Five men came from Sunbury, Ohio to work. Because there was not work to be done at the time of their arrival, they became ministers and their focus turned to the unseen, rather than to the seen. They were so willing to do "whatever". Our family accompanied them on a river trip where we installed water filters, had several services, helped many people with health issues, personally prayed for many of the river folks, and visited many people in their simple homes on the river.
Our trip took us to a remote area. We stopped on the Una River which is about 10 hr from Porto de Moz, which is about 12 hr from Altamira, the only city in the region. As we traveled along the river (the only mode of travel in this region), we announced to a few people that we would try to help people with their health for a couple hours before the evening service. Well, word spreads fast even without telephones, and before the evening service was to begin, after three hours, we had seen more than sixty people and many left unseen because of time. Afterward, I recognizing clearly that this is the type of population that I’ve been sent to. More remote means less. Less access to any type of health care and less access to Jesus’ good news of God’s affection for these people. The illnesses I saw here were much different than those I see in the villages close to Altamira. The people of both areas are poor and live quite simply but there is a real difference in degree. The people that we helped here rarely get into town and had more significant health care needs.
The men on this trip from VCDC (Vineyard Church of Delaware County) were so interested in the Kingdom work here, and quite encouraging to the North American missionaries, as well. They were the next best thing to visiting home. We spoke of familiar places, people, and events. We laughed, worked, prayed, talked, swam, fished, admired the stars from the top of the boat, shared with the local people our love for Jesus, and relaxed together. They were like family. Our pastor and friend, Dennis, was part of this team and being in his presence always builds us up. Perhaps you have a “Dennis” in your life, one who makes walking with Jesus attractive and appealing, thus encouraging you to draw closer to Him. We felt so blessed just to have a little time with Dennis and this team.
Jason, one of the men from Sunbury, injured his knee on the trip and will likely need surgery. He was in significant pain, most of the time, though we could never tell. One could easily question God as to how He would allow this to happen to someone who, at great cost, was here to do His work in this region. Why do bad things happen to God’s people? We all can think of someone who loves God and is in pain, whether physical, emotional or circumstantial. The reality is that difficult and even tragic things do happen to God’s people. I would even say that often God’s people walk through trying, painful circumstances. Perhaps you are in this place as you read this. I don’t understand much, in fact, I understand less now than I did twenty years ago. But I do know that my Father loves our questions, and He loves the one questioning. He calls us to come to Him, as we are, with our questions and our doubts. Trials, perhaps more than blessing, can result in us or others coming to Him, and this is our Father’s desire in every circumstance. We may not gain understanding as to His reasoning for causing and/or allowing these things, but if we can draw close to Him and trust His reasoning, perhaps we, or someone else, will gain something more precious and more valuable than understanding. This morning with my kids, as we discussed some pretty sour history stories (bubonic plague, a gruesome war in the same time period, etc.) in school, I shared how God was teaching me that His hand was in EVERYTHING, whether a knee injury or a plague, and that we lacked the ability to see with an eternal perspective and with God’s wisdom and understanding. It is a remarkable fact that many, many people throughout history have been drawn to Jesus through their own or through another’s suffering. I think of how many have been encouraged to draw nearer to Jesus through the story, "Pilgrim’s Progress," written by John Bunyan in the 1600’s while in prison for 12 years for preaching God’s grace to a culture bound by religion. I am one of these. The "tragic" death of Keith Green had a profound impact on me and many others. Those who suffered in the early period of the church have influenced millions. Paul spoke of how his imprisonment and suffering at the hands of godless men benefited the followers of Jesus (2Cor 6, 2Cor 11, 2Titus 1), and, of course, how many, since then, have had courage in suffering because of his example? Paul’s physical suffering made him a more effective minister of God’s grace and kept his eyes focused on Jesus and on His goodness rather than on his own abilities and strength (2Cor 12). I would love to help build this trust in my kids, trust in God and His good purposes, rather than in their understanding and abilities, early in their lives. Our life is a battle, and not an easy one, to hold onto truth. And this truth of our lack of understanding, of our Father’s love for us, of His control in challenging circumstances, is foundational for the life of inner peace that Jesus promised to those who were His.
The lives of the men on this team were tangible demonstrations of God lovingly leading them through difficult circumstances to a place of deeper intimacy with Him. Their life stories, which they freely shared, told of difficult, challenging, often painful journeys. Their hearts today demonstrate the fruit of intimacy with Jesus. Spending time with them encouraged my trust in an unseen but ever-present, loving God, and motivated me to draw ever closer to Him.