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11 May 2023

Persevering through adversity


CMS missionaries stand alongside believers beyond any initial burst of enthusiasm, and on into the struggles of daily Christian living. Here are some stories from them of Christians progressing through hard times.

Jeri’s story

As told by Jon in South East Asia

Although he was from a Christian family, Jeri only came to believe in Jesus when he was a teenager. That was when he realised that only God—not his parents or anyone else—could deal with his stubbornness and sin.

When Jeri entered Bible college he was determined to succeed, not revert to his previous sinful ways. He threw himself into his study and anything else he could get involved in on campus. After a while he realised that even by trying harder, he was never going to meet God’s standards, because he would keep on sinning.

A significant step was when he started to hold on to the teaching that he was now no longer a slave to sin, but was—and is still now—made righteous by the blood of Jesus.

This new understanding helped Jeri become stronger in faith. He realised that God keeps forgiving us as we repent, and that we can continue confident of this forgiveness into the future, even though we’re not yet perfect.

When he graduates in 2024, Jeri hopes to be involved in discipling youth as part of a church community. May God give Jeri the grace to teach the forgiveness of God to others, just as he himself has been taught.

Lara’s* story 

As told by J in the Middle East

Sometimes progress is not in the direction you planned for. Last June I was trying to gather a small group of believing women from Muslim backgrounds to read the Bible together. They were all women who came to faith through my church. Lara had now been a believer for four years, and was ready to learn how to lead studies and nurture other women in their faith. I was excited to co-lead with her. We managed to meet, four of us, on and off through the mid-year months, and she was growing in her ability to draw out the quiet group participant, or to rephrase a question when it didn’t make sense the first time.

Lara’s husband is devoted to a particular Islamic group, where loyalty to the group is essential. He was happy for her to be involved in church activities for social reasons, but hadn’t realised it had gone further than that. Until one day in September he dreamt that she was wearing a cross around her neck. The next morning he confronted her. She told me later,

“I knew that Peter had denied Jesus three times. I had already denied Jesus once and I didn’t want to get to the third time, so I told him, ‘yes I’m a Christian’.”

From that day her husband, who she loved, turned on her. He brought religious leaders to the home. They beat her and threatened to kill her. He regularly sent her messages telling her she was going to hell. But she told me, “The thing that is harder than the threats is that whenever he is in the house he acts as though I don’t exist—he talks to the children and ignores me.” She sometimes sent me text messages in the middle of the night saying, “Just pray I don’t give up my faith. I don’t know if I can hold on.” I tried to find Bible verses short and clear enough that she could focus on amidst the fog of trauma in her mind.

When Lara stopped being able to attend Bible studies, the others in the group also stopped. Six months later, she and I managed to get out to a park for brief chat. She asked me, “When all this pressure is going on, is it okay that I don’t know what to say to God except tell him about the pressure?” We looked at some laments in Psalms. She said to me, “When I first believed, my faith was so shallow. Now I know that even if something this bad, or worse happens, God will carry me through it. I can still have faith.”

Alisa’s* story

As told by R in Eurasia

Alisa’s desire to help others know Jesus, often reading the Bible with non-believers, was encouraging. However, she began sharing with me and saying things like: “My relationship with God is struggling.” “God seems distant.” “Does God love me?” “I don’t know what to say to non-believers anymore.”

Alisa has experienced stress in multiple areas over recent years: at work, with flatmates, through changing jobs, moving cities, not finding a suitable church, and going through a worldwide pandemic. On the family side, she has experienced her grandfather dying (and not being able to see him beforehand or go to the funeral), her grandmother’s poor health, and family tensions. Add to this her own health, personal relationships, and ongoing impacts of the war in nearby Ukraine. In such circumstances, her question “Does God love me?” was not completely surprising.

On one occasion we were reading a passage in the Bible about God’s love.

Alisa said, “I can’t see God’s love in this passage.” In other conversations she said to me, “I know God loves everyone and that includes me. But I just don’t feel it.” 

These were hard times, and they made me ask myself what I could do to help Alisa in her struggles? For me, at least, the answer I arrived at was to persevere: to keep meeting, keep reading the Bible and praying together, keep encouraging her to trust God and his word, and to talk to him about what she was reading and experiencing.

Hope revives

Recently, when I again asked about seeing God’s love in the Bible, Alisa’s response was different. “Yes!” she exclaimed. “I was reading [the Old Testament book of] Hosea. I want to read a beautiful passage to you!” In the words of Hosea, she could see God’s faithfulness to undeserving Israel. She recognised the message as important, and true for her own life and faith.

Through Alisa’s struggles and doubts, we have continued to read the Bible and pray together. I am praying (and asking friends to pray) that as we read God’s word, his love and faithfulness would continue to be evident to both of us: that instead of growing weary with the struggles of this world, Alisa’s faith would grow stronger through them; that she would remain firmly rooted in the knowledge of God’s love for herself and others; that God’s love might overflow from her to others; and that Alisa would once again delight in helping others to know God’s love as well.

*Names have been changed for security reasons.


CARE

Stories of long-term struggles in the faith are not often told, and the people involved are not always easily helped. Consider contacting a missionary and encouraging them to share news of people they have been working with for many years.