When we left Paraguay in May to start our home assignment in the United States, I don’t know if we fully comprehended how much of a journey it was going to be. So far we’ve put over 4,000 miles of interstate beneath us, and shared our ministry in 11 churches with at least 3 more to go.
But home assignment hasn’t just been a physical journey. We’d have to say it has also been a spiritual journey, especially when we consider the answer to our most asked question: “Are you excited about going back to Paraguay?”
I was first asked this question by a pastor friend of mine in Maine. We had been back in the States about two weeks at the time, and he was treating me to my first ever “lob-stah roll” when he posed the question. As I considered his question between bites, I felt the need to be brutally honest. “Honestly,” I replied “I’m not that excited when I think about returning to Paraguay.”
My answer threw him for a loop. My answer even threw me for a loop. While not wanting to return to Paraguay was something I had thought in my head, it was weird to hear it come out of my mouth. But it was the truth. (Pause) It was the truth.
How did a gung-ho 27 year old missionary wannabe get to be a brutally honest 30 year old missionary has-been? Well, when one envisions the life of a missionary, our image of what that looks like can be a bit romanticized (like the life of a Caribbean pirate). We only think of adventure, victories, rising aboves, and God-was-faithful moments.
All those things are true, but we often fail to remember the heat, the bugs, the mental exhaustion, the hard times, the failures, the falling-flats, and the I’m-still-human moments. It’s a hard life, and no one is making us live it. We could choose to live in the States inside our comfort zone. And honestly when we first came back to the States, we were confronted with just how comfortable we are here, and the prospect of returning to Paraguay didn’t excite us.
When we first went to Paraguay, we were naive about what we were getting ourselves into. Now we know full well.
But allow me to cut to the chase: we are going back to Paraguay. In the end, one doesn’t need to be excited about something to be convinced it’s the right thing to do. We know God would have us in the Chaco heat. But there’s even more to it than that.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” -James 2:15-17 (ESV)
You see, we have lived in Paraguay and we’ve seen the need. Yes, we’ve seen the physical needs but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the spiritual needs. There are people who are poorly clothed — spiritually speaking. And there are those lacking in daily food — spiritually speaking. And here we are. God has opened the door, provided the way, granted us health, a place to live…we have every opportunity to meet those spiritual needs. How can we now say “Be warmed and filled” and turn our backs? No, God is allowing us to be a part of meeting a need that we pray results in an in-gathering of disciples making disciples.
Now that excites us. Returning to Paraguay for Paraguay’s sake isn’t exciting at all. Being a part of something bigger that God is doing. Yes, sign me up. We thank God for all He’s done to this point. He’s kept us clothed and fed through our financial supporters. He’s kept us safe and healthy, when many missionaries around the world stop the work for safety and health reasons. He’s allowed us to be where we are when many places on earth have restricted access to missionaries. As long as He allows us to be there, our living faith that James describes compels us to go back.
This wasn’t our perspective a few months ago. That’s why I alluded to the spiritual journey earlier. Hey, if you think we’ve already arrived to the completely spiritually mature party, then I’m sorry to disappoint. We haven’t. God is still growing us and making us more like His Son Jesus Christ. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)