Written by Dan LaValla
Wednesday, 17 April 2013 00:00
As children, we quickly learn that life isn’t always fair and that part of becoming an adult is adjusting to the challenges and trials that come our way. However, many of us still seem to expect that as a Christian, Christ is going to help our life become easier and help us to succeed and prosper in our efforts. After all, didn't Jesus say that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt 11:30)?
It is much easier to cope with life when it is going smoothly and the challenges are within our capacity to handle them through our own resources and capabilities; or when our personal desires or circumstances are not challenging our faith or conflicting with our spiritual calling. However, what happens when our challenges go beyond our resources or present capabilities and the injustices of this life either interfere with our standards of living or create pain that strikes at the core of our being? Or, what happens when our personal desires or circumstances are in conflict with our faith or spiritual calling? If we respond to such difficult challenges and situations with anger, frustration, or resentment, these are coming from our selfish, fleshly desires (Gal. 5:19-20). But if we respond with forbearance, peace, and self-control, then these are signs we are in unity with God’s Spirit. Out of the trials of life come the opportunities for strengthening our faith and our unity with God’s Spirit; even if we don’t get it right the first try.
As chair of our church’s missions committee, I have become more attentive to the personal stories and ministries of the missionaries we support. A couple of years ago a medical missionary we support came to our church while on furlough. After becoming a medical doctor, he and his wife accepted God’s call to practice in third world countries. What is even more incredible about their story is that they were not only called to raise their children in third world countries, but in third world countries that were in the midst of civil war. After more than twenty years of service in such circumstances, with their children grown and on their own, he and his wife wanted desperately to stay in the U.S. and have a chance to save for their retirement. They felt worn-out from the impacts of war, living in prolonged physical endangerment without the conveniences of modern life. They so desired to stay in the U.S. where it is safe and life is much easier with modern conveniences and have a chance to save up for retirement which is not that far off. Instead, they were feeling called to Sudan. The thought of going to a third country in the midst of civil war where they would be living in tents or temporary housing made out of shipping containers was dreadful.
They explained what a struggle it was for several months throughout their furlough. Initially, they were frustrated because they felt they had demonstrated their commitment through more than twenty years of faithful service and sacrifice and thought they should be able to return to the U.S. at their age. However, it wasn’t until they made the decision to go to Sudan that they felt an internal peace. Further, shortly after their deployment to Sudan, the Sudanese Civil War came to an end and the area they were called to serve in became the new country of South Sudan. They were also able to move into a permanent house and their ministry has developed into reestablishing primary health care services in South Sudan where millions of refugees from the north are returning now that the civil war is over. In hindsight, they admit that God was aware of their limitations, but also knew they would not have to live in civil war conditions for very long. They are so grateful that they did not choose physical safety and comfort over peace and unity with God’s Spirit. If they had not humbled themselves to God’s mission, they would have missed the privilege of impacting a brand new country and the millions of lives that their ministry is influencing through Christ.
Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association; he serves as vice chair of the Ministry Board and chair of the Missions Committee of First Baptist Church in Lansdale. He is very active in his community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.