I have heard that most missionaries leave the field because of team conflict. Yes, it is true that ministry can be challenging, cross-cultural interactions can be confusing, and the living conditions may be hard, but the greatest challenges often lie in living and serving with other sinful Christians.
Our team has had our share of conflict over the last few weeks, and while it has been hard, as we address the conflict, admit sin, repent, show grace, and forgive, it has also been restorative and part of God’s sanctifying work in each of our lives. This has definitely been true for me over the last week in particular.
I have been rereading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together over the last few days, and it has been both encouraging and convicting. This little book is just packed with goodness. I will only mention a couple of things here, so I highly recommend reading and rereading the whole book.
So what have I been learning?
First, I am weak, and other Christians can be a tremendous blessing to me in my weakness.
“Therefore the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him.... The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” p. 23
“Do we really think there is a single person in this world who does not need either encouragement or admonition?” p. 106
Secondly, community is a GIFT from God. It is not guaranteed to the Christian. God is the All-Sufficient One. While it is very good for me to have Christian community, I do not NEED community.
“It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us.” p. 20
Thirdly, and most importantly for me in this season, comparing my current experience in community to previous experiences is not helpful. In fact, it is very detrimental.
“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” p. 29
I have failed at this in major ways over the last year. My sinful heart wants the gifts of grace I have received from God in previous seasons of my life as I walk through today’s trials. I have failed to see God as sufficient. I have also placed expectations on others that have made it even more difficult for the community that I desire to grow. I have spent a large part of the last year praying for stability in friendships. It has been a very long time since I have had a prayer partner. I miss the reciprocity and familiarity of those relationships. But instead of trusting God through this rather solitary season, I either tried to force community or retreated in unhelpful ways. In hind sight I see that God was teaching me about his sufficiency.
Getting away from abstractions, I had some very challenging interactions with men in town last week. These interactions were by no means appropriate, but because I “reacted to the circumstances of life rather than responding to the knowledge of God,” (Lord, I Want to Know You, Kay Arthur) it became a much bigger deal to me than it had to be. I let it get to me in a way that had me doubting my identity in Christ. And my sinful heart led me to interact poorly with my teammates as I struggled. I both sought support from my community in a demanding and sharp way and retreated from what support was available. After three hard days, I took a day to be alone in prayer, reading scripture, and listening to a few sermons from my home church. God met me in a beautiful and loving way that day. The next day, I had some good redemptive conversations with my teammates. I initially reacted out of unbelief, and I did not deserve God’s grace to me in the days that followed, but that’s the heart of the gospel!
Satan is at work in Mundri, and would like nothing more than to create conflict on our team, to cause me to doubt my identity in Christ, and to lead any one of us to stop following God in the battle. What does this look like? Satan uses my circumstances to accuse me of being inadequate and alone, but God has already won the battle and is victorious in my life. I belong to God, and my identity is secure. God will never leave me or forsake me.
This morning before I sat down to do write this blog post, do some homework, prepare my lesson for girls’ club, and work on the community questionnaire for my nodding disease study, I decided to listen to a sermon from my home church titled Grace and Peace. Pastor Steve said, “There will never be peace anywhere in the world until grace reigns.” He continues saying “there will never be peace in your heart … until grace reigns.” My first thought was that there will never be any peace on our team until grace reigns. I am still learning a lot about grace, and I am thankful for the opportunity to learn about grace in community with a bunch of other sinful missionaries who minister from weakness.
“When the message of grace yields the fruit of peace then we possess and wield gospel power” ~ Pastor Steve
In the end, team life has its challenges, but it also has great rewards. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this crazy community?!