid?” The question startled me, and though I didn’t want to humiliate any of them, I expressed the reality that I wasn’t afraid. “Why not?” “Because God is in control of even the earthquakes, and I trust Him. He is good and always does good.” They wanted to know how I could say He is good in light of all the death and destruction. I replied that I didn’t know exactly what He was doing, but I have full confidence that He always does what is right and good. He didn’t start all the death and destruction in this world. I began sharing from Genesis the story of Adam and Eve’s bringing death, destruction, and separation from God into the world by their sin. Yet, God promised them a way to life, peace, and a restored relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. They sat quietly while we walked through the Gospel for a few minutes. Jesus alone is the only One Who can bring peace to their hearts. Alegra asked me to pray for her to have peace. I said I was praying for everyone in Italy. She said earnestly, “No! Put ME at the top of the list!”
Since then, I’ve had several other opportunities to speak with Alegra about God’s peace and even read through a tract with her. She has shown continued interest despite the frequent interruptions of my children or her grandchildren, but God hasn’t opened her eyes to accept His salvation yet.
We are now down to under 900 tremors a week, but we can’t feel the vast majority of them since they’re too small. And, though people periodically speak of the possibility of more severe earthquakes, life has returned to normal in our area. (I believe the main Catholic church in our area may even have reopened after needing some repairs due to the earthquakes.) The fear has abated again, and the window of special opportunity to share God’s peace has passed. Though I will likely never know everything God was doing with these earthquakes, I know one thing for certain—that He was opening the eyes of my friends and neighbors to their lack of control over their lives and pushing them to ask questions of eternal value. I thank God for His good plan.
Skipping Deputation, Missing Opportunities?
You’ve probably heard the dramatic stories of missionaries on deputation—showing up for a meeting only to have the pastor not know who you are or what your ministry is, only having enough gas money to coast into the parking lot of the next church, or discovering that your sleeping quarters are actually located in someone’s unfinished attic—but I’m afraid I will have to disappoint you and tell you that I don’t have any dramatic stories to share. The fact that none of those things have happened to us after a little less than two years of part-time and then almost one year of full-time deputation goes a long way towards demonstrating that no two deputation experiences will be the same.
The Lord providentially customizes the life experiences of each of His children in order to bring him to a greater Christlikeness, and deputation ministry is just one of those many seasons of life for missionaries. You may have noticed that I called it deputation ministry, and truly that is how we view it. It’s not a dreaded drudgery through which we drag our family so that someday we can get to the real ministry on the field. It is our ministry right now! Of course, we have plans and desires of being able to reach our field of service and advance God’s kingdom there. And yes, of course, we do find ourselves regularly praying and hoping with each new church we visit that another one will be able to partner with us. But we have discovered that the Lord wants us to be learning lessons all along the way, and very likely we will find those lessons to be the exact ones we need when we face new pressures after arriving on the field.
One day-to-day challenge might be finding a quiet time and place for a devotional walk with the Lord (which can be tricky when staying in someone else’s house in the same room with your two young children). Or the challenge might be spending quality time together as a couple and training children while on the road in a wide variety of ever-changing circumstances. Whatever challenges we faced, the Lord has never failed to give grace when we asked Him! It is always helpful to refocus on the big picture of what we’re doing before zooming back into the current task and seeking to be faithful stewards of our time and energies. One day we might be learning patience with the raw amount of time it takes to contact pastors and set up new meetings. The next day we might be learning to work together as a family. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had to pack and unpack at each new stop—hauling the suitcases in and out of our minivan for the umpteenth time! The Lord has a way of emphasizing our need for Spirit-filled reliance on Him.
What if we could skip the whole deputation process? That may sound appealing at first, but I can’t help but think of the things we would miss—opportunities to hone preaching skills, challenge young people for missions, and minister musically. We would also miss the opportunity of being in many different churches, each with its own unique ministry, and learning the burdens pastors have for their people while being encouraged to observe their faithful shepherding of their flocks. We would miss building personal relationships with people who will pray for us through thick and thin during the coming years. We would miss rubbing shoulders in mission conferences with veteran missionaries who’ve been exactly where we are now— only thirty years ago! We would miss the time it takes to begin to transition mentally from living in the United States to life on the field. As I write this article, we’re still in deputation full swing, but the Lord has provided two-thirds of our needed support. Even when the day comes that we’re finally finished with our deputation, we will still look back with grateful hearts for all that the Lord did through and for us.
These articles appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Sowing & Reaping, the Gospel Fellowship Association Missions newsletter. They are republished here by permission.