Thursday, February 28, 2008

Building a Foundation

Looking back on our first year here in the Canary Islands, there have been days when we have asked ourselves, is it really worth it? Will we really be able to make a difference here in the lives of these people? The first year or two are always the most difficult, because you are starting from scratch. Moving within your own country is difficult enough, learning your way around, making new friends, finding a good church--it takes a while before your new surroundings feel like "home." I remember when we moved from Dayton, Ohio to Rochester, New York, it was like moving to a foreign land. People in Ohio questioned our move--why do you want to move up there? When we mentioned New York all they could think of was New York City--many don't realize that it is a state of great beauty (a few don't even know it is a state!) Or, they would say, "do you realize how much it snows up there?" But after a few years it became home to us.
Eight years later the Lord called my husband back to the mission field. Somehow in my heart I felt that this would eventually happen, but our family needed the time that we spent in Rochester to help us grow spiritually. We had a good home church, made a lot of wonderful friends, and my husband enjoyed his work as a chaplain in the jail and prison ministry.
So here we are, starting over, but this time it isn't quite so difficult. We can speak the language (well, there is always more to learn) which helped with getting our household and business affairs established. Soon my husband was out on the streets, passing out gospel tracts, John and Romans, going door to door, often with our daughters. He has planted a lot of seed, and sometimes people are very thankful and friendly, other times they can be quite rude.
Sometimes you get to the point where you think that people are just indifferent, whether polite or rude. Of course, I would rather people be "politely" indifferent, as it is easier to handle that type of rejection, but it is often the people who are "rudely" indifferent that the Holy Spirit begins to work on, asking them in their hearts why are they so hostile? Eat, drink, and be merry seems to be the philosophy of many here on the island. They are not really religious, even though there is a lot of it here; but they have beened turned off by religion. Many claim to be atheists.
My heart's desire is to see the Lord save a multitude of people, and have a good, solid church established, and sometimes it is easy to doubt if it will ever come to pass. Missionaries often measure their success on a field by how many souls are converted, and how many people are attending their church services. Is our work ineffectual just because no one is getting saved? How is it that other missionaries in other countries seem to be able to get a church going rather quickly, and here it takes years? Do they have more of the Holy Spirit's power than we do? Do they have better methods? Is the Lord in their work, but not in ours?
My husband likes to take a walk in the sunshine, praying and meditating as he goes. They are building a new apartment complex down the street from us, and the Lord spoke to his heart one day as he was observing the construction site. The Canary Islands are formed by volcanic rock, and I imagine that rock is very hard. They have been working on excavating the site and digging the basement for a year! We have watched countless trucks carrying out dirt, rocks, and heavy equipment come in to dig out the site. All this work and so far all you can see is a huge whole in the ground where they are pouring concrete and rebar. The Lord used this to encourage Doug, as he realized that building a work is a time consuming process--it will not happen overnight. It may take several years to see some progress. We plan, pray, and do the work that the Lord has called us to do. God is building His work, and much of the work He is doing is in our own lives.
I know missionaries who have been called to extremely difficult fields, yet have seen them remain faithful, continuing to plant the seed with seemingly very little fruit (at least what man's eye can see). It would be easy to give up and think it was all in vain, but we know that isn't true, for God has promised us:

"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." Isaih 55:11

Their "success" is that they continue to obey the Lord, doing what He has called them to do, keeping their eyes on Jesus and not comparing themselves to what the Lord may be doing with other missionaries' or pastors' works. Sometimes I wish we were called to a field where the harvest is already ripe and ready to harvest; it would be so much more encouraging (at least that is what we think, as I am sure there is no such thing as an "easy mission field"). By God's grace though, we will endeavor to be faithful to do what the Lord has for us here, and continue digging the foundation, one rock at a time.

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