Some weeks ago we had the yearly retreat of our Isaan missions team. It was fantastic to be together with this group of dedicated people. Seven years back my husband and I were the first to move to this impoverished yet charming part of Thailand, the endless plains of the Northeast. Now the number of people has been multiplied to no less than 25 adults and 23 children!
We enjoyed just spending time together as we are spread out quite a bit, scattered across a rather large area. But better still than drinking coffee and chatting together, was listening to each other’s stories of how God is at work. The thing that struck me most while listening to the various stories was the weakness permeating it all. Some of the missionaries had been in their town for four or more years now and the result of all their time and energy was a feeble group of believers: small in number and not very impressive when it comes to talent or anything else.
It reminds me of an article recently published in a missions magazine. The author relates how he, as a not-so-good missionary, evangelized not-so-good people using not-so-good methods. How very true of the situation many missionaries find themselves in. Strategies do not bring the results missionaries hope for. They find themselves lacking in ability. They have to work with the people they encounter, talented or not, and learn to look up humbly to God for results.
One particular story during the retreat touched me most. The young, enthusiastic missionary tells about the group of people he works with. He shows a picture too: one is missing a leg; another person is leaning on a walker; still another one probably suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has very little energy; one man struggles with being an addict and the sixth also has some ailment I already forgot. They are all smiling widely. “This is the body of Christ in our town,’ the missionary says. “It is a crippled body. But together we go out to evangelize and we have a lot of fun.” In the eyes of the world these people are no good, are just rubbish. Still…they are the body of Christ.
Yes, our team has grown to a respectable size. Yet to reach the people Isaan has proven to be a struggle for most team members. There is hope and disappointment, mixed together in a confusing whirl, affecting the missionaries’ strength and energy. But however feeble it may seem to look, the kingdom of God is starting to emerge from the rubble. Just like Nehemiah, who met opposition from every side when he started to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem out of the rubble, we should “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome”(Nehemiah 4:14). It is God doing the work but it is through and with ordinary people that he chooses to do it.