I think my honeymoon has lasted longer than it does more most missionaries. I had been warned that the first year living in a different culture would be the most stressful of my life--but it wasn't. God has gifted me with a wonderful ministry, great fellow missionaries, and good friends.
I have to admit that the the first few months of 2014 have been a challenge. My good friend and fellow missionary Judy Kerschner is always reminding me that we need to live each day with peace and joy to glorify God. I know she's right. I've learned living in peace and joy is not a feeling but a decision not to let our enemy ruin our testimony. Some days it's easy. Often, it's a struggle.
It was a bit of a surprise to me, when, after three and a half years in Guatemala, I felt like I hit a brick wall. I never doubted my call here, never really wanted to leave here, just wanted to go somewhere and hide indefinitely.
Some of the things about living in Guatemala that had been somewhat romantic, had become more than a little stressful. Waiting in line for an hour just to withdraw money from the bank on the 1st of the month, having to go to four different offices to pay four different bills, and the challenges of driving in a place where traffic laws are no more than suggestions, all seemed quaint at first. Recently, I have found these things getting on my last nerve.
Financial concerns arose in our ministry for the first time. No, we are not in danger of closing our doors, but our promised donations fall far short of our monthly needs. Each month God fills the need, often through generous one time gifts of friends. He always comes through. Often at the last minute. And when a large bill comes due, or medicine needs to be bought, it is hard not to stress as I wait for Him to act. I admit, I'm am learning what it means to live in TOTAL dependence on God while others (the guys in our house) are totally depending on me.
To top it off, after making some updates to my computer, I find myself locked out of my primary email account. The extra security measures Gmail has put in have backfired on me since I live out of the country. I can still access my email on my iPad (at least until I update it!), but it is much harder to keep up on things that way. After two weeks of trying, I still can't convince Google that I am who I say I am. Another time eater. . .
And living with six other people, all of whom depend on me not just financially but for leadership as well, has worn me out. Even acts of kindness on the part of the boys can be difficult given our different cultural perspectives and beliefs. (For example, when it is very hot as sunny, the boys insist I wear at least a light jacket to protect my skin from the sun, when I already want to remove rather than put on more clothing.) What one of our cultures sees as an act of kindness, the other can find annoying. This goes both ways, and I am continually monitoring my attitudes, words and actions to make sure I don't offend unintentionally. We are forgiving with each other when this happens, but it's still hard and sometimes hurtful.
The final blow was discovering, through a series of Godincidents that a Guatemalan I had thought was a good friend, was not as trustworthy as I had thought. This incident has taken me through the range of emotions from disbelief, to disappointment, to anger, to sadness. While I have forgiven the person, I grieve that I cannot continue a relationship with them. I also feel a little stupid for being duped for so long.
About the time I was ready to hide, the week of the surgeries in San Lucas came around. I had planned on going only to the pre-op visits on Saturday and teaching in Santa Maria during the week. While in San Lucas on Saturday, I just had a strong prompting that I should stay for the week of surgeries. I couldn't explain why, but felt like I needed to be there. So I made arrangements to stay.
I wish I could say God needed me there to minister, but I think more than anything, He had me there to recapture my first love and remember why I was sent here. While teaching, running a community house, providing scholarships, etc. are the tools we use, they are not my main reason for being in Guatemala. Christ is the reason I'm here, and my primary purpose is to make His name known and glorified. During this week, I was able to spend time with, get to know and share the gospel with so many folks who were here for surgery. I got to know better families I had already met, and became acquainted with new friends. I prayed with patients and their families, and I felt God move. This week, I practiced the present of being present to someone, especially in times of suffering.
One incident stands out. In the children's ward, there was a little girl named Wendy who was so scare and cried ALL the time. This was a strain on the other patients trying to recover from their surgeries. I got to talk with her mom and encourage her that Wendy would get better. At the end of the conversation, I told her that I would be praying for them. She gave me the strangest look, and I thought I had probably overstepped my bounds.
The next day, however, showed me how wrong I was. The minute I walked into the ward, Mom came and got me and asked me to come and pray with her and her daughter. Not for them, but with them. Mom said she had been somewhat surprised at my offer of prayer the day before, because, though this was a mission hospital, no one had prayed with them. I don't know their faith background. Many from their remote area of Guatemala have a strange religion which combines parts of Catholicism with Mayan religious beliefs and practices. But I do know that Wendy and her mom have now heard the gospel. They now know of God's great love for them, which does not need to be earned, only accepted.
Through this week I regained some of my lost focus. Has this made it easy to live "with peace and joy?" I wish. I still need to decide daily not to be discouraged by the struggles we face. I have learned that the greatest threats we face as missionaries are not the ones that can harm us physically (though most of us live in places wracked with violence), but to our hearts and minds and souls. As Paul warned us, our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil which seek to discourage us and render us ineffective for the kingdom.
Not surprisingly, at the same time I have been processing all of this, many postings on Facebook and other mission networks were dealing with this very topic. Isn't this just like our God to bring encouragement when it's needed. I am doing my best to live each day in peace and joy, clinging to the truth of 1Peter 5:9:
Resist him [the enemy], standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.I have written these things not to garner your sympathy, but to help you understand how to better pray for those of us on the mission field. I want you to know why we so desperately need your prayer covering, and ask you to pray for us regularly.
(If you would like to read the thoughts of other missionaries on these topics, you can go to my friend Deb Smith's blog where she has complied a number of these articles.)