Success. It is a dirty word in missions.
And it is so because it is incredibly difficult to define what success is in the work we do. Is it the number of people who leave their faith and begin to follow Jesus? Is it the number of churches planted? Is it the number of miracles that happen? Is it the number of buildings that are built or purchased that produce great pictures of people of different cultures and skin colours smiling together?
In public, most of us in missions are really good at trying to convince our friends, churches and supporters that we are successful. Look at our pictures! Listen to our stories! We are doing well so PLEASE don’t stop supporting us. There is an incredible push to find the next tale of a miracle or of a Muslim that hears a story of Jesus and wants to know more. In private though? Many of us battle doubts about our effectiveness. Are we truly cut out for this work? Why did God call us to the field when it is painfully obvious that we are failures. Especially compared to other missionaries whose stories are seemingly so much more powerful and exciting than what we have to offer.
Looking back over our almost seven years here in Houston, I have felt like a failure many times. And especially with the upcoming transition where GFM Houston is finishing operations this upcoming summer, the thoughts have crept in a few times that if we were only better at our jobs then we would not have to do this. If only I had prayed more, shared the Gospel more, spent more hours with people inviting them to get involved then the work could continue.
But that’s foolish. Thankfully Michelle and I are surrounded by a great team of workers and advisers who have helped us reject all of these lies. And while it is still difficult we are able to rest knowing a few truths.
God places us where He wants us, for what He wants us to do. So the Lord brought us to Houston, and placed us in our neighbourhood working with the people we work with so that His plans are accomplished. And those plans are much more extensive and involved then we can ever dream of. The ripples of our small interactions with people, the prayers shared and the Gospel preached may take a while to show up, but they will show up. Perhaps not even when we are still in Houston, in ministry or even alive, but they will eventually show up. That is what we all have to put our confidence in.
For example, the Diks family buys a house in a nice neighbourhood in Sugar Land. We aren’t sure why it took so long and then aren’t even positive we bought the right house. But there is a house next door that is a rental property. The first couple of years there is an Indian family that we pray for regularly as they are nominal Hindus but want nothing to do with Jesus. Then the husband of the family hurts his foot and asks for prayer. He is healed in the name of Jesus but still rejects the idea of following Christ. Over time they move out but they take with them a knowledge of the living God’s power as well as a Bible in their native language and a Jesus film.
The next neighbour is a Muslim family and they also want nothing to do with Jesus. But we keep praying and letting them know that we care for them. Our children are friends and many times we exchange food. (although to be honest, their gifts to us FAR outweighed what we sent to them) There are a few conversations about the Bible but it is clear they want nothing to do with a faith they have been tought is evil. Eventually they have to move back to their country, but they leave with a Jesus film, a Bible in their language and a reminder that we are praying for them.
Neither family ever began to follow Jesus that we know of, or even showed an interest. So did we fail?
If we measure by human standards, then yes. We probably did since neither of those families professed a desire to follow Jesus. But this work is not human and the timelines are not what we think they are. One day, we trust that the steps we took in obedience to God’s command will show fruit and if we do not see the fruit of those actions until the day we are gathered in heaven, then ok. It’s all for God’s glory anyways, not ours.
And there is the true definition of success in our work and Christian lives. Obedience. Did we obey God in the situations He placed us in with the resources He gave us? If so, then we are successful. Obedience almost always isn’t flashy or something that we would consider “newsletter worthy”, but it is so worth it when you can go to bed in peace knowing that this work isn’t all about you. In fact, it has very little to do with you!
Thanks for listening.