I think sometimes…or maybe a little too often…it’s easy to “glorify” missionaries and what they do. The same holds true with pastors, priests, and any kind of spiritual leader with a title or position. As Missy and I continue to grow in our relationship with God and help others do the same, we realize that it’s not about the title, position, or job description. It’s about realizing what God has purposed us to do and be a part of the team God has put us on. Some are called to lead, others contribute in different ways. None of us are better than another because of what we do.
We struggle a lot with being placed on a pedestal because we are career missionaries. The truth is that we are ALL called to be missionaries. I’ll try to avoid the sermon (many of you have heard it already) and get to the point: we struggle too. We struggle with faith. We struggle with obedience. We struggle with not just throwing in the towel because sometimes it’s just too hard to keep going. Sometimes, it seems our efforts bring little to no fruit. I’m sure in one way or another throughout the course of your life or perhaps even right now, you feel the same way. Well, let me tell you a little story that encouraged me and hopefully will encourage you.
The director of one of the schools we send some kids to has uric acid buildup on is hands. It looks as though he has huge tumors growing on his fingers and the backs of his hands. As it grows, it restricts the use of his hands because he cannot bend his fingers to type or write. Every month I go to the school to pay monthly tuition and every month I noticed it getting worse and worse. In the beginning of the year I started to get little nudges from the Holy Spirit that I should pray for him for healing. I resisted. I got scared. I refused. I would even go to the school trying to “psych myself up” for the meeting and walk away disappointed in myself. “What’s wrong with me?” I would say to God in my car on my way home. “I’m a friggin’ missionary! Why can’t I pray for this man?”
Part of the fear of praying for someone, especially someone you know, is that it’s not going to work. We feel as though we are putting God to the test and while that is scary enough…what if they aren’t healed? How will it look next time I see them? You guys know every November I go to translate for a spiritual healing team that comes to Guatemala. Quite frankly it’s easy to pray in that environment. The whole team is excited and focused on prayer and when we pray for people, whether they get healed in that moment or not, there is little to no risk against our own faith. We probably will never see them again so we essentially have nothing to lose! But when a situation arises where you are to pray for a family member that you will see again tomorrow and next week or next year…or when you pray for this guy whom you know you will see again next month…that’s when your faith is really challenged. That’s when you start to discover: do I TRULY believe what the bible says? Am I REALLY a missionary?
I prayed for the director eventually…the last month I saw him before we left for the U.S. Call me chicken, but I finally did it at the last possible moment. I asked him what was wrong with his hands, he told me, I asked if I could pray for it before I left the office, he graciously accepted, and I did it. I covered his hands with mine and said a short simple prayer asking God to heal him. “Thank you very much. God bless you,” he said as I left. I didn’t see him for the rest of last year until the very last month of school (October). With being in the US and everything else going on…plus he wasn’t there a couple times when I went to pay, it was over 6 months before I saw him again. His hands were the same. I felt embarrassed. To be honest I was a little annoyed at God too because I’m like, “come on God, I put myself on the line here and he still isn’t healed?” Through our training we’ve learned to avoid thinking this way because the truth is, we don’t know what God is doing. We know that He calls us to pray for the sick and they will be healed. Some get healed right away, others take time. Some through miracles, some through conventional medicine. It’s not up to us to decide how it happens, we are just called to be obedient and trust in God’s process, even if we don’t quite agree with how or when He does what He does.
Fast forward to this past week when we went to register the kids for school this year. The director was there and this time I noticed he had bandages on his hands. I was curious and nervous all over again. I feel as though this man’s physical illness is more of a spiritual battle for myself than for him. We took care of the kids’ paperwork and necessary discussions with the mom and kids about school this year and finally I just said it before we left, “How’s your hand?”
“They cut it open so it could drain. I have it bandaged right now to prevent infection.”
“Can we pray for you before we leave?” I asked. I had nothing to lose now and I felt I had a little more boldness because our coworker was with us and the family was there with me. Always with a teacher’s mind I was thinking, “It would be great for them to see this happening,” referring to the prayer and healing. We prayed and nothing happened. That is, until the director spoke to me.
“You know the last time you prayed for me…remember way back when? I felt the Holy Spirit just wash over me. As soon as you touched me and started praying, there was wave after wave of this comforting heat just pouring over me. It felt so wonderful I can’t even explain it. If someone hasn’t experienced it before, they don’t really understand. After you had left, I told my daughter what I felt (who had been in the room) and she said she felt it too even though you weren’t touching her!”
I suddenly felt redeemed.
“I know that despite all the medicine in the world it’s God that heals us and I thank you for praying for me.”
I almost cried.
He received something better than healing in his hands, he had an experience with the One True Living God. His daughter did too. Had I not prayed for him that day, he wouldn’t have been able to experience it. Nor would she have felt God’s presence in that moment. Yeah, his hand is still messed up and is in the process of treatment. But they experienced a moment of comfort, refreshment, and assurance that God loves them and is with them.
The funny thing is I have yet to be told, “no” when asking to pray for someone. At least with the people we have encountered, they consider it a blessing and an honor to pray for them. It’s also ironic that they seem to have more faith in God’s healing power sometimes, even though we are the ones praying for them! That’s why Jesus said many times, “it’s by faith you have been healed.” Yes the power comes from God, but we receive it with faith.
Many times as believers in God we focus too much on the physical and not the spiritual. We want to see instant healing miracles and all the magic of the spiritual realm but we forget that the true miracle is what happens inside someone. We usually don’t see that side of someone unless we are close enough for them to tell us. Usually God gives us outward physical signs to draw us closer and prompt us to pray for them.
I was so encouraged by this that the next day I went to get a haircut and the lady cutting my hair was telling me of chronic back pain and thyroiditis caused by a misplaced epidural in preparation to remove a cancerous tumor from her uterus. The cancer is gone, but she hasn’t been able to relieve the pain for over 10 years! I immediately thought, “I should pray for her.” As we continued talking about it she said, “I just keep praying that one day the Lord takes this pain from me.” I told her that when she finishes my hair I would pray for her. Now I didn’t have a choice not to do it. I’m actually excited to go back next month and see how she is doing!
Regardless of our occupation, whether we are a new believer or were born-again decades ago, we are all called to trust in God and what He is doing. We can’t see everything, but He can. We don’t know everything but He does. That’s why the Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians (chapter 4):
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus