Its been over a year since I returned from packing up our house in Papua New Guinea. A lot has happened since then. We raised support, bought a new van and moved to Mexico. A new family joined our old team in PNG, and are settling in nicely on the tiny island we used to call home.
As for us, Mexico has become our home. We have acclimated to the culture, are learning the language, building some wonderful friendships and overall excited for both the present and our future serving the Lord down here alongside some very wonderful co-laborers in the gospel. We feel truly blessed to be here and to be a part of what God is doing among the least reached peoples of Mexico.
A couple of weeks back we were at some friends’ son’s birthday party and somewhere between the tacos and the piñata someone asked us if we felt like we were still broken by our experience of leaving Papua New Guinea or if we felt like we had healed. The time between finding out we had to leave PNG and returning to pack up our house was a four month period. The time period between packing up our house in PNG and moving down here to Mexico was only two months. Now we have been down here for almost eleven months.
I would definitely say we arrived in Mexico physically, emotionally and spiritually fried, and yet at the same time eager to settle in for what God had for us next. I cannot really explain it other than to say that at some point it became clear to us that our cross-cultural involvement in the Great Commission was not over even though our ministry among the Tigak of Papua New Guinea was. Once we knew the direction the Lord was opening up for us, we viewed our healing in the context of that new direction, not a prerequisite to it or apart from it.
We were welcomed to the field of Mexico by a leadership team ready to walk with us through our pain and we have received nothing but grace, patience and love from them. Over the past eleven months here we have experienced emotional ups and downs stemming from our transition from Papua New Guinea, but also the normal transition of adapting into a new culture and learning a new language. Through it all, the Lord has continued to be faithful to meet our struggles with His strength, and as I shared above, we consider it a huge privilege to be a part of the Mexico field.
Over the past eighteen months, the Lord has taught us many lessons during our transition from Papua New Guinea, but three stand out specifically that I want to share, and I hope it will be both challenging and encouraging to you as well.
Lesson #1 – God Allowed What We Went Through, and He is Good
I do not remember exactly when this became clear to us, but up until a certain point shortly after we knew we would be resigning from our ministry in PNG we had been fighting hard for a different outcome. We prayed about it, made our case with different people in different positions and overall just tried everything we could think of to change our circumstances.
In our hurt we fought but eventually had to face the truth: God could have easily changed the circumstances. He could have changed us, He could have changed those we were trying to persuade, He could have changed everything. But He didn’t. We realized that if we were going to continue to remain angry, we would have to be angry at Him.
Would we choose to be angry at Him? How could we? No one knew better than we did how He had consistently and continually loved and cared for our family while we served in Papua New Guinea and long before that. God has always proven His trustworthiness and goodness. To choose to direct our anger at Him would be a deep betrayal against someone who only faithful loved us. Are we fair-weather friends?
This was a perspective that the Lord enabled us to see in the midst of all the craziness of hurt feelings and injustice. We sought out and had many godly counselors speaking into our lives during this time. In His loving faithfulness those people were there to walk with us and remind us of His promises and presence in the midst of it all.
Lesson #2 – Sometimes Forgiveness Means We Relinquish Our Demand for Justice
I mentioned that our Mexico field leadership embraced us when we came, ready to walk with us through our hurt. A few times our conversations led to the topic of forgiveness.
By the time I had left Papua New Guinea our family and our former leadership had made reconciliation, and so I had felt that forgiveness was something that was behind us. One of our leaders here made a point to mention that forgiveness is not often a one-time event but something we need to keep going back to every time those old feelings of anger and frustration resurface. This was helpful because we had struggled to know how to handle those feelings.
But there was also a deeper aspect to the forgiveness that God wanted from us that I had not yet learned.
The Lord allowed me to see this when I was up in Oregon for my grandmother’s funeral this past April. My sister and I were at Costco talking about the past and the topic of forgiveness came up. Through this conversation the Lord showed me that forgiveness in our situation meant that I needed to relinquish my demand for justice.
Do not get me wrong. Justice is important, and it is important to God. It’s very important to a functioning society. I can forgive another while pursuing justice against them, especially in a case where they should be in jail for their behavior, for their own good or for the good of society as a whole. However, our scenario was different.
I am not going to get into the details of our resignation from Papua New Guinea, but I will say that something happened that most people do not know about that was a wrong against our family and it was admitted to be so by those who had wronged us and an apology was made. We accepted it, we “forgave” and we moved on.
Except there was one problem: I was still demanding justice. I longed for it. I hoped for it. I imagined conversations where people received what I felt was coming to them. That they should “pay” for their wrong. Someone somewhere would hear our story and right the wrong.
Forgiveness was not forgetting, ignoring, condoning or glossing-over the wrongs we encountered. It did not turn a blind eye to injustice. In fact, it faces injustice head on but instead of exacting payment it grants pardon.
On what basis should we be able to forgive others instead of demanding justice? For one, on the basis of our own forgiveness before God because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We have been forgiven of our own sins. Instead of God exacting payment for my sins, He granted me pardon and Jesus Christ paid for them. If I can be forgiven in that capacity, as difficult as it is, I can surely forgive others. Second, and this is something I am still chewing on, when we are relating with the wrongs of other believers, the fact of the matter is that the justice I am demanding for their wrong has also already been paid for by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This adds an interesting element to my interpersonal relationships within the body of Christ, especially when it comes to wrongdoing.
I am still growing in understanding forgiveness, but this lesson has given us the ability to move on from being a slave to bitterness and it actually releases me to hope for the best for those involved and to pray for those who may have wronged us.
Lesson #3 – The Choice of Trust Always Remains Before Us
This third lesson we have learned has been something we have both been challenged by lately.
The reality is, we live in a broken world as broken people. Life is hard, suffering is real, hurt and pain are a part of life in a fallen world. We get betrayed by those we trust, we get used and abused by other people, and we are let down by the unmet expectations in others. We experience sickness, tiredness and grief. One day things are ‘perfect’ and the next our entire world is crumbling before our eyes. Everything we thought we had was gone, everything we thought we were vanished in the blink of an eye. Our entire identity is gone, we are disoriented, unable to determine which way is up, grasping for something or someone.
We have walked through difficulty ourselves, but we have also walked with others through their hurt. None of us who live on this planet is unacquainted with pain, suffering and grief.
Yet our pain offers us an interesting opportunity. We can either choose to give in to our own despair and let it crush us, or we can take the glimmer of hope in this world that is the goodness of God and choose to trust in Him and His character, and entrust our care and our future to Him.
I have felt more anger and wept more bitterly over the loss of our ministry, team and relationships among the Tigak people than I have over anything else in my life. The temptation to be angry at God, to demand justice from others, to drag other people into my moments of misery, and to despair in a way that refuses to take God at His Word is an ever present reality.
But I always come back to trust. If I cannot trust the promises of God, His promise to never leave us or forsake us, His promise that He who began a good work in us will work to its completion, His promise that we actually grow through hardship, than what hope is there? If I cannot trust that He exists and that He is good and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him, than what hope do I have?
Every one of life’s hardships offer me the opportunity to choose trust in a God who I believe is good.
To the Future
As we have processed through change over the last year and a half and have come to grips at different times with the lessons He has been teaching us, each lesson comes with freedom. When we realized that God in His sovereignty was ultimately responsible it freed us from trying to break down the door that He had closed. When He showed us that forgiveness required that we cease our demand for justice and grant pardon it freed us from our pursuit of exacting payment for the wrong we had felt. When we learned that we can choose trust instead of despair it freed us from fear to look to the future with optimism and hope in His good promises based on His good and trustworthy character.
I don’t know if we would say we have healed completely. Maybe we have. I think as we continue to walk with Him in trust and communion, though we may never understand why He allowed us to go through what we did, we will continue to learn and grow. In the meantime, we look forward to expending ourselves towards the ministry and the relationships the Lord will open to us down here in Mexico.
One day, when all of this is over, we will stand face to face with Him and I am personally looking forward to that day.
Can’t wait for the day to stand face to face;
And cry at His feet within.
What a day it will be to be held, indeed
By those hands that had bore my sin!