Ramblings And Reflections Of A Missionary Before Handing A Church Over To A National

(Originally written on August 19, 2017)

 Quito ordenation
     As I sit here in my office to prepare my final message the day before officially handing the church over to a national, I cannot help but reflect over all that God has done. It is surreal. It’s hard to believe that we are finally here. It’s difficult for me to process all of this. Writing helps me to do so. It’s therapeutic for me to put these thoughts to paper. It’s an outlet for me to help me cope with the many emotions running through my mind.

As a missionary, when you start the work of building a church you wonder if you’ll ever reach this point. You tell everyone that you will by God’s grace. But as the years roll by, as you go through the fiery trials, setbacks, opposition, disappointments, failures, battles, etc, you wonder if this day will ever come. Every trial forces doubt and second-guessing. Your faith is tested. Your confidence is challenged. Your resolve is rattled. Your zeal is zapped. All pre-conceived notions are revisited and reexamined.

     Sometimes it seems as if for every step forward you’re only taking two or three more backwards. You go through times where it seems like there is no progress whatsoever. You see no light at the end of the tunnel. You wonder if you’re getting anywhere. So you examine your heart, wondering what you are doing wrong and what can you do better. And you wonder if you’ll ever reach the goals that were so enthusiastically set when you started this endeavor.

  When you start out, you are full of zeal, tenacity, hopefulness, optimism, and confidence. The sky is the limit! You realize that with God all things are possible. So you set out to take on the world and shoot for the impossible. Yes, with God all things are possible but there will be a price to pay if you wish to see things through. You go forward, however, because it’s your duty and God is worthy of your faithfulness and sacrifices. The work must be done no matter how difficult it is. Someone said one time that at first it is impossible, then it is difficult, and finally it is done.
    My work in Jayuya, Puerto Rico is finally done. As I write these words, tears roll down my face. What do these tears represent? I think they represent many things.
   They are tears of relief. This has been a constant burden. When the missionary is on deputation, they say he is here to “present his burden”. If they only knew what they were saying. The missionary on deputation doesn’t realize just how much of a burden it is going to be. He throws that word “burden” around loosely with no real understanding of the word. But a burden it is… or at least, will be. It is a burden that at times will be so heavy that it can potentially crush the missionary.
   Many missionaries have been crushed by it. According to a survey conducted by Regions Beyond Ministries, almost half of all missionary candidates who start deputation never finish and make it to the field. Of the ones that do, 75% of them will quit during their first 3 years. That’s a very small percentage that last. What happens? Why do they quit? There are many reasons. But I understand it. It’s the burden. That burden becomes so heavy that you seek relief from it.
   For this reason it is imperative that the missionary develops a close relationship with the Lord. His relationship with Jesus Christ will become his source of strength. If not, he will seek refuge and relief from other places. Some seek it through the ministry. But when things are not going well in the ministry, they will become discouraged. Some seek it through the praise of men. But as the years go by and the missionary becomes out of sight, out of mind, the praise will eventually cease and become absent to sustain. Some seek it through carnal means. This leads to sin and for this reason some leave the field disgraced. We must find our relief in the Lord Jesus Christ or we won’t make it. I understand that now more than ever.
    These tears are tears of joy. But they are bittersweet tears. Why? I’m going to miss these precious people. We poured our heart and soul into this ministry, this people, this place. It’s hard to let that go. But I must in order for the church to advance and reach the next level.
    But they are indeed tears of joy. We made it! This far, anyways. There were times when it seemed like this day would never come. I think of the missionary brother here who told me recently that many missionaries never make it this far. I must give God all the praise because considering all the mistakes I made along the way, had it been completely up to me, this ministry would have resulted in disaster. I would have quit and become a casualty as well.
    Yes, the jury is still out as to how much further we will go. But of all the goals set since day 1, at least I can rejoice that THIS particular goal has been met for the glory of God. And He definitely deserves all the glory because again, I know me. I know my weaknesses, failures, and limitations. There were many times that I quit in my mind, but a “still small voice” urged me to go on another mile. I know that if the Lord doesn’t sustain me and give me the strength to go forward, I’ll never make it. I’ll fall flat on my face. But we made it this far. Praise the Lord! We know by experience that we can make it all the way if we stick to the gameplan, which is to simply keep going forward, trusting Jesus every step of the way.
   My heart is full and fixed. There’s a calmness in my soul. A peace that passes all understanding. A confidence in the Lord. A joy unspeakable. A sense of accomplishment but also sense of humility and gratefulness. There is a resolve in my inner man. Though I perish on the outside, I feel contentment on the inside. His name be praised!
   On the outside, I must admit that I’m a little battle-worn. The batteries do need to be recharged some. But I’ve been here enough to know that in time, as I rest and recuperate in the Lord, my strength will be renewed. Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
   Yes, there are many adversaries, who still criticize and condemn no matter how victorious you are in the Lord. It’s as if they despise your victory. So they will say things to belittle it. They are a dime a dozen. But I’ve learned to accept them. I’ve even learned to heed some of what they say. I need them if I’m to be more like Jesus. But I thank Christ Jesus for the scars and the shrapnel. The battle wounds represent experience and are a reminder that despite the pain we can make it through if we continue to trust the Captain of our salvation.
   Pastor Jack Wood said, “If you can’t play hurt, go home.” But if you want victory, you must play on. 2 Timothy 2:3 “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The battle is real, but the rewards are sublime. It’s worth it. Jesus is worth it!
Of course, this is the kind of talk that bothers people. Cowards are always appalled at those who do what they know in their hearts they ought to be doing. They will accuse you of pride and arrogance when the real problem is their cowardice and lack of conviction. They are like Eliab, David’s brother, who when young David courageously accepted the challenge of the giant, he accused, “I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.” To which David replied, “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?”
   The Eliabs of the world will never slay any giants. And they will despise those that do. Not all soldiers are like Eliab, however. Others are like Jonathan who will appreciate you and be a true friend. Others are like the mighty men, like Abishai and Benaiah, who will not only appreciate you, but will become inspired and join your cause as you seek to honor God. But whether anyone appreciates what you’ve done or not, you realize that it was not for them anyways. It was for Christ! He is enough. You can’t please everybody. So just concentrate on pleasing Jesus.
   As I reflect on what the Lord has done my mind is brought to random blessings over the years.
   I think about our elderly sister Elizabeth Lugo. She is now with the Lord. She was the first one who responded to our efforts to bring folks to church. She was a prayer warrior. No one read their Bible more than her. I’ll never forget telling her that if she ever needed a new Bible to let me know and that I would get her one. Talk about putting my foot in my mouth! I had to buy her a new leather-bound Bible at least 3 to 4 times a year because that’s how much she’d wear them out.
   For years she asked us to pray for the salvation of her daughter. When sister Lugo was dying, I begged God not to let her go. I didn’t want to lose one of our most faithful members. But little did I realize that God’s way was better. Because through her passing, her daughter Jessica finally got saved and is now faithfully attending church and singing in our choir.
   I think about the atheist who came forward and told me at the altar, “I need to be saved.”
  I think about the young convert who confessed to beating up a co-worker for interrupting him and cussing at him while he tried to witness to him. That was hilarious!
I think about the time I was preaching in a midweek prayer service and God began to do something unusual and unprecedented in our church that night as one by one folks started coming down the aisle to pray at the “altar”, DURING my message. I had not given an invitation. I was still in the middle of the message. But the conviction that night was so thick you could feel it in the air. We had revival that night at the most unexpected and unplanned time.
    I’ll never forget the time that a young couple, who had been living in sin got right with the Lord, and asked me to officiate their wedding. Now the brother preaches to the young people and his wife teaches children’s Sunday school.
    I’ll never forget the brother who got under conviction at a fellowship at the hot springs in Coamo. While everyone was fellowshipping, relaxing, and having a good time, he was under conviction about his lost condition and finally asked someone to pray with him and lead him to salvation. You never know when the Lord is working on someone’s heart. This man now drives our church van and picks folks up for church every Sunday.
  I think about the time we were passing out booklets of Romans in front of the government building at the 3-way intersection, and someone gave a booklet of Romans to the mayor of our town. The mayor went to his office and walked up to one of his secretaries, who happened to be a member of our church, and told her, “Your pastor is the most aggressive preacher in this town. We need more preachers like him here.”
   I remember the little spot by the brook in the woods where I’d go to pray, with a Bible in one hand and a machete in the other. I’d pray for sinners and for our church members and their needs. The Lord would visit me there and I could feel His presence.
   I remember the many times that I went to the church building alone during the day and walked up and down the aisles praying out loud for each member in the church. I remember how I would put my hands on the walls in the back and asked God to let our church grow to the point to where we would have to knock those walls down to make more room for the growing congregation. I’ll never forget the joy in my heart when that dream finally became a reality.
   I remember the hot days in the Puerto Rican sun, pouring concrete, and taking turns between myself and 3 other men swinging a 40-pound sledge-hammer to knock down a concrete wall so that we could build what would eventually become our fellowship hall and Bible Institute.
   I’ll never forget the first time seeing the men from our Bible Institute preaching on the streets. Tears flowed down my face as I saw the Lord stirring up men to proclaim His gospel.
   I think about the man who opposed me and gave me so much grief, of whom I prayed and asked the Lord to cause him to leave and get out of my hair. Yet the Lord instead worked in his heart, changed him, and turned one of my greatest adversaries into one of my most trusted right-hand men.
   I think about the national who will serve as Pastor in my place. A man who was a drug addict, alcoholic, who got saved during his 4th prison stint. God brought him my way and made him my Timothy. He would come to my home and for several hours in the day we sat on the back porch with a cup of coffee and an open Bible and notebook as I did my best to teach him everything I could. This man now goes every Saturday to the same street corners where he used to shoot heroin, sleep drunk, and beg for money, and instead now passes out Gospel tracts and preaches hope in Jesus Christ.
   I could go on and on. But I must stop here or I’ll never get my sermon for tomorrow done. So many good memories. I give God all the glory for what He’s done.
    Thank you Lord for giving me the privilege to serve you, serve your people, and preach your Gospel!
   My work here is done. But there’s so much more to do. More souls to be saved. More churches to be established. More men to be trained. More opportunities to magnify Christ as King of kings and Lord of Lords. I started preaching on the back of a pickup truck down on Bay Street in Beaufort, South Carolina. That was back when I was 17 years old. That was 23 years ago. What a journey it has been! Yet 23 years later, I still feel like we’re just getting started.
   As we close this chapter of our lives, we go forward by God’s grace to the next battleground. Our next duty station. We will take these precious memories with us to remind us that God is able “to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21