When we stomped off to mission school we knew we were headed to Bolivia. We knew the five-fold reach of our ministry would be: churches, bible schools, social outreaches, Bolivian missionaries sent out, and mass media productions. Our shiny vision statement listed everything in plural with big numbers. We knew that we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, as they say, what our next few decades, heck, what the rest of our lives looked like.
Or so I thought.
This November 1st marks 13 years in Bolivia. So much has changed in that relatively short span of time. I miss the ignorant bliss of being a know-it-all.
Right now as I walk through the valley-of-the-shadow one of the few certainties I have is the shadow of doubt.
See if you can identify a pattern as I share some of our journey.
We were pastors of a local church for 8 years. We are no longer the pastors.
From that church Bolivian missionaries have been sent out. The congregation is still connected to these sacrificial souls, yet we are not directly involved.
We ran a bible school program for over a decade during which time we helped start over 60 training centers throughout South America. We no longer oversee that program.
We led a series of leadership conferences attended by thousands throughout Bolivia and South America over the span of 12 years. We no longer do that.
We authored, translated, and published a number of books and biblical teaching material. We also made available online resources. We discontinued our production department.
Three things have survived the start-stop process that characterizes our efforts.
We founded an orphanage that has helped over 50 kids in the last 8 years. Fourteen kids still live in the House of Dreams. We decided to not accept new children.
We started a K-12 Christian school six years ago. Over 100 kids, the orphans and ours included, receive bi-lingual education from a Bolivian staff.
We purchased the town’s only bowling alley a few years back in hopes to create sustainability within Bolivia. We still hope to see positive results.
In some of the examples above the transition meant Bolivians now lead the operations. In other cases the programs simply stopped. We were able to check off all five things we set out to do from the start. We should be ecstatic!
So why do I feel like crap? Why do I battle depression? Why does doubt feel like a noose around my soul’s throat?
The trade off was too big. Home life is strained. Our finances suffer under huge debt. Relationships have become difficult. I could go on with the list of stressful situations we face; I’ll leave the rest for my skype call counseling sessions.
The ancient story of the Hebrews who clamored for a king haunts my heart. They thought they asked for a good thing. Finally, God answered their prayers in the affirmative. He gives them a king, even though He knows they will be sorry. He knows the oppression they invite when they transfer the rule to human hands.
This shadow of doubt that hangs over my head tells me history repeats itself. Why should I think I would have been any wiser than those folks back then? I truly thought I asked God for a handful of really great stuff. He answered our prayers in the affirmative. Did He know we would be sorry?
King David wrote the psalm I have alluded to with my talk of shadows. Maybe if you are alongside me in a dark, shadowy time we might be comforted as we contemplate the truth of these words.
…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me…
Another scriptural reference to shadows speaks of an unexpected source of darkness.
This deconstruction has been a long, painful unclenching of the fists of control. Surrender thumps as a mandate, a warning of worse if not heeded. So maybe this shadow of death and doubt, as I relinquish and mourn the loss of these good works, comes not from the evil one. Or if it does, there may be a greater Good overshadowing the immediate struggles.
David as king was not God’s original plan, but He worked with it. Listen to the words of this warrior poet about a trustworthy shadow.
“David, when he fled from Saul into the cave: Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by.” (Psalm 57:1)
More verses about the Almighty’s shadow: Psalm 17:8 , Psalm 36:7, Psalm 63:7, Psalm 91:1
So darkness closes in and I can’t see the path. I walk slow and unsure, weary and wary. Maybe you are right here beside me, unseen but within ear-shot. This is me calling out to you. I extend to you solidarity in the hurt.
Are you going through a similar season in your life? Have you had to live through relinquishment and loss? In the interest of conversation please add your thoughts below in the comment section.