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When success is fragile

CMS missionary Kate Beer, together with Tavis, admits that sometimes challenges will be easier to see than progress. They work in the Northern Territory.

If I have learnt anything from the Territory, it is to hold lightly to whatever we expected.

Sometimes it works out better than I could have imagined! Just last week, a cyclone prevented me visiting one community as planned – but then the whole community was evacuated and I caught up with many of the church leaders at the airport while they waited to be loaded onto Air-Force cargo planes!

Sometimes though, our plans to provide training have been tragically derailed. And there are leaders I’ve invested in, but gospel fruit has not resulted as hoped.

I am not alone in the grief and questions stirred up by these situations. I recently spent two days sitting with two emerging church leaders, learning oral bible stories to share. All of a sudden one of these women asked “What about all the people who have been baptised, but then they go off gambling and using marijuana? Did they lie at their baptism, or what?” Training trainers involves hard conversations about painful realities.

To my eyes, sometimes our ministry seems so fragile. Hundreds of hours of investing in a person can be so quickly derailed by ill-health, funerals, a series of family crises or a conflict that wipes that person out of ministry. But “should we accept good from God, and not trouble?” The Lord Jesus also faced the pain of disciples who fell away.

In missionary circles, we sometimes speak with such admiration about the faithful obedience and nobility of missionaries who served in apparently fruitless labour. Of course, new missionaries never aspire to join their ranks! Or if they do, perhaps they imagine people like Dr William Leslie—who spent 17 years in DR Congo in apparently fruitless ministry, but which was later revealed as having had an enormous impact.

Sometimes we hear of missionaries returning from other countries with encouraging stories of how they have been able to build and leave thriving ministries. It is so inspiring and we want to do ourselves out of a job, just like they did! But we are working in a field where there are many ‘thorns’. We know we are in a very real and tangible spiritual battle. And, Jesus actually told us to expect that, of all the gospel seed we scatter, three quarters of it will fall on soil that, for whatever reason, cannot produce fruit.

When the disciples returned to Jesus from their mission trip in Luke 10, they want to focus on their visible success, but Jesus tells them instead to rejoice that their names are written in the book of life. So I am increasingly convicted that I was called to be faithful, not successful. My role is to do my best to present myself as to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, and who correctly handles the word of truth.  Will you keep praying for missionaries like me – that we will continue to strive with all our God-given resources to train those who will train others. May God’s word accomplish God’s desire and achieve the purpose for which it was sent.


Sometimes missionaries can feel ashamed or discouraged when their ministry doesn’t go as expected. Why not check up on one you know to see how they are going?