We’re approaching a year since we all packed up our lives and moved to start this big church planting mission. So much has changed, so much has stayed the same, and we’ve all grown in many ways. How do we even post updates? Often when missionaries and ministries send update letters, it’s only a brief overview of the highlights. The reality of this ministry lifestyle is that there are a lot of high highs and a lot of low lows. But when someone asks the question “how is it going?”…how do you answer?
How can you possibly sum up everything that the Lord has done and everything that the enemy has tried to stop from happening? How do you summarize months of questions, doubts, losses, victories, parties, wins, team conflict, team unity, discipleship stories, outreach events, soul crushing realities and reality altering miracles? How can you express the blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured out for the Kingdom?
How can you possibly answer that question?
With bullet points. You share how many people you’ve reached, how well your outreach events have gone, and how attendance at your church is. You might share a story or two about someone you’ve met or discipled. And when someone really asks wanting to know more, you might get 30 or 40 minutes to answer.
Just a scratch in the surface.
I was recently talking with a friend of mine about how we used to think missionaries were SUPER spiritual. We put them on a pedestal. We thought of them as a different tier of human.
Until we met them.
In high school, I met a missionary in Costa Rica through a youth group trip I went on. I was fascinated to see that she was just a normal person. In college, I got to live with her for a couple months and see her day to day ministry life. She ran errands, made meals for her family, attended her kid’s soccer games, and went to Bible study….pretty average stuff really. The difference was that when Jesus told her to go do it in a different country, she obeyed. When Jesus told her to drop what she was doing and meet with a disciple, she did. She listened and she obeyed. She was faithful.
When I went to Bible college, I was surrounded by hundreds of students studying the Word so they could go into full-time ministry. Some wanted to be missionaries, some wanted to be pastors, and some wanted to be church planters. And the more we studied, the more I realized….ministry is really just a lifestyle of obeying the Father WHEREVER you go. The lifestyle that Jesus called us to as Christians is the same for people living in their hometown and for people living abroad. The call is the same for people who make their money doing ministry and for people who make their money through a traditional ‘job’. When Jesus says GO, we GO.
About a year ago, I was crying in my shower. Even though Jesus calls all of us to this type of radical faithfulness and mundane obedience, there were a lot of people that just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand why my family needed to move away to be faithful & obedient. They didn’t understand why we would quit our jobs or why we would abandon what we knew for something so unknown. The thought of moving away was heart wrenching for me. I lived near some of my closest friends, and the thought of leaving was sorrowful. But that grief was only compounded when it felt like no one saw the thing that made it worth it. I could look boldly into the unknowns and I saw an invitation. I saw Jesus there waiting to do amazing things. Was I the only one that saw it?
So there I was, crying in my shower. Jesus, this feels so hard. Where are the people that see what I see? Where are the people that get it?
Hebrews 12:1-3 flashed into my mind.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
That bolded phrase immediately brought tears to my eyes. It was as if Jesus was pointing:
Right there. Those are the people that get it. Noah, who built a boat for a rainstorm he didn’t yet see. Abraham who packed up his life and moved without knowing where I was taking him. Moses, who valued a treacherous walk in the desert more than access to Pharaoh’s entire kingdom. Rehab who made decisions not based on her physical home and loyalties, but for the sake of her spiritual citizenship. These are the people who identify with how hard this is. They’ve gone before you and done the hard thing. And you are surrounded by this crowd of saints cheering for you when it gets hard.
I felt immediate comfort. I was a part of a story so much bigger than I had imagined. And it entirely changed my mindset to realize that these Bible characters weren’t just people in stories – they were the people who knew the pain and still cheered from the stadium seats while I dropped everything that weighed me down, fixed my eyes on Jesus, and ran the race set before me.
If the race were a newly paved straight running path, it would be easy. So many times in the past year I have wished that’s what the path looked like. But sometimes it looks more like a mountain path that’s barely a dirt trail. There are boulders and branches blocking the trail sometimes. There are slippery mud slopes and impossible inclines. Sometimes the path twists and turns all over the place and sometimes you lose sight of where you’re going or even where the path is. It’s confusing. It can be dangerous. It makes you wonder if you have what it takes to reach the end. And you have no idea what storms will blow in or what will be around the next corner. Now imagine hiking that trail with a group of other people who aren’t experienced hikers either. One has a map, one has a GPS, one is really good at reading the stars for directions, a few are great at making fires or scavenging for food. Some days you are so glad you’re not walking the path alone, and other days you’re overwhelmed at the idea that none of you know where the path goes and you still have to plot a destination on the map together.
In a lot of ways, that’s what church planting this past year has felt like. In a myriad of ways, God has been preparing our team for this journey for years. And in other ways, we feel like a group of inexperienced hikers dropped in the middle of a mountain trail with no accurate map except for the one we’re plotting as we go.
So what do you do when the call feels too overwhelming? What do you do when the hardness of surviving on a wilderness trail seems like too much to ask?
There are two groups of people that I have found vitally important on this journey: Coworkers and Senders.
Coworkers: the people all over the world that God has also dropped on wilderness trails with fragments of maps. The missionaries. The pastors. The afterschool program ministers. The mission-minded. The Christians who are being radically faithful while they work for the post office or bag groceries at the store. The people who have said yes to a call. The people who have obediently abandoned the path they’ve paved for the one Jesus has asked them to walk. Some of these people are our own team members – those we are walking with together. But others are people who stop by to visit and walk a mile of our path with us. Others we go to visit and walk a mile of their path with them. Some join us over a phone call or a Facetime chat to remind us we’re not walking the path alone. These people – they are part of that great cloud of witnesses. But they are also people we can call and visit and write home to. They’re the people that have lived in other countries, started new ministries, and fought for the spiritually oppressed in their own cities. They are the people that don’t need us to answer “how’s it going?” because they’ve lived it. They see past the bullet points because they’ve experienced the big picture. So when the going gets tough, these are the people that remind us we’re not the only ones and we’re not on our own.
Senders: Faithful people who know how hard the process of plotting our trail map is and have committed to pray for us, financially support us, stop by to help with an outreach event, or just ask us how we’re doing. Sometimes coworkers are senders and senders are coworkers. Senders are people who are invested in the ministry we’re starting and will fight for us in prayer. They are invested in our neighbors’ lives, and in our town’s spiritual health. These are people that give of themselves to help us establish something new. They want to hear the updates. They want to know our needs. And even though God didn’t call them to be the people to start this ministry, they are vitally important in pouring into us and believing we’re doing something worth doing. They get to see the glimpses into what God’s doing as they support us in what we’re doing. They remind us that what we’re doing is worth the blood, sweat, and tears. They see the vision when we don’t.
These two groups of people have been essential to me while we do this. This past year has been a roller coaster that no one could have seen coming. What no one sees in missionaries and ministers is how the work set before us strips us of everything we once called our own. It requires us to lay down our identities, our relationships, our comfort, our jobs, our communities, our churches, our families, our fears, our joys, our gifts, our weaknesses, our hopes for the future and everything else between. There’s no room for anything but radical faithfulness and mundane obedience. And therefore, the past year we’ve lived has been filled with incredible joys and deeply felt losses. The Lord has done miracles, confirmed callings, strengthened gifts, and also asked for more of us than we thought we could give.
So next time someone asks me how it’s going, I don’t know that I will have an answer except for: “Thank you. Thank you for being one of the people that has kept me going when I’m hanging on a thread. Thank you for being someone who sees that what God’s doing here is worth all the sacrifice, and thank you for grieving with me when that sacrifice hurts. Thank you for seeing the vision when I don’t, and thank you for speaking truth into my life when I can’t. I have no better update than to say I still need you, and each sender and coworker and loved one that still asks is one of the reasons I can still keep my eyes fixed on Jesus in the midst of every physical sacrifice and spiritual battle.”
That’s the importance of the senders…the ministry supporters…the family…and the friends. The ministry we do cannot be done on our shoulders alone. We are mere humans. We have limits. But those limits feel a little more limitless when there are people across the world fighting for us with encouragement, prayer, and care. So if you are one of those people: Thank you.