by Kirk Plattner
“Things in the mirror may be closer than they appear.”
We know this warning and can likely explain why it is that the mirror distorts reality. While the mirror does not change reality, its misrepresentation must be kept in mind to safely navigate a car. For a missionary, there is a different reality that is at risk of getting distorted that must be kept in mind as we think about ministry.
When a missionary writes newsletters, sends emails, and communicates about their ministry, it is easiest and most encouraging to focus on those areas where there is visible fruit. This is generally in the form of troubled child showing the fruit of faith, a broken leg healing, a widow receiving housing, or the hungry being fed. These are each exciting examples of God’s faithfulness in blessing the ministry. In each of these areas where God is at work in visible ways, we give thanks.
At the same time, we need to acknowledge the risks in only focusing on the happiest stories.
And such trust have we through Christ to God, Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit:for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 2 Cor. 3:4-6
The risk is two fold.
First, we know that God is sometimes doing greater works in areas that we cannot see than in those areas that are visible. While it makes sense that we share the stories of fruit, we must commit to the faith of believing in the work of God that is happening in so many ways that are not visible. This faith in the unseen work of God is often a major aspect to the work of ministry.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Cor. 4:6-7
Second, the work of God in and through the hearts of men is often messy. We carry our eternal treasure in earthen vessels to a broken world. This reality often means that along with the stories of fruit are as many stories of pain, struggle, and heartbreak. Again, while it is difficult to share these openly, if they are not acknowledged as reality, a distortion develops. This distortion has many ramifications. We can become lackadaisical in our prayers, unreasonable in expectations, and judgmental towards the struggle. Ministry is a work of God and His ways are above our ways.
As supporters, while we rejoice in reading the stories of faith, healing, and redemption, lets continue to trust the unseen work of God. Lets continue to join in prayer with the knowledge that the struggle is far greater than what we can see and the ministry is far messier. With this understanding, we are clearly called to support those serving in these ministries by encouraging them, praying for them, and being understanding of the challenges. As a church, may we support the work our missionaries, walking faithfully through the messiness of ministering the glorious Gospel of our God.