This whole missionary thing…it’s complicated sometimes

Pablo’s church here in Chile has a ministry that reaches out to the homeless in the city, and we’ve enjoyed being able to participate from time to time. We give out warm drinks, sandwiches and clothes and pray with those who will let us. If I’m honest though, it’s really more Pablo’s thing than it is mine. He’s a natural, and I need a little nudging. It’s never been easy for me to just strike up a conversation with someone; I was the socially awkward one in high school. I do think I’ve become a little more emotionally intelligent over the years though, except something happened a few weeks ago that made me think otherwise.

We’d stopped to visit with some homeless guys who were sitting around a fire. Most of them are there every week and are used to seeing us, but there was a college kid with them who we’d never seen before and he started talking to me. He was asking all sorts of questions about what we were doing and why we do it. Pablo wasn’t far away, so I engaged in conversation with the guy, but struggled to not get defensive in response to all his questions. He didn’t believe me when I said we were spending time investing in the lives of these guys because we wanted to. He was convinced we were trying to earn brownie points with a “higher power.”

Then all of a sudden this guy looks at me and says the following: “Sorry, but you don’t know God. If you knew God you’d be different. There’s no happiness on your face at all. You don’t know God.”

He said it so matter of factly and then turned away and started talking to someone else.

It felt like someone had just punched me in the gut, and my eyes immediately welled up with tears that I somehow held back until we got home. I was ashamed, angry, defeated, and I swore I’d never tell anyone what had just happened.

I think it’s one of the worst things someone has ever said to me, and I started to wonder if it was true. Here I am, a christian missionary in Chile, and someone I was talking to, trying to share the gospel with, just told me he doesn’t think I know God because there’s no happiness on my face. He might as well have said I had a demon or something! I considered it was time to just quit the whole missionary thing, because apparently I’m failing at it.

This particular day had already been a difficult one. Pablo and I were probably forcing smiles after an especially difficult situation we’d dealt with the day before. It was still bothering us, but we thought it would be good to go out and invest in other people rather than stay home. So when this guy second guessed my intentions and made this off handed comment, it was just the icing on the cake.

I guess life as a missionary can be complicated (as I’m sure it is with any other profession). Sometimes ministry bites back and it hurts. You feel like you give all you have, and you can’t even have a bad day without someone making you feel guilty for it. Your intentions are questioned, every move you make is open to criticism from christian and non-christian onlookers, the very thing you’ve dedicated your life to is belittled because it’s not a real job, and who do you think you are to tell people what they should believe?!

Eh, it’s not that bad. It’s definitely made me a more responsible and self-aware person, but I’m not perfect. I am a sinner saved by grace, and sometimes I have bad days. The wonder of it all is that Jesus loves me even on my bad days and still chooses to use me.

Shortly after this interaction that I had, we said goodbye to the guys and went to the hospital to give tea and sandwiches to the people who were in the waiting room. While we were there, I was asked to give a five minute “sermon,” and now I really wasn’t feeling up to it!

I did it anyway, and I watched people’s eyes tear up because Jesus used me to say something that they needed to hear…at the very moment when I felt the most useless!


Of course this whole thing served as a moment of self-evaluation. I had to at least take some time to think and pray about why this guy would say something like that to me. Moreover, I saw God’s truth magnified in my life when it could have been drowned out by discouragement and lies.

Sure. It’s complicated, the whole missionary thing…but it’s worth it.

Knowing God

I’ve been helping with a three month Bible study course at our Youth with a Mission campus here in Temuco, and this week students studied the book of Romans. It’s an eloquently written letter to the first century church of Rome, but it’s full of some tough love. The purpose of that tough love, at least in part, was to unify the divided church. I imagine some of the original readers got angry as they read it. Maybe they threw it down in a fit of rage before even getting very far. Maybe some tried to justify themselves instead of humbly accepting the truth they read, and maybe others bowed their heads in shame as they realized the error of their ways. I don’t really know, I’m just…pondering.

There are several passages in Romans that are difficult to interpret, mostly because our modern day context is different from that of the original readers of the letter. The passages that would have angered them are not necessarily the same as those that raise questions for today’s readers. In fact, they didn’t like it because they pretty much knew exactly what Paul, the author, was talking about as he confronted them. We question it because we can’t really wrap our minds around what Paul was saying [unless we understand the original context, and even then we have a hard time with it].

I’m not really an expert though. I’m as much a student as those I’m walking along side these three months. I totally understood their dazed faces this week because I felt the same! We were all wrestling with what we believe to be true about the God we claim to know and love. And don’t read that like it’s a bad thing! We’re taking ownership of our relationship with God, we’re being forced to get real about the questions we’ve probably had for more than just this week, and the only place we have to go is back to God and the bible sitting open in front of us.

I’m studying to teach the books of 1&2 Kings in a little over a week and there are some tough questions that come up in those books too [they were originally just one, by the way], but you know what has actually been the most gripping thing about them?! God’s MERCY! Wow! Funny how people think the God of the old testament is somehow different than that of the new testament. “No, I don’t like the old testament! It’s violent…and God’s wrath…and what’s with all the blood and sacrifices?!” It makes me so sad, but I get it.

Without going into a long history lesson, the old testament is about God forming the nation of Israel, calling them to be a blessing to the nations and then demonstrating his mercy and covenant faithfulness as he lovingly pursues the people who constantly and intentionally turn their backs on him, giving them chance after chance after chance to change.

God’s MERCY! I can’t wrap my mind around that either! And somehow I think it’s a good thing because, look…

Sometimes we get stuck trying to make sense of things like God’s sovereignty and omniscience [the all-knowing nature of God] and we get mad because in our finite humanity we find it to be unfair. But we forget that if we truly tried to wrap our minds around his mercy and love, we would find them to be unfair as well because we don’t deserve them! And I love that about God! I love that I can’t fit him nicely into a little box, but I can know him, and knowing him makes me want to know him more! I can have a relationship with him. I can ask him my questions and he’s not threatened by them. And I can trust and worship him because he is not like me and, again, he is not so small that he fits nicely into a box.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Carl Boberg

Jesus & Church History

Throughout the month of September I was studying to teach the New Testament and Church History portion of a Bible Overview class. I’m actually a little more accustomed to teaching through the old testament, so this was something new for me to go a little deeper with. I learned a lot; in fact, it’s been a little over a week now since I taught, and I’m still pondering some of the things I was challenged by as I prepared the lecture. So, I thought I would share a little bit of the history that is to be discovered in the New Testament and throughout Church history along with a raw and incomplete expression of some of the things I’ve been processing because of it.

The New Testament is all about how Jesus came and changed things. Well, that’s putting it rather simply. It’s really about much more than that, I know, but that is what Jesus did. He changed things.

Jesus was a big disappointment for those who were waiting for their messiah because they misunderstood who the messiah was meant to be. Rather than recognizing their need for a savior from their sin, they self-righteously hoped for a conquering king who would set them free from the pagan nation ruling over them.

Sometimes God’s way of doing things seems to be totally at odds with the way we think things should be done, right?! We say, “I need a mighty warrior to save me from my enemies!” And he says, “No, you need a savior to set you free from sin.” Jesus was exactly what God had promised throughout the old testament, and yet so many of his people were disillusioned because they expected something different, and they were unwilling to accept any change to their system that was implied by Jesus’ claims.

Jesus’ life and resurrection changed things, and change can be uncomfortable. God’s people went from striving to keep his commands and having to make sacrifices for their sin to being handed a new covenant that didn’t require anything of them apart from accepting the gift of God’s grace that Jesus enacted once and for all through his death on the cross.

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissioned his followers, and as they boldly proclaimed the good news of salvation through faith, they were persecuted. They were persecuted because there were many who still rejected that Jesus could have been the messiah they’d waited for and that faith in him was enough for salvation, and there were others who didn’t appreciate the way Christians challenged cultural norms. Except for John, every one of the 12 apostles (including Matthias, who replaced Judas) was killed because they accepted Jesus’ charge to go and make disciples of all nations…and countless others gave their lives so that one day the gospel would make it to you and me.

The church grew, despite persecution. In fact, somehow it seems as though it grew because of persecution. The way Christians were willing to die rather than recant their faith in Jesus was an undeniable testimony that lead witnesses to also surrender their lives to Jesus.

And then a crazy thing happened…it became popular to be a Christian.

The Roman Emperor, Constantine, prayed for victory against his enemies, and when he received his victory, he declared Christianity the official religion of the empire. The church suddenly went from the constant threat of persecution to being surrounded by people now claiming to be Christians as if it was the new fad. What happened after that should have been a time of great awakening; God’s truth should have transformed the empire! I know little about this period of time though, and what eventually followed was an era we call the dark ages – the result of what happens when the bible is removed from the hands of common people like you and me and truth is dictated and [sadly] manipulated by a select few.

It was declared that the Bible could only be read in Latin, the language of the elite and educated. People were told what the Bible said and what they needed to do in order to obtain salvation. The original intentions of this decision were good. The church was trying to combat false teaching – a very honorable endeavor, until the very thing they were trying to thwart became the result of their efforts, false teaching that claimed once again, that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough for Salvation and produced fear in the hearts of the people.

Thank God for the reformers, the men who rose up against the false doctrine being propagated by the church and fought to put the Bible back in the hands of the common folk.

When John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, a single page could be purchased for a month’s worth of wages and possession of it was punishable by death. Wycliffe was forced to flee for his life and the copies were destroyed. A little more than a hundred years later, William Tyndale took on the challenge of translating and printing the Bible in English, and he was killed for doing so.

Lives and nations were transformed as a result of the work of these and others. It lead to great missionary movements that brought the gospel to new places. And now, we are a part of the story.

Jesus promised that one day he would return. Until then, we have a job to do. We must honor his desire for all men to know him by also accepting his commission to go and make disciples of all nations.

As I studied and then had the opportunity to teach about these things, I was challenged. And I was challenged at a time when the last thing I wanted was to be challenged! Seriously!

I was challenged by the thought that I too might have been disappointed by Jesus if everything I’d been raised to believe dismissed my need for a savior from my sin. What’s scary is that I think our society has fallen into that same self-righteous mindset, and so many people are lead to reject Jesus because they believe they don’t need him.

I was challenged by the fact that sometimes God’s way of doing things seems absolutely absurd, and yet he flawlessly fulfills his promises. Sometimes I don’t understand why things happen the way they do, but history teaches me to trust God’s faithfulness.

I was challenged by the lives of SO MANY men and woman who were so convinced that Jesus was [and is] the only way that they were pleased to die because of it. And because of their willingness to do so, eventually the gospel made its way to me. I pray that somehow my faith would be so firm that I would be willing to imitate these as they imitated Christ.

I was challenged by the Bible I page through each day – our gift from the men who stood up for its authority and fought and died to make it available so that we could read it, study it, and discover God’s truth in its pages. Oh how I’ve taken it for granted.

Ultimately, I was challenged to be grateful.

The Bible Overview by Kerry Neve and Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley were my main resources as I studied to teach the New Testament and Church History class. Much of what I’ve shared here are insights I gained from that material.

My unwarranted anger toward God

Who knew that scrolling through facebook would have done it? Make me realize that I was harboring unwarranted anger toward God.

Sounds terrible doesn’t it? “Anger toward God.”

When Pablo and I got engaged, we had a very detailed two-year plan. It made sense. It was what we wanted. It even aligned with things that God had been speaking to us. However, last year around this time, it began to unravel. Not in the sense that we had it all wrong, it just needed to be tweaked, I guess (but it definitely felt like an unraveling). There was something we needed to do, and that one thing meant taking a different much longer route to our intended destination.

According to that original plan, we would have been in Kosovo right now. Kosovo is a small country in Eastern Europe that we hope to travel to as missionaries one day. I was there three years ago, and to be honest, it was a really difficult place for me…yet somehow I long to be there! Pablo has never been, but some days it seems like he’s more anxious to live in Kosovo than I am.

Some dear friends of ours were in Kosovo last week, and as I looked through their photos on facebook, I started to cry. I was genuinely happy for them, but angry at God because it felt like he was letting someone else live our dream while we’re stuck in a season that has been mostly difficult and confusing, and any hope of traveling to Kosovo seems lost. I must have cried most of the day and Pablo wasn’t around to process with. I sent him a brief message, telling him what had happened, and his response was, well, very Pablo.

“We’ll be there soon, my love.”

Simple, and not really what I was looking for, but full of faith.

Allowing myself to be a little bit “angry” with God, forced me to process through some things that were going on inside of me. I even realized there were other things I was mad about and acknowledging it was freeing somehow. It all ended up leading me back to my humble faith in God’s goodness and knowing that we are where we need to be right now. He has been so faithful during this supposably difficult and confusing time, how could I have so easily lost sight of it?

It’s still our dream! God hasn’t stripped it from us, he’s preparing us for it. If we were meant to be in Kosovo right now, we would be there. But there must be something that we’ll learn from what we are experiencing now that we’ll need when we get there.

Still in Transition

Pablo and I had kind of a busy week between still trying to adjust to some things in regards to life back in Chile, Pablo working and both of us slowly integrating into the Youth with a Mission ministry here in Temuco. We’re nearing two months back in Chile, and we’re still very much attempting to get our bearings. I’ve had to come to grips with that and extend a little grace to myself and my husband by being okay with the fact that we’re still in transition and we haven’t been able to just hit the ground running since getting back. It’s probably a good thing. We both tend to be a little bit task oriented, and I especially have a habit of taking on more than I should at times. Now if I do, it doesn’t just affect me–it affects us! It’s kind of a steep learning curve for me.

Though it was busy, it was a good week! Here are a couple highlights…

  • Some people from our church here go out on Monday nights to give food and clothing to some of the homeless in the city. We were blessed to be a part of it this week, and Pablo was asked to join the group that organizes it. Hopefully he will be able to.
  • The students from YWAM Temuco’s Discipleship Training School arrived from their outreach in Uruguay and we enjoyed hearing about their experience throughout the week and helping with some of the details for their graduation.

It wasn’t overwhelmingly busy, but by the time Friday arrived, we knew we needed some time for us. When we were just dating and even after getting engaged, we didn’t go out very much. We struggled to find time to do so, but now we make time to date each other. We try to at least. We’ve realized that we’re terrible missionaries if we don’t make our marriage a priority.

We spent all day Saturday together. Pablo knows I love mountains, so he took me to a small town that is surrounded by the Andes, and then we ended up taking a drive up into the mountains. It was an adventure, and it was beautiful. God’s creation is breathtaking! Below are a few pictures from our little venture into the mountains.