Sometimes people express to us how proud they are of what we're doing, or they acknowledge the sacrifices we're making to be here, or they outright thank us for making a difference for the kingdom of God. And quite frankly, we love to hear such things because it encourages us and motivates us and reminds us that we really are doing something a bit different with our life and maybe, just maybe, we really are making a difference.
But the reality is, what we're doing is not heroic.
I don't feel like a hero when I refuse to give someone money for their school fees. I don't feel like a hero when I bite into a Twix bar because I found one in Nairobi to splurge on. I don't feel like a hero when someone speaks to me in Swahili and I can't understand a word they said. I don't feel like a hero when other moms mention when they gave out Bibles in a village or visited the Peds ward or coached a Bible Quizzing team and all I can mention is that it's been three days since I left the compound and my kid woke up too early from his nap again. Trust me, more often than not, missions is not heroic.
Being obedient and taking up your cross and dying to self rarely is, no matter if we're talking about a job or parenthood or missions. There are moments of heroic glory, like the time a young man showed up at church while still a patient at the hospital because he had an "aha" moment after a terrible accident and realized he needed to get right with God, and we think, "Wow, we're a part of something that's truly changing lives." But more often than not are the vastly unheroic moments, like the time I inadvertently rewarded a boy for stealing (it's a long story), and we think, "Gah, we're ruining everything around here."
This life, this calling, is complicated. Few things are easy or straight-forward. And it's really hard to see the fruit of our labors. Has Eli led anyone to Christ since being here? Probably not. Has he healed every patient that's come into his care? Certainly not. And yet despite the relatively few reportable statistics we can offer from this past year of being on the mission field, we know and trust that God is fulfilling His purposes. Because that's what God does: He fulfills His purposes, for us and for the people of Kenya. And the truly heroic thing is not about giving up the conveniences we had in America or even working among a foreign people but rather trusting that God is still at work in what He's called us to do even when we can't see the results.
As I reread the Easter story this past weekend I was drawn to Doubting Thomas and, in particular, Christ's response to him: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). This is our task: as we obediently follow Him, to believe that God is bearing fruit in us and through us even if the evidence is unseen.
Sometime last year I heard a friend say this prayer: "Lord, thank You for everything You're doing that we can't see. And thank You for everything You're doing that we get to see." I've said that prayer many times since then, and prayed that prayer with our boys many times too, because I need to remind myself, as well as teach our children, the importance of believing that He is accomplishing His purposes even though we cannot see it most of the time.
Over this past Easter weekend I also read 1 Corinthians 15, and the very end of the chapter jumped out at me:
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
(1 Corinthians 15:55-58)
These verses felt very thematic of this past year of missions for us - our first year of figuring out some of the basics of this life and ministry, as well as maneuvering our way through its complexity. For every patient that Eli sends home strong and healthy, we rejoice that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. For every cultural faux pas we commit, we rejoice that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. We do this because of Jesus. We do this because of the Resurrection. We do this because death has been swallowed up in victory and He continues the work of refining hearts and drawing people unto Himself even when His own disciple didn't believe without seeing and when we forget His ways and follow suit.
Our labor in the Lord is not in vain, whether we're talking about a job or parenthood or missions or [fill in the blank]. Thanks be to God!