“I guess I’ll eat this…” I said holding out a candy bar, a container of cole slaw and some cheeto-like chips. Beth laughed of course, but we both knew it was time to head back to our island so we needed to “go big or go home” in terms of eating all the junk food we bought during our regional conference.
Yes, after over a week of being away, we returned to our island home this past week having attended our regional conference and church development workshop. While exciting things are happening in the Tigak church (which we hope to write about soon) it was a great time to get away and get refreshed.
Other than eating way too much sugar and not sleeping enough, we spent our time hanging out with other church planters located through out PNG. We prayed together, sang together and studied God’s Word together. We had a special guest speaker, a man by the name of George Walker a church planter from Papua New Guinea and now missionary trainer in the States. The conference itself was only three and a half days long, followed by the five day church development workshop.
The topic of the conference was “Thrive.” As cross-cultural workers it is easy to slip from thriving in our work to just surviving and we appreciated the uplifting tone of this year’s conference. Always turning to the Word, George encouraged us with the truths about who we are in Christ and how He desires to use us, not because we are super people with all the answers and no needs, but as ordinary people with all kinds of weaknesses, needing to remain completely and thoroughly dependent on the Lord for strength and ministry wisdom to press on and be used by Him.
George wisely pointed out that “the goal of sanctification [the process of becoming like Christ in our lives] is not lack of neediness,” but rather deeper dependance; neediness embraced. This reminds me of what a friend shared with me a few years ago. He said that most people talk about maturity as if it is greater and greater degrees of independence from needing God and others. This couldn’t be further from the truth; further from where God wants to bring us. “You’re never going to grow out of your need for Him, “ George reminded us.
Privileged to… Suffer?
Another main theme that came out through this conference was understanding that the life we’ve chosen in walking with and serving Christ is a life of suffering and hardship. Christ promised it (John 15:20) and of course experienced it, and Paul too experienced it (2 Cor. 11:23-28) and he along with the other epistle writers gave insight into it throughout their writings. The Biblical message is: to serve Christ means to embrace suffering and hardship.
This is true whether we lives in the States and serve Him faithfully or do the same here overseas. From the vantage point of years of personal experience serving the Lord, George pointed out that God not only uses instruction in His Word to grow us into maturity, but He also uses trials and difficulties as a main means of growth. He reminded us that “all thing to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes” and that the result of persevering through trials is endurance leading to growth in maturity. (James 1:2-4)
I was personally challenged by this because over the last nine months or so we have faced a lot of hardships or “trials of various kinds,” whether it be sickness in the family or house maintenance, ministry struggles and even learning the Tigak language and culture. Through these hardships, most of my response has been complaining, and if not outright complaining, thoughts of discontentment and desire to throw in the towel for something “easier.” Most trials I have faced have shown me how selfish and oftentimes lazy I can be, how weak I am, and how easily grumpy and frustrated I react to the littlest of inconveniences.
How should we respond to trials then? Considering what trials bring about in our lives, we are challenged by James to, “count it all joy… when [we] meet trials of various kinds.” One thing that stood out to me was the truth that it is through trials that we learn not only to depend on God, but we also learn to reflect the character of Christ through them. Trials serve as a tool towards character refinement. On this note, George shared that our negative reaction to trials demonstrates our very need for them in the first place in reference to character building towards maturity; towards Christlikeness.
There was a lot more that was covered and I personally found a lot of little nuggets of wisdom for my life and walk with the Lord, as well as ministry, that I won’t share here. The two big things that I did share where things that I had been personally wrestling with and needing to be reminded of and think on once again. I am thankful that the Lord used this time to teach my heart and give me a fresh perspective.
The food was good, too. 🙂