Missions and Suffering

I am currently reading Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper.  Chapter 3 is on suffering.  As I think about my life as a American Christian, sometimes I feel bad (honestly) that I don’t suffer.  There are so many “comforts in the den” as Piper puts it.  I can pray for missions, yes.  But it just doesn’t seem the same to me.  Second Timothy 3:12 says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Where is it?  How does it come here in America? 

Piper writes that it can “range from the slightest ostracism to agony of torture and death” (80).  I have been ridiculed before and yelled at, but not ostracised.  And lately, I have noticed myself prayer for suffering, as if to prove my own faith and endurance — by God’s grace — to myself.  And to show the world how beautiful, worthy, and joyful Christ is.  I want to be like Paul when he wrote, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).  Piper then writes, “Christ’s afflictions are not lacking in their atoning sufficiency.  They are lacking in that they are not known and felt by people who were not at the cross.”  I want to make the afflictions of Christ known by suffering, in whatever way God has planned.

I take this all in as I prepare to go to South Africa this July and then move there next January for a year.  If you haven’t heard, there has been a mass exodus of Zimbabweans to South Africa because of financial instability.  Instability is doesn’t do justice to the situation.  The inflation rate, believe it or not, is over 1 million percent.  The cost of a chicken is 12 million Zimbabwe dollars.  A loaf of bread costs what 12 new cars did ten years ago.  Most of the people have fled to Johannesburg, about 45 miles from Pretoria, where I will be.  There have been mob riots at police stations and according to the story in the link above 42 people have been killed.  Right now, South Africa and the surrounding area is a region of unrest.  It is in turmoil.  The people there need a living hope.  They need an imperishable treasure.  They need Jesus. 

And as hard as it is to confess to the Lord, I am willing to go there, make his name famous, and risk persecution and suffering to do it.  Though I won’t be in the midst of the situation in Johannesburg, no doubt the effects will be felt in all of South Africa’s major cities. 

Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
– Hebrews 13:12-14


STINT in South Africa

Dear Partners in the Gospel,

About five months ago, there was a chance to go to Uganda for a year to teach African pastors. I love theology and I want to teach and preach Jesus for my life’s work as a pastor. As you know, the Uganda opportunity quickly dissolved. I knew I didn’t want to be on a campus in Africa-or America. I feel called to more than campus work. I want my ministry to expand. I want to reach a more diverse group of people. I know being a pastor is my call because I love writing, preaching, shepherding, and communicating. It’s an irresistible call. My bones quake for it. My blood simmers at the thought. It will be there. I am going there. Just not quite yet. After the Uganda option fell through, I thought all other possible African ministry with Campus Crusade were on campus. I was awfully wrong. Just a week and a half ago, I found out differently. That day, my life’s direction changed. That day, suddenly, Africa became a giant opportunity.

Right now, I have applications at two amazing seminaries. My call is to go there, yet today, I feel like Eric Liddle, from Chariots of Fire. “God made me for China,” he said. “But he has also made me fast.” For me, I’m saying, “God made me to be a pastor. But he also made me for Africa.” Perhaps the race I need to run first is Africa; perhaps seminary can wait. Crusade does more than Campus ministry in South Africa. Here’s a quick rundown: Training in sexuality and abstinence; theological training for pastors; visiting orphans and widows; job-skill training; providing relief and support for AIDS patients; and the JESUS film to African tribal people. South Africa is the hope of Africa. It is like the United States of that part of the world. Africans say, “If I can only get to South Africa, I will be successful.” If you reach this country, you will reach the whole continent. Right now, I hear the call, “Preach, disciple, send!” For some reason though, it’s followed by: “But, wait!” I want to go to the hard places to work with the hard people. With this opportunity, it seems, I can’t pass it up. At the end of my life, will I say, “I’ve wasted it”? Or will I say, “I went to Africa when you called me, Lord”?

Because of this, I have decided to do a year-long STINT (an acronym for Short Term INTernship) from January to December 2009 in Pretoria, South Africa. This conviction is so heavy on my heart even though it has just budded. I can’t imagine the enthusiasm that will come as the experience blossoms into a rich time of growth and dependence on the Lord.

A year in Africa would humble my arrogant heart. A year with people who have AIDS and with children who don’t eat everyday would change my perspective on life. If I don’t go, will I ask, “What if?” May I never say that! Humility. Perspective. Wisdom. Experience. All of these, and so many more, will come if I go. It will no doubt change my life. Will it be hard? O yes! I might die. The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When Jesus’ life was risked upon going to Jerusalem, Thomas said in John 11:16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Jesus is whispering to me: “Come and die.” Will I die to myself? Will I go through the humility, pain, and sowing period to be more fruitful down the road? The experience gained from going to South Africa does not come from a classroom or interning at a church. Those are good things, but in the season I am in right now, would that be best? I do not have a wife or children or a mortgage. There is no better season than this one to seize the opportunity.

If I go, it would truly show that Jesus is my Treasure. It would prove my heart for Africa. It would be evidence of the Spirit’s work in my life. It would lower my pride, make me live simply, open my eyes to the hurt in this world, and would draw me to repentance and a greater thirst for Jesus. The great sin of the church in the 20th century was that it let an entire continent go down the toilet and sink into the devil’s grip. I don’t want to be identified with that. Know this: I’m not going to impress God or make him love me if I go. He will love me if I go or not. I’m going because he loves me and I want to obey his call. I’m going because Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

I want to store up my treasures in heaven. It sounds crazy to want to live in a broken country like South Africa. But when I read the words of Jesus in Luke 18:19-30, my fear is dissolved: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time and in the age to come eternal life.”

I hear this promise. I believe it in faith.