It felt like it was me against the world.
I was mad at the administration of the school for whom I was volunteering for giving me so much work to do even after I had told them it couldn’t be done. I was mad at my teammates for the choices they had made about which direction the ministry should move and how I’d felt unheard in the process. I was mad at my mission board for not stepping in more and coming to our rescue when things blew up.
I was mad at my students for cheating on their midterms, mad at my neighbor for spreading false allegations about me, mad at my coworkers for their unrealistic, unfair expectations and little jabs about still not having fully adapted to the culture. I was mad at those guys who harassed me with lude comments every day when I walked across the field to work. I was mad at the farm crew for leaving so many weeds amongst the corn that had just been planted.
I was mad at my friends and even my church back home who had seemingly moved on with their lives without me. I was mad at my husband for his quick and seemingly thoughtless reply to me that morning. If I’m being honest, I was mad at the whole entire country for the flagrant corruption in both the big city offices and the small rural homes that resulted in so many needless deaths day after day.
There was no safe place where I could go for a thousand miles that did not trigger bitterness, rage, or despair. Not the school, not the home, not the farm, not even the street. After five years, it had all finally caught up with me. I felt so alone, so hopeless. I felt like I had no one to turn to because the way I saw it, every single person in my life owed me an apology and I couldn’t seem to move past that.
When I first moved here, I had to learn how to do things that had been second nature to me in my previous life. I had to learn a new way to cook, a new way to dress, a new way to talk, a new way to drive, a new way to shop, a new way to greet people, a new way to express grief, and a new way to listen. But one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn how to do all over again is forgive.
We are missionaries, and we are Christians; we know what it means to forgive. We have been theoretically doing it our whole lives. So why all of a sudden when we move abroad, do we feel like we got automatically signed up for an unrequested and unending refresher course on this particular topic?
Yes, forgiveness does look and play out differently in different cultures, and that certainly took (and is still taking) some time to get used to. And yes, trying to reconcile what you know and believe about forgiveness while living in a country or community where injustice runs absolutely rampant, can wage wars within your soul. But I believe that there is something deeper, something even more obvious that we might have forgotten. This idea of forgiveness is itself at the very core of our faith and therefore our testimony.
Whether it was in high school youth group or an official pre-field missionary training program, we’ve probably all had some experience fine-tuning the verbal versions of our testimonies. You may have also had the opportunity to take any number of amazing courses that are designed to help prepare you for sharing that testimony in cross-cultural evangelism situations. There are thousands of amazing evangelism tracts, bracelets, crusades, revivals, dramas, games, movies, books, websites, study tools, and more that do a fabulous job of helping us to tell people the story of what Jesus did for us — and for them — on the cross.
No doubt, people need to hear these testimonies alongside of the Word of God, but they also need to see it and experience it for themselves. We cannot preach the good news of Jesus Christ on our mission fields, without also living it out as He did. What more compelling way is there to live out the gospel than to practice that same radical forgiveness?
Jesus didn’t just preach forgiveness; he forgave. Jesus didn’t just speak the word of God; He lived it. He didn’t just say that He loved people; He showed them by dying an excruciatingly painful and completely unjust death on the cross. John 15:13 reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
There are many opportunities on the mission field to hold a grudge or to build in resentment. I’m sure you already know that well enough. But the good news is that for every opportunity to plant the seed of bitterness in our hearts, we also have a chance to plant the seeds of wonder, of awe, of hope, of love in our hearts and in the hearts of others.
There is nothing that speaks to the goodness of God like the act of forgiveness. It was through His forgiveness of our sins on the cross that Jesus truly showed us what love is. For it was while we were still sinners that He died for us (Rom 5:8). What kind of love is that? It is the kind of love that leaves people in awe, the kind of love that makes them want to know more, the kind of love that we all want for ourselves but might not know how to find.
Forgiveness is our greatest form of evangelism. It is our loudest testimony to the goodness of God.
Forgiveness says that we believe God’s plans are good, even when our lives and society might seem to say otherwise. Forgiveness says that there is a power that can overcome the deepest and ugliest desires of my flesh. Forgiveness says to someone that they are worthy not because of what they’ve done, but because of who Christ is. Forgiveness says that we trust God to handle this in His way and His time. Forgiveness says that there is another way besides the prison of resentment, walls, bitterness, revenge, and rage. Forgiveness reaches across the divide and bridges the gap that is far too wide for us to cross alone. Forgiveness breaks the chains and grants freedom, and our ability to forgive, by the grace of the Spirit, is just as much our mission as any of the rest of it.
1 Peter 4:12 reminds us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
In order for us live a life that magnifies and glorifies Him and speaks to the kind of forgiveness and freedom that is available through Christ, we must accept that there will constantly be things done to us and around us that will require our forgiveness. The fiery trials and tests are not merely the mosquitos and the food poisoning that plague us on darkest nights, but they are the pain and sorrows that will undoubtedly be inflicted on us by those we serve alongside and by the very people we are here striving to love. This should come as no surprise, because is that not also how it happened for Jesus our Savior? That the very people He walked beside every day and the very people He came to save were the ones who betrayed Him and nailed Him to a cross?
Take some time and reflect. Have you experienced the same on your mission field? Are there people who have hurt and betrayed you in big ways? Or maybe for you it hasn’t been a series of major events, but rather daily offenses that may have seemed small and manageable at first but that have added up to an avalanche of resentment and bitterness? How is holding onto these offenses affecting you? Affecting your ministry? Affecting your relationships…with God, with your family, with your team, with nationals? What would it look like to forgive? What do you need to trust God with in order to forgive this person? How can you pray for this person? What is He leading you to do in this moment?
Pray and ask God to show you if there is any unforgiveness that is lingering in your heart, and ask for His grace and mercy to forgive. For it is not only your peace that depends on it, but also your testimony; not only your relationship with God that could be at stake, but also theirs.