What Did We Sign Up For?
January 17, 2013 | President's Slice
By Joe Hale
When I committed myself to mission work in a full-time, vocational way I had this crazy idea that I would spend my life doing the “Lord’s work”—dealing with spiritual issues, seeing people grow in their faith, preaching the Good News, praying and trusting God for new and big things, and primarily using my time being about the “spiritual” issues of life (as I defined them). What was I thinking?
I spend a great amount of my time these days at my computer, doing administrative tasks, traveling to explore new project possibilities, handling legal issues, troubleshooting, trying to mend relationships on the field that have broken down between Christian workers, working to resolve financial problems that never seem to end, conflict resolution, addressing organizational problems (embarrassingly many of which I must take “credit” for creating) and recently, being summoned to court to submit evidence against another Christian. When I go back in my mind’s eye to my “calling” to mission work, I had no idea that this is what I was “signing up” for!
Recently we have experienced a ministry disaster at one of our schools that no one could have predicted. The ministry team is in crisis mode and there are betrayals of trust, hurt feelings, confusion, and chaos. Our leadership has been dealing with this situation for months now and we are still not sure how it’s going to turn out. The statement was made regarding the team at this location: “They didn’t sign up for this!” but I beg to disagree. It may be true that they didn’t know they were signing up for this!
At the grand old age of 58, I am coming to the conclusion that, as servants of the Most High God, we actually have no right to lay claim to knowing what we “sign up for” in His work! As the human leader of this agency, I do not have to carry the responsibility of all bad things that happen to those who serve with us just as I am not responsible for the victories or missions accomplished! These things are in God’s hands. Sure, we have human responsibilities--to lead well, to make good decisions, and to be a godly protector of those under our authority, but ultimately, leaders must also entrust all under our care to Him, knowing that He knows so much better than we do what is best for His own.
I grow chilled inside when I think of one of our staff members in Afghanistan who was murdered by the Taliban while on a medical mission. This was a young man whose parents I went to school with and love dearly. I recall talking to them about serving with us in Kabul; little did I know what I was really asking of them! Or was I? Was this God’s calling on their family or mine? Another friend from college served with his family at our school in Belem, Brazil, and was bitten by a tick which resulted in Lyme disease and a form of Parkinson’s. The father of nine now faces daily challenges as he battles the severe physical side-effects of the disease. Yet, he rejoices over God’s work of grace in his life as a result of what he knows God has called him to do!
Maybe we feel the way we do because we have a sense of “parenting” in ministry not so different from our role with our own children. We would like to protect them, to guard them from evil, to relieve them of pain, to shield them from suffering. We do this while knowing that, in the long run, all of those things are, in fact, good for them. God uses every circumstance to do His work in His children…AND ours, whether they are our own children or “ministry” children. Our love for others and desire to guard them from pain must not go unbalanced with the reality of God’s sovereignty in their lives.
How often we observe this throughout the Word of God! Did Mary sign up for the pain involved in being the earthly mother of God’s Son? Did Joseph sign up for the betrayal of his brothers? Did the Apostles sign up for martyrdom? Did Indian Christians sign up to be tortured and murdered for attending church? Myriads of Christians are enduring intense suffering today—simply for claiming His name. But this is not something new.
Without going into deep theological discussion, I sense that Jesus, in His humanity, also struggled with this. “Father, if it be possible, please let this cup pass from me.” His suffering was not humanly desirable! Neither is ours. The end purposes, however, are in the mind of God and He is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Let’s not try to define what we signed up for but rather trust Him in new ways, even in the midst of our lack of understanding.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.