My kids and I love reading missionary stories. You know the kind. There are witchdoctors. There are dreams and visions. And there are divine appointments with so many moving parts you can hardly keep track of them all. These books recount the kind of events that only an omnipotent, omniscient God could arrange, miracles that vicariously grow my faith.
If I’m not too jaded to believe miracles still happen.
Easy to Get Jaded
It can be easy to become jaded when we pray for people to have dreams and they don’t. Or when we tell our supporters we are “seed-planting” but have no idea if that seed is falling on good soil or rocky soil, or if “seed-planting” is just a nice way to say there’s no fruit to harvest. Or when we read books and attend classes about movements, underground churches, and contextualized Bible study methods, but can’t find a single person interested in Jesus.
Do you ever find yourself asking, “Where are the dreams, God? Where are the divine appointments? Where are the miracles?” Do you ever find yourself reading one of those adventurous, miraculous missionary stories, and praying, “Could I get me some-a that, Jesus? Just a little? A crumb?”
We served in India for seven years before transitioning to our current country of service. I often wondered when something was going to happen. When things were going to get exciting like in the books I’d read. It wasn’t until we came home and I wrote about everything that had happened that I realized just how many miracles God had performed. Like Israel of old, we forget our ten plagues, our Nile river crossings, our manna.
Sometimes when you’re in those hot, barren fields, pulling out rocks or throwing seeds hither and yon, all you can think about is how nice it would be if you could just see one tiny result, one little glimmer of light from Heaven.
One little, itty bitty seedling poking out of the dirt.
I’m sure that’s how The Jesus Teacher felt.
The Jesus Teacher
Twenty-five years ago, an Indian man moved to a remote mountain village. The villagers called him The Jesus Teacher. Each day The Jesus Teacher put on the colorful woolen clothing common to the people around him and went to work at a local school. After school, he would sit around people’s wood stoves, sipping hot clove-and-cinnamon tea and telling them stories of Jesus.
They laughed in his face.
Believe me, in that ultra-social environment, being made fun of is a special brand of torture.
They used to ask him for his clothes, or the rupees in his pocket, or his shoes, and he would give what they asked for, and they would laugh and call him a sucker. Not one person came to Christ while The Jesus Teacher lived in that village.
I wish I could talk to him now and remind him of the day he met my friend, Darshika. She was 15 and married to a drunkard twice her age. She held two little babies in her arms. The Jesus Teacher saw her sitting in front of her house, raised his hand in blessing, and said, “God give you ashish (a blessing).”
Darshika had been grinding her forehead to the ground for the last several months, begging Vishnu and Durga and any other god she could think of to rescue her. Then this Jesus Teacher asked God to bless her, and somehow she knew she had been blessed.
Later, Darshika asked a chain-smoking ex-Catholic tourist to tell her more. She heard a handful of stories, some apocryphal.
Fifteen years later, my family and I met her, and, with my heart pounding in my chest, I shared the gospel with her in my simplistic Hindi, and she accepted Christ. She has been faithful under both pain and persecution, nurturing herself on an audio Bible. Once, when under extreme persecution, Jesus appeared to her and gave her the peace and courage to continue living.
Now that I’ve written it all out in seven paragraphs, it’s clear this is a miracle.
But here’s the thing: My perception of this miracle developed over time.
It took several years for me to play my part in the story, and then to hear and understand the other elements of it. And there may be miraculous circumstances God arranged that I know nothing about. Why were we and Darshika in the same village at the same time? Why did I suddenly know that I should blurt out the entire gospel to a random friend in a country where we were often so careful?
Miracles take time, both to unfold, and to perceive. I am learning to be patient with my finite heart and mind. I’m learning to be patient with God, too. He has promised he is doing something. Friend, don’t stop your prayer walks, don’t stop your personal devotions, don’t stop storming the gates of hell with your prayers for people you’ve never met. God promised to do something.
You don’t have to see it for it to be happening.
In fact, it might even look like the case is lost and the issue is closed and God has said no. Like with my birthday bed covering.
The Birthday Bed Covering
Once, when we were in India, my dad sent me $30 to buy myself a birthday present. I packed my two littles into an auto-rickshaw, and we careened our way to the nearest town. I knew exactly what I wanted: an Indian bed covering. I walked into shop after closet-sized shop, where salesmen unfurled sheet after sheet of multicolored fabric. Finally, I found the perfect one. The shopkeeper said it was the last one like it and tucked it into a small fabric bag. We went home by auto-rickshaw again, but I was so concerned with making sure my kids got out of the vehicle with me that I forgot my birthday present on the seat.
The driver turned around and drove away, not hearing my shouting nor seeing my arms waving. I grasped the kids’ hands and told them we would ask Jesus, and He would bring Mommy back her birthday present.
I fully expected that man to turn his vehicle around. I mean, my faith was palpable. I knew God was going to bring my gift back to me.
But the man didn’t turn around.
“Well,” I said to the kids. “Maybe Jesus is saying no. Maybe… maybe someone else needs it more than we do.” We walked home, and I felt confused and disappointed because I knew this time I’d had the kind of faith that could move a mountain.
Several months later, a stranger knocked on our door. He held out a small fabric bag.
He said the rickshaw driver had been asking everyone he met for the last several months if they knew where to find a foreigner lady with two little kids. The gift had passed through many hands, and though it could easily have been stolen, it was presented to me, clean and crisp.
As I spread that covering over my bed, I thought back to my prayer by the road. Would I have recognized this miracle if it hadn’t taken so long? Was it possible that God had actually planned it this way, to show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that He did it? Could I have rationalized the miracle away if the driver had turned around immediately?
The Cure for Jadedness
I know nothing about plants. But I’ve planted a few seeds. And every time, seeing those tender snips of green emerge from the earth is like experiencing a miracle.
Once, during a particularly dark time in India, I dreamed about plants. In my dream, I saw a field, barren and dark under a cloudy sky. Somehow I was able to look underneath the soil, as though I were watching a screen. I saw white roots stretching into the earth like a time-lapse video.
“The roots grow first!” I said in my dream. When I woke up, I YouTubed it, and indeed, long before any leaves emerge from their tombs of dirt, roots are growing. I didn’t know that before. Because I know nothing about plants.
But God knows.
Could it be that people in your country are having the dreams you ask God to send them?
Could it be that the people you meet are divine appointments?
Could it be that the little, seemingly insignificant things God asks you to do each day, are small parts of actual miracles?
Now, it would be great if I experienced one of the above miracle stories every Friday so that I could send our supporters an exciting newsletter each week. The truth is, although we experienced many, many miracles in India, our day-to-day lives were full of mediocrity. I changed diapers and visited the wives of Hindu priests. I learned to drive stick shift in the mountains and, when I killed the car, got stared at by a bus full of neighbors. Our laundry froze in the winter and we had to dry it by the wood stove. Our kids got worms. We got worms. We tried to share Bible stories and people changed the subject. We celebrated our anniversary with balloons and a sprinkly cake because we didn’t have a babysitter. We laughed at our Hindi faux pas, we laughed at our cultural mistakes, we laughed at our kids when they said funny things about intestinal worms.
And sometimes, some days, we saw miracles.
If I learned anything in India, it’s that I don’t have to see something for it to exist. The earth takes time to turn around to face the sun again, and all that light takes time to fill the sky with color, and it takes time for me to get up and witness it all. But even if I sleep through it, there is still a beautiful sunrise.
Once, a friend told me how inspired she was when she read all my stories about India. This surprised me. Although our experience changed me profoundly and grew my faith, most days, I remember the frozen laundry and sprinkly cake. But that’s how we humans are. We get used to things like Red Sea crossings and manna. We get stuck in what is happening right now, on Thursday afternoon. We don’t realize that our lives, if viewed in time-lapse or written in a book, would contain so many divine appointments it would be hard to keep track of them all.
The next time setbacks and mundane normalcy threaten to make you feel jaded, rest your heart in Jesus. He has a plan, and He can see the end from the beginning. He can even see underground, where seedlings are sending down their roots, waiting for the perfect moment to rise up and greet the sun for the first time.