“It’s been about three or four minutes, is that long enough for your tea?” I am sitting in a small housing unit just down from mine momentarily pondering the relative insignificance of that question, and my reply, given how captivated I was by the rest of the conversation. “Ah, yes. Thanks.”
My mind had to relocate to it’s current location. From the far-flung jungles of South America where Mrs.M (name changed for security, now in her seventies) and her family have been missionaries since the ’60s, to the tranquil countryside campus of New Tribes Mission, right to the oval table supporting an inspired and intriguing conversation stemming from one of God’s faithful servants.
“I was ready to tell him we can’t continue seeing each other because I knew God was calling me to the mission field when he beat me to it and said the same thing. It was settled, Mr.W and I both knew our planned trajectory was paralleled, and now united on that front we were married, trained at NTM then off to the unknown jungles of South America with a couple young kids in tow.”
“Oh, you brought honey too?” she said. The week before I found the best tea that I’ve ever tasted: Earl Grey. When I learned that Mrs.M too enjoyed tea, I figured it’d be a good way to connect. Plus, what’s Earl Grey without the perfect amount of honey. I didn’t want to risk it so I brought some along.
The conversation found depth to where it was as though I was completely immersed in the stories – I felt as though I was present in her words. This is as much of my training here as the time spent in the classroom, methodically covering course outlines with their respective objectives. “Can I do it?” I was asking myself as she shared some of her losses during their time in the South: multiple bouts of cancer and her husband’s death.
“Mr.W overcame everything he encountered as an obstacle. He was a machine and could push through anything. When we were both out of the tribal village, in the city for my own health reasons, Mr.W began to have chest pains like he had some time ago. The first time around, his heart actually righted itself, and the doctors didn’t need to operate. This time, with a very basic health clinic nearby, there wasn’t much to do. We thought it would be okay as it was the first time.” Mrs.M shared that when she woke up beside him the next morning, and touched him, his life was gone – he was cold. “I was in a fog and numb. Not knowing anything at this point.” Mr.W was only in his early forties.
Mrs.M pressed on. She continued her work in the tribe among the ‘A’ tribal people (tribal name withheld for safety) building on relationships, translating God’s Word, and teaching literacy. The time came for her to begin another battle, one of loneliness. They had two more children and after Mr.W passed, Mrs.M and the kids continued living in their jungle home. One kid grew up and moved out, then the next until she was in her home which was once filled with six family members, and now just one. However, God heard her heart and had singles come and stay with her, which helped with their own language learning.
In February 1999, the newly elected president of the country Mrs.M was ministering in implemented a government edict stating all New Tribes missionaries must leave the jungles and cities bordering the jungles. Another challenge. Mrs.M moved out, resigned from NTM of that country, and continued in the work among the ‘A’ people who would come out to bordering cities. Previously, upon the celebration of her 30th year in the foreign country, she decided to apply for citizenship. This now proved to be a blessing in furthering the work to be done there.
The night that Mrs.M and I shared tea and conversation, she was less than a day away from receiving a report about spots noticed on her lungs. This discovery months before, she shared, did not concern her. What brought on the greatest sorrow was the thought that she, among so few other Christians, knew the ‘A’ tribal language and thus how to communicate Bible truths to this group of people.
“Who else can tell them about Jesus and what he did?” she says to me with a look of confusion, yet still conveying a trust in God’s sovereignty. I could hardly believe what my ears were hearing. Cancer, loss of a loved one, forced departure from her tribe and she pressed on.
How do you end an evening such as this one? “More ice cream?” she asks. “No thanks, (would’ve been third helping)” I realised I had a lot of digesting to do.
This night, previous encounters, and subsequent words that Mrs.M shared has given me strength by the grace of my Lord God. Combined with other teachings I’ve been receiving here, I meditate on words given by Paul in Timothy to fight the good fight.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, do not be pacified by the temporal pleasures of this world. There is all too many things which appear benign yet quench God’s Spirit in you because it causes you to forget why we are Christians. Glorify God. Follow all that he has shown us through the Bible and continue forward through your pilgrimage. A tree that is not growing is dying. Continue to grow.
J. Piper restated the popular Christian quote, “We are in the world, not of the world”. Jesus says; “[believers] are not of the world … I also have sent them into the world.” John 17:14-19 Consider the difference between “In the world, but not of” and “not of, but sent into”.
“Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Timothy 6:11-14