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05 June 2016

Hope through hardship


The Giffords’ church gathering in a building they hope to fill one day!

Coping with difficulty is an inevitable part of life for every Christian – and missionaries are no exception. CMS missionaries reflect on some of the difficulties they have faced – both personally and in ministry – and what they have learned about persevering.

Andrew Gifford (serving with Dominique) in Barcelona

When CMS suggested that we work in Spain, they added, “You need to have a long term perspective. Don’t expect much to happen for at least seven years.”

“No worries,” we replied.

We’re now at the end of our seventh year and we’re grateful for the wisdom and commitment of CMS to long-term work. Nothing is going to change for the gospel in Barcelona overnight. The people to whom we are relating in our school and community don’t know anyone else who takes their discipleship to Jesus seriously. In a place where the gospel poverty is great but change is so slow, at times we feel tempted to throw in the towel.

So, when Jen (not her real name), one of the mothers from our local school, says to Dom for the second time, “There’s something different about you – you are so peaceful,” and Dom is able to reply about her true hope and Jen lets that sink in, we remember that God is doing something.

And when our small church family talks about their desire to see the enormous space we have in our church building filled with people one day, we remember there is a reason to persevere for the sake of the gospel. Barcelona needs more Christians who are willing to commit to and love the people here for the long term in the name of Jesus. Perhaps you are one of them.

B & L* (Nepal, on extended study leave)

Orienting to a new culture is just the beginning of change in long-term mission. Since departing Australia for Nepal in 1993, our family experienced many changes, some more momentous than others. In 1999, we left the cool lush hills of Okhaldhunga for the ‘big smoke’ – a polluted and pot-holed Kathmandu. We lost a visa in 2003 and without work, B grappled with his sense of identity, while L (who took on the visa) struggled with being a full-time teacher after many years break from the classroom. In hindsight, this opened up so many ministry opportunities and both of us found satisfaction in new areas. From 2005 we farewelled a graduated child every two years, trusting them to God as they negotiated being in foreign Australian and university culture. More recently, with little warning we had to move house – in what was only to be a four month stay – as God made it clear that we should return to Australia for a sabbatical for further study.

Each of the changes we have experienced took us through an ending of something familiar, through a type of wilderness of transitions but then ultimately to a new ‘normal’. Through each transition we have learnt that it is in our weakness, when we are at the end of our rope, that we see God’s hand at work and experience him in a deeper way. Any change involves inevitable loss, so we need to give ourselves space for this adjustment, but also look forward to God’s next instalment!

Maggie Crewes, serving in East Africa

As I reflect on the past 24 years with CMS there have been many challenges – too many to mention! Sharing about Jesus’ love and care through a community health/medical ministry, among people with HIV, and with children and youth on the street – in the midst of grinding poverty, social injustice, death, war and rebels, hair-curling bureaucracy and personal health issues, and in a variety of different locations and cultures.

One of the key things I’ve learned is that to really share deep spiritual truths and connect meaningfully with people about Jesus, you’ve got to be there for the long haul – language and cultural understanding doesn’t happen overnight.

I have also learned that in all kinds of ministry, who you are and your relationships with people are much more important than what you ‘do and achieve’. All manner of preaching, teaching and good works can be undone by an angry word, a cool attitude or a wrong action. How much we need God’s grace!

Finally, as I have worked in situations of extreme poverty and felt overwhelmed with the many needs, I have tried to keep in focus what I can do, and not what I can’t do – God has all things in his hands, and he knows this, but sometimes it can take us a long time to learn this.

PRAY

Give thanks to God that his Great Commission came with the wonderful promise that he would always be with us. Pray for all CMS missionaries to persevere, knowing that God is with them through whatever they are facing.

*Names removed for privacy reasons.