As part of the Serge conference, Rose Marie Miller asked me to share a brief testimony about how I endure hard times. How do I persevere through all the challenges of the last few years? Rose Marie is quite a testimony to endurance herself. She and her husband Jack started Serge (World Harvest Mission) 40 years ago and now, at age 97, she is still serving and sharing the gospel with Asian communities in London. She reminded us of the importance of being "anchored in the Word of God," learning to pray in our weakness and helplessness (Rom 8:26), and inviting others to pray with us and for us. She also invited two couples to share powerful testimonies of how God has sustained them through the past two decades of service in Ireland and Uganda/Kenya through many hardships. I'm earlier on in my journey and know there will be many unseen curves ahead and ups and downs, but I thought I would share an excerpt of what I shared at the conference here in the hopes that it would encourage our blog readers who have also endured with our team over many years!
From Spain talk June 2022:
...I really appreciated the thoughts Rose Marie shared about the God of first causes - that we can believe that God is indeed sovereign and loving in every event - whether joyful or sorrowful - in our lives. He doesn’t usually take away the hard times but he does bring Himself - His loving, good, and comforting self - which enables us to endure.
...There have been many hard times over the last couple years for me and our team: pandemic, hard goodbyes, armed robbery at Kibuye, major team transition, Jennifer Myhre’s accident, conflict, and personal struggles. There are days when I think about how much easier it is to treat malaria or parasites than it is to deal with complicated relational dynamics and cross-cultural communication. If only a given situation had a clear diagnosis and treatment, a beginning and an end! So what does endurance look like? As I’ve been reflecting on this and looking up verses on endurance, I think it begins with lament in the present - in community. From there it moves to remembering the past with gratitude and looking to the future with hope.
1) Lament. So this first step is actually the hardest one for me as it means I actually have to admit that life is hard and painful at times. As a thinker, my M.O is generally to ignore or deny my feelings. If I can think myself out of a situation, I will give that my best shot! It sometimes takes me a long time to even be aware of my feelings - and then I usually want to hide them from others even if I acknowledge them to myself and to God. But of course this only works temporarily and does not lead to long-term endurance of hard times. Lament means bringing to God my feelings, thoughts, and experiences in all their raw intensity. It means acknowledging and grieving losses and struggles. As we read in Romans 8, the creation groans as it waits for glory; we groan as we await redemption of our weak bodies; and the Spirit groans as he intercedes for us. And groaning or lamenting in community takes courage - especially for those of us who don’t have a natural “debriefer" in a spouse. But lament is not complaining or griping but following Jesus’ example who ran to His Father when his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow and courageously asked his friends to pray with him. And I have found that thankfully my friends and teammates are better at listening empathetically and praying with me than the disciples were at that moment in the garden!
2) Remember the past with gratitude. In the midst of present hard times, I find it helpful to look back and remember God’s faithfulness in the past and how He has brought me this far. I think about how He gradually and gently called me to this life and work and how he has been with me and our team through all the ups and downs along the way. And I think back even farther to being a 10-year-old kid alone and paralyzed in an ICU bed. I had an illness called transverse myelitis which meant that I just woke up one July morning unable to walk or feel anything from my chest down. This was obviously quite a traumatic experience for me and my family. But God did indeed answer the prayers of His people and do a mighty work in my life during those two years of relearning how to walk and run again. My favorite verses became Isaiah 40: 30-31: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Most people with transverse myelitis end up with significant long-term impairments, but God provided the miracle of near-complete healing for me. And He also taught me about perseverance in hard times, about giving Him glory for healing, and He affirmed my interest in medicine which had already been developing for several years. Looking at the past with gratitude for me is sometimes as simple as being aware of the amazing fact that I can put one foot in front of the other and walk and seeing that as evidence of God’s hand on my life for so many years.
3) Finally we look to the future with hope. Hebrews 12:1-3: “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 author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at 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.” We are surrounded by a community of witnesses to the goodness of God and this enables us to courageously repent of sin and scorn shame - including the shame that comes from human frailty and hindrances and not always getting it right. There is joy set before us just as there was before Jesus. And He is the one who is perfecting us and walking with us during hard times. As I said before and as Paul Miller writes, the J-curve always curves back up eventually to full redemption of everything broken in us and in the world around us - God making all things new. In view of that hope we can endure. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4 that looking ahead to the eternal weight of glory enables us to not lose heart in the present. Our current afflictions even prepare us for this eternal glory! When I’m discouraged by the magnitude of malnutrition in Burundi or the children who die from illnesses that are treatable elsewhere in the world or the students who struggle to learn or apply critical thinking or communication and trust struggles or differing opinions and conflict, I remember that it won’t always be this way. I can’t fix these problems, but I can look to my Savior who will one day usher in eternal glory so much greater than anything I can imagine.
So that’s my encouragement to all of us jars of clay today who feel fragile and who are sometimes overwhelmed by the sufferings and trials of life. Lament in community. Remember with gratitude. Look forward with hope.
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5