Consider it all joy brothers and sisters, when you run into problems and trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance (perseverance/steadfastness) James 1:2-3
By the measure of James, we must be one of the most joy-filled mission teams out on the field today! It began in Istanbul when the hotel suddenly and unexpectedly dropped our reservation the day before we were leaving the states. I called Booking.com (where I made the reservations) and they called the hotel and ironed it all out. Or so I thought. On the shuttle from Istanbul airport to the hotel, the bus driver was told not to bring us. We had no reservation – even though I had a booking confirmation! The hotel pushed us off to an inferior hotel where the guys were squished in a room like sardines. Trent had to sleep on the floor. But at least we had rooms!
In my wisdom, I made three bookings at the same hotel for each time we were in Istanbul (from Training Camp, from Izmir, and from Kurdistan) thinking it would be a good base. And after our first misunderstanding, I made sure our return reservations were secure and paid cash ahead of time. But after a week in southern Turkey, we returned only to be given two apartments that were a 10-minute walk apart and nowhere near the hotel I had reserved. And the guys place was pretty dirty, with black mold in one of the rooms. However, we made the best of it. But I have no idea what we’ll encounter when we again try to stay at our original booking after arriving at 1:30 am.
Then we arrived in Kurdistan. I won’t bore you with the housing issues we encountered here as well, but Don, our host, worked overtime to get us situated. We had a full schedule of work in the surrounding villages and we were eager to get on with it! It began well, with a meeting with Yazidi elders in their refugee village. They helped us understand the culture and religion of the Yazidi people, which was fascinating. That was followed by a baptism in the Tigris River. The next day was an all-day church picnic and worship.
On Sunday, we packed up and drove to our first village. We arrived at the district manager’s office only to be told we’d have to wait four days for permission. We were led to believe that everything was arranged and we just had to show up. So, the next day we went to an Internally Displaced Persons camp, run in part by the U.N. Same story, we needed additional permission. This was a bit disappointing (to say the least) but we just rolled with it. It wasn’t our host’s fault, but his contact hadn’t done the full work he said he did. The team was beginning to feel our days were one cancellation after another and they expected things to be canceled.
The good thing is we got the thumbs up for one of the villages early and we had a great time of ministry to kids on Wednesday. They loved us and invited us back for Sunday, and other villages would be following.
Then Covid hit. Just as we were about to get some momentum, we hit a wall. A complete stop. We have four who are currently quarantined in their rooms (including one leader) and we are hoping it stops there. The signs aren’t good. At best we can’t get into any village until Wednesday or Thursday. And then we can’t get into any villages on Friday or Saturday (holy days), so the best we can hope for is next Sunday, a week away. And we leave on Tuesday.
So how do we walk this out? Has our time here been wasted? Did the Lord bring us here and go, “Huh, I thought it was all going to work out for you guys.” Or “Wow, I never expected you guys would get Covid. Too bad!”
To clarify, I don’t think the Lord gave us Covid or closed the doors to so much of our work. This is a pioneering work in Kurdistan and there are precious few Christian workers here in this solidly Muslim country. Yes, there is an indigenous Christian church, but their faith is often more cultural than personal.
I think the issue is that we are being resisted by the enemy. He doesn’t want us working in this country that comes underneath his authority. I have been leading mission trips for 40 years, and I have never experienced so many unending problems. It’s not normal or natural.
We have made good use of our time, and have added prayer walks and going out in the evening to hang out with the many kids that come out at night. Their older siblings follow. We did this on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. We have had solid conversations with teens and young adults. We also have had long discussion times centering on the Bible reading for that day. Our talks often go up to an hour and a half (and I often have to cut it short!). The team is spiritually thirsty and they ask amazing questions. I only wish I had a degree in theology so I had more answers!
But how do we process the fact that our expectations of ministry are so different from reality? I think we have to go to the Word. James sums it up well, for we are definitely facing trials. The Israelites set out from Egypt towards a land “flowing with milk and honey.” What they encountered was the Sinai Desert, raging thirst, and lack of food. Expectations meet reality. But God was in it all waiting for the people of Israel to trust Him. But isn’t that real life? We all have expectations in our marriages, jobs, friendships, and churches…and reality is often far from what we hoped and expected. The sooner we learn to truly trust the Lord in all things, the greater our spiritual strength, perseverance, and joy.
And while Nehemiah will not arrive home exhausted at the pace of ministry and with uplifting stories of Muslims giving their lives to Christ, they’ll go home with something much richer. It feels great to be a hero and it sounds great to supporters (look at all of the ministries we did!), but God is doing a much deeper work in our students. Learning how to trust in hardship. Developing the strength of character to give thanks in the midst of disappointment.
And so we have been focusing on taking each situation and giving thanks to the Father in ALL things! We’ve been verbalizing our trust in Him through prayer and times of praise.
For He is good. And trustworthy.
(Picture captions 1: Several students studying Kurdish flashcards. 2. Senior Staff getting food for the next morning. 3. Several students on the balcony)