Last week, my sweet lil’ two-wheeler got a flat tire. And though many things move much slower and less conveniently in South Asia, getting a tire fixed isn’t one of them. I walked down the street to find a man with a toolbox and began the process of trying to diagnose and decide on a solution for my flat. Unfortunately, after a year of learning the language, words like “air pressure,” “puncture,” and “warranty” had not yet made their way into my flash card decks. For what felt like the hundredth time this year, I found myself unable to communicate what I needed. For what felt like the millionth time this year, I thought to myself, “I really didn’t see overseas life looking like this.”
Beautiful (and Surely False) Expectations
People set some beautiful expectations for their time on the mission field. They see in their future small, ethnic babies in their arms, fluency in the local language, repenting villagers joining in worship, and grand stories of miracles and adventures. I did too. I expected to be the graceful, beloved, self-sacrificing Westerner who swooped in with her Bible and two years’ worth of malaria pills to save the day—and then the plane touched down in South Asia.
It’s been almost thirteen months since I’ve reached my field, and the picture I had in my mind of what my time in this country would look like has gotten a much-needed wake-up call. Days look a lot less like floating around the rice fields, reciting verses to smiling villagers, and more like sweating through small discipleship moments while praying that I don’t stand in the way of God’s purpose as I try my best to live for it.
In recent moments, I’ve found myself exasperated with a national pastor who hasn’t shared the gospel once this year. I’ve been close to tears because traditional gender roles and inequality has kept women I love convinced they have no part in the mission of God and are only here to make chai. I’ve had curious villagers begin asking questions about Jesus as Savior only to realize that not one of them is a true believer able to continue the conversation once I make the fifteen hour journey back to my home city. I’ve been to house after house of welcoming locals who reject the good news, and I always leave wondering if they were rejecting Christ or just got impatient with my poor language.
In the midst of these frustrations, it’s been challenging to honestly ask my heart whose kingdom I’m asking the Lord to bring—his or mine. In my kingdom, there are those small babies, fluency, “floating,” and progress by my own standards. In his kingdom, there is the pain of sanctification, a cutting away of pride and arrogance, a learning how to abide and trust even when I feel useless, and the potential of planting my life in a foreign context for more than just a season. It’s scary and unknown, but I’ve learned more about God’s goodness in this year than I have in the last twenty-four combined.
Lessons from the Field
I’ve learned that success on the mission field, and in our daily lives, is simply to be faithful. Success is to enjoy Christ, abide in him deeply, follow his commands, and wait on his promises. What I know that he’s promised is this:
- His Word will not return void. When we are faithful to go and speak the gospel of Christ to the lost, he will use it to gather the sheep of his flock, even if I don’t get to witness the fruit of that. (Isaiah 55:11, John 10:16, 1 Corinthians 3:7-9)
- I work for the Lord and not for the approval of my supervisors, friends, or community back home. I don’t work to earn praise or admiration, even when it’s tempting to run on that fuel, but I serve because he is worthy of my sacrifice, and I know my inheritance in the Lord is greater. (Colossians 3:23-24, 1 John 2:16)
- Finding joy in suffering is a choice, not a heart posture we gain without a fight. When I choose to truly believe that to live is Christ, no amount of homesickness, physical sickness, loneliness, or failure on the field can stand up to the joy I have in the gospel and in being obedient to my Creator. (John 15:9-10, Philippians 1)
- If I work to honor God and do his will, living according to his definition of what’s important and necessary for true life, I will abide with Him forever and be satisfied in the life He has for me. (1 John 2:16-17)
- God is strong enough to bring my entire country to faith in one breath. His hand is not too short to save every last one of them, and he does not desire to see them perish apart from Him. I am not necessary in his plan to rescue the lost, but, in His grace, he chooses to use me as I have the privilege of discovering the consistency of his character in this place. (Ezekiel 37, Isaiah 59:1, Matthew 18:14, 1 Timothy 2:14)
I’ve seen the fulfillment of these things too. I’ve seen friends who spent time and money at the temple to seek healing for their cancer finally trust in Christ when they realized their gods weren’t listening and Christ was. I’ve experienced the joy of walking alongside women when they share the gospel for the first time with their Hindu neighbors of fifteen years. I’ve seen God answer prayers for healing and demonic oppression. I’ve seen people with very little give everything they have to see a church started in their slum. But instead of being the hero of those stories, the Lord has taken the spotlight that he rightfully deserves and reminded me of what it means to be an empty vessel along the way.
So, Back to the Flat Tire
As I was close to giving up, my national roommate and partner in ministry arrived to help translate. She’s an amazing gift from God and someone who I know I can invest in who will carry this task beyond my term. Seeing her clear up my tire situation was another reminder to my heart of the way this world works. Our Creator designed it, created those living in it, and has a plan to rescue and redeem it. I did not do any of those things. So, while God wants to use my creativity and passion and service to see lost peoples repent and believe in him, he doesn’t need to reach my standards or expectations to be successful. Actually, it’s better if he doesn’t because Scripture shows me that my human mind probably wouldn’t aim high enough.
So, praise him for flat tires and unmet expectations. Let’s pray that the Lord will continue to open our hands and remind us that we will never be enough to save the world—because then we get to see how only he is.