Reasons to endure
Posted on: 22nd February 2019
CMS workers S & I, working in South Asia, continue to feel the urgency of persevering in mission through many difficulties for them and others. Read why.
As we near the end of our second term, we want to offer some thoughts about why we think it matters to persevere in gospel ministry on the mission field in the face of difficulties not only for us but for the people we minister alongside.
We went to South Asia with a prayerful hope for what we might do during our current term of service. The idea was to teach English mainly to university students at a small centre we’d set up after several years with S as a roaming English teacher. It was close to multiple universities with the hope of facilitating evangelism and, over time, discipleship amongst students and others. It started well, with some good classes and conversation clubs assisted by an enthusiastic American short-term team.
But ongoing attacks on foreigners and minority groups and a major terrorist incident put our plans on hold. As matters developed, and in the absence of all other options, S closed the English centre and took on the role of Managing Director as well as Acting Principal of our children’s school (focussed on children of missionaries) to hopefully keep it going. Even I’s reading the of the Bible with women was affected by the busyness of the school’s needs. We had very little time do engage in what we’d originally hoped to be involved in. But we felt the school, now servicing 20 mission organisations, was worth contending for.
Clearly changes such as this are a challenge to perseverance. But of course, we are not the only ones in our context who face challenge. We see many different sorts of suffering here in South Asia.
We see the physical suffering of those in our city, from maimed or destitute beggars and children tapping on the car windows at traffic lights, to the struggle everyone has to survive the frail infrastructure of an overpopulated nation and megacity of 15 million people. This economic pressure is felt by the national staff at our school, who reflect the problems of so many in this country.
We see the long-term effects of people having been displaced because of hastily drawn national boundaries, or through lost land and family, or because they are refugees from neighbouring lands.
We see the spiritual suffering of those who don’t yet know Jesus and are subject to idols who keep them in bondage, leading some to commit arbitrary acts of terrorism and violence that affect many.
From a Christian perspective, we see the suffering of persecuted believers and their children through open prejudice, or their own sense of being in the minority. Alongside this, we see the suffering of ministering in challenging cross-cultural friendships and work relationships with hidden expectations and power imbalances.
In the midst of this, the internal angst or suffering as God does his work of conforming us to the likeness of Christ can feel more intense when it happens in a cross-cultural context.
The perseverance of K
When we think of long-term perseverance for Christ here we think of K. He is a Christian friend we’ve had here for a number of years. He’s now working as a paid evangelist in his own home village despite irrational and unfair treatment by neighbours, even his own mum, for following Jesus. One of his biggest burdens is his uncertainty about the future for his son and daughters, because they don’t have an identity that makes sense to anyone around them. They have Muslim names, but he and his son don’t attend the mosque or participate in the festivals. Various other disciples have started on the same journey as K, but haven’t been able to keep ‘going against the flow’.
Reasons for continuing
So what keeps us going, when we think not merely of our own difficulties but the difficulties faced by our local friends? For ourselves, we are often reminded by the Bible’s encouragement to ‘count it all joy’ when various kinds of testing come upon us (James 1:2-5)—when locals from the majority religion attack our beliefs with their own logic, or slow down official papers and visas and so make it difficult for our school to operate.
It is a deeper challenge, though, when we see those around us in difficulty for being Christian. Jesus’ own reaction to suffering was compassion, and we aim to be like him even when situations don’t seem to change quickly. Sometimes it doesn’t seem right to say to a brother or sister, “Count it all joy!”, for we only share in such suffering in a minimal way. Yet the Bible encourages us even in these situations that the suffering of believers is a sharing in Christ’s own sufferings, at work in believers to promote the gospel and prepare us for glory. In those circumstances we lay hold on God’s promises, such as:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
When we experience difficulty, or when we see local believers like K going through suffering—then we rejoice for K and his family believing that they truly participate in Christ’s sufferings. Further, we rejoice ourselves that God is teaching us to trust his plans.
We keep asking God to give us his perspective. He’s bigger than what we see and we want to rejoice in that, while remaining compassionate and active in the things he gives us to do in his service.
CMS wants people who are committed to serving alongside believers in difficult and challenging circumstances, for the long term. Will you go? Contact your local branch to find out more.
You can read more of how S & I have been serving in a recent article they wrote for Checkpoint Online, here: https://www.cms.org.au/2018/08/serving-unexpected-ways-mission/