Jan and I were nearing the end of language study. We were attending our second annual mission meeting. During a break in one of our sessions, I was outside talking with a veteran missionary, Stan, asking him about starting churches. “Stan, what would be the best strategy to use? How many churches should I expect to start during my first term? What should be my goal?”
His answer to my last question was two words, “Just survive.” New missionaries often set for themselves unrealistic expectations for their ministry, then become discouraged when the expectations are unmet. Unexpected events will happen that cause further discouragement. The weight of living in a new yet unfamiliar culture can be heavy. Language learning is a stress. Living conditions are always a challenge. Any of these factors can send a new missionary home. Added together, the words, “just survive” becomes a worthy goal.
The other event occurred just after we had finished language study. I was ready to begin my ministry. So, I decided I needed to hear from the Lord about how to begin. What should be my focus? Where should I start? What strategy should I use? How was I to win this part of the Philippines to the Lord? Jan allowed me to check into a cheap hotel for 3 days and 3 nights bringing nothing with me except water and my Bible. I have never heard God speak to me in an audible voice, but a few times He has come close, and this was one of those times. Near the end of the third day, God spoke to me.
“Mark, you need to be a better husband and father. Here’s what you need to do…” Within a couple of minutes, I had a list of things I needed to do better, like help Jan with the dishes, play with David and Sara more, change Sara’s diapers, say encouraging words to Jan, and other things. I knew this was from the Lord because at no time during those 3 days did I think I needed to be a better husband or father. I thought I was doing OK in that department. But God let me know that my ministry to others would never be successful if I neglected, even a little, my ministry to my own family.
Prioritizing my family rather than my work, and keeping realistic expectations for myself and ministry have helped me enjoy an exciting missionary career for the past 30 years. I suspect that these are relevant for whatever area of work or ministry God calls us to. May God continue to be glorified as we listen and follow His voice.