Friday, June 2, 2017

Stages in Ministry: When You're Not Doing What You Thought You'd Be Doing

It’s kind of funny when you're as old as I am and you look back over your life. My husband and I have been on the field of Spain for nearly thirty-three years, and almost none of that time was spent doing what I envisioned.

Every field is different, and every missionary woman is different. So are our ministry purposes (schools, church planting, Bible translation, children’s homes, medical missions, etc.). We are singles, wives, and moms.

I don’t pretend to have the answers for every missionary woman. But, I thought you might learn through some of my own history. I hope you’ll smile with my memories and see how God was in it all—even when I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

We arrived in Spain with a baby in our arms—a screamer, who was quickly nicknamed “Comanche.” We knew nothing: no Spanish, nothing about the culture, zero. We were homeless, carless, and clueless. Thankfully, our co-workers were helpful and patient. They searched for an apartment for us, and they helped us to clean it, buy a car, and start paperwork for Spanish residency. They also got us enrolled in language school.

Eight months later, they left on furlough. We quickly found out that total immersion was somewhat close to drowning. We worked with the Spanish pastor and his wife, who spoke no English. To say the least, our conversations were “interesting,” like point, gesture, and grunt. Our private prayer meetings were bilingual. Our missionary co-workers experienced some health issues and remained in the States about two years instead of one. In the meantime, the Spanish pastor became discouraged and threatened to quit. We encouraged him to hang on at least until our co-worker returned. Can you imagine?!!!

By the time our co-worker got back, thankfully, the Spanish pastor was doing better. We also had a nice-sized group of young people, and my husband and I took the reins with them. My husband was barely able to read the devotionals, but we were making friends and having some kind of an impact in lives. I had our second baby, and we took both children everywhere with our young people.

Soon, it was time for us to leave on furlough. We had been in Spain for five years. Our furlough was longer, also, as we needed more support. Then, I found out I needed surgery. Our visas expired, and it took six months to get new ones. It was a long, painful—literally—time at home, filled with misdiagnoses and frustration. But also, God was giving us some new supporting churches, and they have stuck with us all these years.

When we arrived back in Spain, we were ready to start the new church—the reason we went in the first place. This was our vision. But, things didn’t work out that way. There were problems in the first church, and all of us were needed there. We were able, though, to find and buy a storefront in our target area. We applied for a building permit. (The storefront was rough brick on the outside and not even a finished floor inside. There were no walls or divisions.) We waited for permission to start building while holding weekly prayer meetings with our co-workers. God blessed! In fact, one of our supporting churches sent us nearly enough money to supply all the materials for finishing the inside. We hadn’t asked for anything, but God supplied. Our co-worker is a skilled carpenter and bricklayer, and my husband is a good electrician. They learned tiling together and did a beautiful job on the church. The two of them finished it in a year.

During that time, with our little ones, we continued to help out wherever we could in the first church, especially with young people. In 1994, we were able to open the new church. (It was ten years after we arrived on the field.) We had a wonderful opening service on a Saturday evening. I believe there were over eighty people present—many from sister churches. The next morning, a handful of people from our target area, our co-workers, and us attended. Soon, we held our first baptismal service. The new church had begun!

We did tract distribution on Saturdays and personal evangelism whenever we could. At that time, we got an average of one response for every 2,000 tracts that we distributed in mailboxes in our target area. Some people accepted Christ as a result, and we had other opportunities for personal testimony and witness. The church began to grow with baby Christians and non-believers attending as well. There were times when I had the opportunity to teach a children’s class and other times when we had no children. People moved out of the area in search of work. Our church attendance went up and down, and we tried to be faithful in outreach while ministering to those who attended.

Then, there were a couple of church splits in the first church. Some of those people came to our services. I began to teach the young women for a while. The pastor of that church resigned, and our co-worker was called back to take over. It was only natural that the families that had come to our church from that town would go back to their local church.

We were left with a “geriatric church.” My husband and I—with one teenager still at home—were easily the youngest people in the church. Soon, two of our women passed away and one moved away. We had no couples, no children, and everyone was up in years. It was almost funny! People would visit—and stay for one service. Did we scare them? Truly, it’s hard to attract families when you don’t have any. It’s hard to attract children when there aren’t other children or teens in the church. Some did come, though, and a young man our son’s age began attending.

I did weekly Bible studies with several different women. One of them has learned to read during our studies, and she came to know the Lord, too. Talk about a transformed life! She’s a new person!

We also experienced threats, harassment, and hostility.

What did I think I was going to be doing on the mission field?
  • Mentoring groups of eager women—being a Titus 2 teacher
  • Having a children’s ministry

What did I end up doing?
  • Camp ministry
  • Homeschooling for sixteen years and mentoring my own children
  • Bible studies with those who wanted them, when they wanted them
  • Teaching those few children we had in our church at different times
  • I invented other areas of outreach. I wrote my book, began blogging, wrote a second book, and I counsel and mentor women by telephone, online, etc.

What have I learned?
  1. My ideas and God’s are often poles apart. I need to be doing what He has in mind.
  2. There are stages in everyone’s ministry.
  3. You do what needs done, when and where it needs to be done.
  4. For married women: ask your husband what his priorities are for you. This will quickly help you sort out your own. Someone gave me this advice years ago, and it has been very helpful!
  5. If God doesn’t open a door, don’t push.
  6. Cleaning the restrooms, mopping floors, keeping the nursery, and aiding a drug addict are just as spiritual as teaching, if they’re done in joyful service to the Lord.
  7. It’s okay to ask God to show you ways you can do personal outreach. He will show you!
  8. When God opens the door, go through it! God will give you the ministry He wants you to have and empower you to do it.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
 (1 Corinthians 15:58)

May God bless you in whatever He’s put on your plate today!



The Menu Mom said...

I needed to hear this. Thanks for sharing!

Joy Hunt said...

I needed to hear this, too! It is amazing how God changes our plans to conform them to His!! I wouldn't want to change them back to my own plans!!! :)