In the early 2000’s when my husband and I talked about serving overseas, we knew we wanted to serve where the name of Jesus had not been heard. Today, we live in a mountain town accessible only by air. My husband, a helicopter pilot, flies local and foreign missionaries into isolated villages. The places we serve have no roads or airstrips. To reach one village it would take 4 days of hiking through jungle and over mountains, but that same trip is only about 20 minutes by helicopter.
Last year, missionaries in that particular village reached language fluency and taught through the bible from creation to the resurrection. We witnessed the very first people of this tribe become brothers and sisters in Christ. Amazing! When I talk about this tribe, I still get emotional.
For another tribe, the bible translation project was completed. After decades of effort, this tribe can finally read all of scripture in their own heart language. Imagine the joy! God speaks your language, too!
More than half our flights are medical evacuations. Lacking basic medical care, something simple to address in a hospital becomes life threatening as the sick or injured can’t hike to town. It could be a new mother who retained the placenta after giving birth, or perhaps there was an accident with a machete in a garden, or someone fell from a tree collecting the special branches near the top. Our helicopter can fly in a doctor or bring the patient out to the hospital.
All sounds pretty cool, right? I think so. I mean, isolated people groups? Bible translation? Church planting? Saving lives? Yes! I signed up for this!
I even signed up for power outages and limited internet. I knew that was part of the deal, plus tropical illnesses and home sickness, too. I signed up for living off of donations, studying a new language and culture, cooking from scratch, home schooling, and battling bugs in the kitchen. All of these challenges although difficult, at least were expected.
I’ll tell you what though, there’s a heck of a lot I didn’t sign up for.
I didn’t sign up for jealousy. For wishing I could be like her, and why does she do everything better than me? and It’s just not fair!
I didn’t sign up for shattered trust. For someone we employed and helped for 2 years to threaten us, or for the teenage girl I mentored to run off with her boyfriend.
I didn’t sign up for anger. For bitten tongue and clenched fists as men jeer at me, or for slapping a man for grabbing at my son.
I didn’t sign up for trauma. For helplessly watching a man beaten to death in the street, or getting caught up in an armed protest.
I didn’t sign up for fear, confusion, or grief, but they are ever willing companions.
I know it’s Christmas time, but it’s the back end of the story I keep thinking about.
In following Jesus, I’m sure the disciples signed up for miracles and teachings. They would have even signed up for life constantly on the road, for depending on donations, for crowds, lack of sleep, and being challenged by the religious authorities. But I bet they didn’t sign up for betrayals, arrest, and the cross.
It’s the cross, their unthinkable, that led us here.
Despite all the unthinkable things that happen, all that I didn’t sign up for, I know a day is coming when all suffering will cease. My heart clings to that good hope and the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:18-21 take root. The Message puts it this way:
That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
One day, all will be set right. Sin and shame, both inside of me and all that I encounter in the world, will end. And this isn’t one figurative day or a nice thought of ‘perhaps one day’, but one specific, fixed day in time. In 1 Thessalonians 4, the Apostle Paul describes that coming day and concludes in verse 18, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
This past year was full of unexpected events that cut deeply and left me crying out, “Oh God, I didn’t sign up for this!” I need the comfort of words pointing to the good reality coming.
There is no comparing these present hard times to what comes next.
The good, specific, appointed time is coming!
God is reining everything in until all are ready.
Let your joyful anticipation deepen!
This December, this is the truth I need: The baby Jesus grew into the man who gave His life for the world. He is coming back! At the appointed time, all will be set right.
That, after all, is the reason I’m here. It’s the reason I signed up.