Is Christ Still Worth It?

In 2007, worker friends of mine were martyred in a country in Central Asia. I was in my mid-twenties, single, and praying for direction for the desires the Lord had given me for his kingdom. I was so shaken by their deaths. I remember how, shortly after it happened, I was swimming furiously in the gym pool, praying to the Lord, ”Who will take their place? Please, send me.”

I couldn’t make it to the memorial in the US, but a pastor friend shared with me the eulogy he had given. One line has had a profound effect on me. After talking about all the challenges these worker friends faced, and their many adversaries, he said something like, “You may hear about all this opposition and all the difficulties they faced, and their lives may not sound appealing to you. But the truth is, their lives did not appeal to them either. They loved Christ more than they loved their own lives.

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I remember when we were first getting ready to go overseas. My husband and I had the opportunity to share at a church together. I was passionate, convinced that Christ is worthy and that he is worth our sacrifice. I was so glad we were finally (at age 33 and 32) on our way to serve Christ in the Middle East for the rest of our lives. 

The first three years were exciting. We had a lot of adrenaline, and we were planted in really good spiritual communities. During that time we joined a team to help plant a church. We felt like we were finally living our dream life. Then the Lord called us to another ministry in another country. 

The last four years, since arriving in this country, we have faced many difficulties: significant health problems, a brutal treatment to catalyze physical healing, an excruciating language learning season, deep loneliness, unresolved trauma flaring up with intense symptoms and a need for additional counseling/therapy. A tragedy a year ago left us reeling, and we are still processing the shock of it. Our efforts in relationship building haven’t borne the fruit we hoped; right now the path doesn’t seem very clear. The ground at times feels shaky underneath our feet. What can we stand on? At times we feel like the wind in our sails is just…..gone. 

We have been overseas for seven years now. According to a friend, who is also a clinical counselor and who has done a lot of research about mental health in workers, we are right at the burnout period. And frankly, we feel it. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot I love about our life here. I love where we live. I love the beauty around me. I am so thankful for the expat community we have started to get to know. Our kids are doing really well at school. But I don’t love how lost we feel right now, how very little we have to go on for ministry. We have dreams for the work here but struggle to find our place in it. 

We shared some of this with our church this past summer, asking for prayer. I wondered how they might hear what we shared. Did our lives sound as unappealing as the ones from my friends? We were definitely not sharing the glamorous, attractive stories that you sometimes hear from workers when they come home. We were not doing the best job at recruiting, if you ask me.

A question swirled in my head: What would motivate any of our friends at church not only to keep praying for us, but to maybe one day also go overseas? Is Christ still worth it?

Is Christ worth years and years of language learning? Is he worth the death of who we are in English for what we can be in another language? Is he worth our praise when we have more questions than clear answers from him?  When the ground doesn’t feel firm, and our confidence feels shaken, is he worth it? 

The thing is, Christ hasn’t changed. He is still the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). He is still the one who knows the end from the beginning, whose footprints sometimes are unseen as he leads through the sea (Psalm 77:19). He is still the one who creates the visible out of the invisible (Hebrews 11:3). He is still the one whose arm brings salvation (Isaiah 59:17).

Christ is still the one who stoops low even as he has all authority on earth (Matthew 28:18-20). He is the one who gives himself to us so completely, so joyfully, so powerfully, so lovingly. The one who is our life — our only life!

This verse in a new song by CityAlight and Sandra McCracken captures why we can still love Christ even when we don’t love our lives: 

On the road that You walked
With the weight of the cross
All my pain and my sorrow You held
So to You I shall hold
You redeem every loss
For my Lord, You have given Yourself

Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself
Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself
And if I should remain in the valley today
Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself

Yes, friend, in the valley the risen Christ is still worthy and worth it, because there we get Him – all of Him – forever.

Missionaries were sent to serve my country. God sent me somewhere else.

I was 16 when I first sensed the Lord calling me to full-time ministry — and more specifically to serve sacrificially in areas where there was a great need of the gospel. The Lord gave me faith to respond almost immediately, “Yes, Lord, I will go wherever you lead.” I am Dominican, and at the time I had a strong conviction that “wherever” meant staying in the DR and serving my own people. For 12 years that is what I did…until the Lord surprised me and called me to another place.

While I highly encourage anyone from a developing country to stay and serve their own people, there may be reasons to consider leaving your own to serve in another needy place. In my life these three considerations were key:

1. Spirit-fueled desires
2. The nature of the evangelical presence in my context
3. How the Lord led through providence

Spirit-fueled desires
“Delight in the Lord,” the psalmist says,” and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The Spirit often leads us by giving us specific desires for his kingdom. For several years, He gave me a strong desire to stay in the Dominican Republic and serve my own. I discipled young women in my church. I volunteered in outreach opportunities in poor neighborhoods, public hospitals, and underserved villages. I taught at a Christian school.

But when I was around 24 years old, I read Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper. The more I read about unreached peoples, the more my heart burned with a longing to share the gospel with those who hadn’t heard. When I read Piper’s exposition on Romans 15:20 about Paul and his not wanting to build on another’s foundation, the Spirit lit a fire in my soul. I longed for Christ to be proclaimed where he was not known. When I started praying and fasting for the nations, the Spirit just kept feeding a desire to move on from my context to a place where there was more need.

If you sense the Lord nudging you in one direction, if you have a desire to serve, is it possible that these desires are borne out of the Spirit in your life? Could it be that the Spirit is guiding you away from where he once called you? Desire is one way God leads.

The nature of the evangelical presence in your context
While desires are important, wisdom calls us to consider other variables. One such variable is the strength of the evangelical presence where you live. Consider how many healthy churches are in your community or in your city. How involved are they with people around them? Does love for God overflow in love for people? Is the word of God doing the work of God? If the answer is yes, in what ways is that happening?

It was clear that the Lord was working in my country. For years we had been recipients of cross-cultural work. Missionaries had been sent to us. The Lord convicted me that it was time for my spiritual community to participate in and initiate the kind of mercy ministry and evangelism that others came to do for us. We didn’t need others to come to us. We could minister to our own people.

Over time, I started to recognize what the Lord was doing in our country. There were many healthy churches from different theological denominations actively participating in building the kingdom of God in the Dominican. They were not just being faithful in our city but in other towns across the island. There were many Dominicans willing to serve in their own country, but there were not many with a desire or drive to go to darker places. I sensed I needed to steward both my desire and the spiritual resources the Lord had given my community.

It was exciting to think that the time had come for my spiritual community to no longer simply be recipients of cross-cultural work but also active participants in sending others out. The Lord had been filling us to overflowing, and now we could give out of the grace we had been given.

God’s providential leading
As I prayed for the Father’s leading, He started opening doors for me and closing others. He opened doors to love and care for an unreached people group right there in my city. It was a joy to see him answer prayers and longings right where I lived. I had been pursuing opportunities to move to other Hispanic countries like Cuba or Spain. But so far nothing had come of them. So when the Lord led me, through a friend, to reach out to prostitutes in Santo Domingo, it was a clear answer to prayer.

During that time, the Lord brought an old friend back into my life who also had a strong desire to serve the Lord in darker places. Eventually our friendship grew into something more, and the Lord led us to marriage. I left the Dominican for good and moved to his country. From there, several years later, after many providential events, the Lord led us to move overseas to serve him in the Middle East together. There have been a lot of twists and turns and seeming detours in our cross-cultural journey, but the Lord has not been surprised by any of them. He has been orchestrating providence to overwhelm us with his love and to use our small lives to do what he promised – fill the earth with his glory.

So if you are praying about how to steward a desire to move to a more needy place, one with less light of the gospel than where you currently live, be assured that you can trust the Spirit’s generosity to lead you there. Pay attention to the desires of your heart and to what is happening around you. Pay attention to what He is doing — those seeming coincidences, the conversations that happen at the right time, the opportunities that fall on your lap, and even to the closed doors. He may be working in surprising ways to take you where you didn’t think you’d ever go.

 

Photo by Juanca Paulino on Unsplash

Reading the News When Crisis Hits

Living overseas makes checking the news a tricky endeavor, especially in seasons of global crisis like the pandemic or more recently, the war in Ukraine. Reading about these things can be anxiety inducing for a few reasons. When you live far from home, you count on life in your passport country to keep providing stability, a place you can safely retreat to if needed. But when your passport country is struggling alongside the rest of the world, you experience a sense of loss and instability.

Reading the news can be a triggering experience if you have gone through traumatic experiences yourself. The injustice, violence, and pain can make you feel paralyzed, angry or really upset. It can also be challenging to consume news when life around you is draining and uniquely demanding. Your capacity to process hard things happening elsewhere in the world is so much less.

At the same time, as global citizens we can’t afford to not be informed about world events. The world is so connected that what happens in one country often has implications in other parts of the world. If we want to be understanding of the times, we can’t live under a rock. So how do we navigate news consumption? 



1. Know your window of tolerance.
Name honestly what happens to you when you read the news. As humans our emotions are impacted by what we read. We reflect the heart of our Father when we are moved with compassion or when we respond with indignation to the injustice in the world. But if reading the news starts to get in the way of our being able to function well, we may need to step back and consider how to stay within our window of tolerance.

Dan Siegel is the therapist and clinical professor who coined the term “window of tolerance” (WOT). WOT refers to “the best state of stimulation in which you are able to function and thrive in everyday life. When we exist within this window, we are able to learn effectively, play, and relate well to ourselves and others” [source]. Ideally we want to stay within a space where we can self-regulate, stay grounded, and be flexible. If reading the news triggers deep anxiety, overwhelm, numbness, a sense of panic or maybe even a response of flight or fight within us – these are all signs that we are moving away from that state in which we are best able to function in our daily life.

Pay attention to your body’s responses. Stay curious about why specific news has the impact it has on you. Could this news be tapping into unprocessed grief or trauma?

Notice, too, if there is a time of day when things affect you more. Is checking the news before going to sleep disrupting your rest at night? How often are you going online to check news updates?

After you’ve paid attention to these things, be very gentle with yourself and plan accordingly. Is there specific news you need to avoid for a while? Maybe ask someone who loves you to filter the news and share with you what you can handle. There really is no shame in that, friend. Or maybe, set a time of day when you check the news, and then don’t check it again that day. And if you are really struggling, it really is okay to say, “I can’t handle this right now.” Know yourself and steward your capacity to process information.



2. Actively stay within the circle of your responsibility.
While it is true that we want to be informed and cultivate compassion toward suffering in the world, our primary calling is to stay present and tender-hearted for those in our immediate circle of influence. If you are anything like me, once in a while you need to do a heart-check and discern: what is within my circle of responsibility and what is within my circle of concern? Sometimes I have even had to write it all down and create two lists:

What things are my responsibility (things that God has called me to)?

What things are only a concern (things that God is calling me to entrust to him)?

Seeing it in black and white in front of me is helpful, so I can properly cast my cares on him. Thankfully all my cares (both the ones that I am responsible for and the ones I need to entrust to him) are his cares. They matter to him. So he is able to equip me to engage faithfully where he wants me to and also to give away to him what I really can’t change or influence. I am so thankful he cares so much for all of me, and that I am within his circle of responsibility and commitment.

 

3. Hunt for beauty every day.
Finally, when life is heavy and it seems we can’t escape its excruciating crush, become a beauty hunter. In the rich mercy of our Father, beauty strengthens the soul to face grief.

When we are struggling to live in the love of the Father, chasing beauty is just what the doctor ordered. Choose a project that will breathe life and hope into your soul:

-hang flowers on the porch
-go on picnics on poppy-covered fields
-bake favorite desserts with your family
-have dance parties
-explore favorite markets
-admire the sunset
-sing worship songs
-read poems while drinking tea
-behold breathtaking cliffs or
-gaze at star-filled night-time skies

Beauty opens our eyes to the steadfast love of the Lord even when darker colors inhabit the landscape of our lives. It is what shelters us in the day of trouble, enabling us to believe we will see our Father’s goodness in the land of living.

 

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash