On the 12th July, 10 years ago, Danny and I flew (sideways!) into a jungle village in a little 6 seater aeroplane and landed on a grass airstrip. It was the day we had waited for and prayed about for many years. What nobody knew was, that very morning, before we had climbed into the little plane, I had sat alone at our guesthouse and cried out to the Lord. “Lord, help me. I can’t do this, I don’t want to go.” I knew that God had called us and prepared for this very moment, but I was terrified. I felt so inadequate for the life ahead and I wondered how I would survive in this village with all these strangers, who lived such a different life from me. The Lord pressed Psalm 23 into my heart that day, and I believed these words with all my soul; “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
Today, almost 10 years to the day later, we stood before those very, ‘strangers,” now dear friends and brothers and sisters in Christ, and I whispered again, “Lord help me.” But this time so much had changed. The tears were because we were telling them we were moving on, and the tears were the result of answers to many prayers; we are leaving not just a place, but a church, and a home.
Danny and I knew that this day would be coming. All of us missionaries know the day will come when we will leave the ones that we have lived with, prayed over, sought to teach, and grown to love. In fact, it had been on our hearts and minds a lot in the past year, so much so, that we had talked about it with our churches when we were home on furlough. We asked people to pray that we would know God’s leading and that we would move on, in His timing. Over these past months it has been our great joy to see continued evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers; growth and maturity in both the individual lives, and collectively as a church. As a team, we all talked of our departure in the next few years.
“A few years.” I was happy with that.
Today, this little house on the hill, that once seemed so unfamiliar to anything I knew, is a precious home. I have become sentimental over every little corner of it. It is the place where we have raised our babies to be toddlers, now started our homeschooling journey and where we led Izzy to Jesus, right at the kitchen table. It is the place where we have known so tenderly the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. When we were not able, when we were weak and afraid, He was good and kind and faithful to His Word. I looked at the faces of our dear friends today in church, each of them a trophy of God’s grace, an answer to prayer and a treasure to the Lord. So much of our hearts and lives have been poured out here. To think of leaving them behind has, at times, just felt too hard.
As we continued to pray about our future ministry…(which was still in my mind a year or two away), we were surprised to receive an email this past March in which we were informed of a need for a missionary family to join a work on another island, the island of Luzon, in a different tribe where the teaching of God’s Word has not yet begun. The moment I read it, I knew. It had not been on our radar, it was one of the last places I would ever have thought we would go to, and yet, as soon as I read it, I knew someday we would go there to join this work. Someday.
Over the next few weeks, we had a wonderful vacation Bible School in the month of May. Everyone got involved and it was a joy to see the believers serving one another, and more importantly, serving the Lord. We had the first two weddings in the church and again, everyone came together to make it happen and the Lord was praised. Danny and I stood more and more in the background, often with a lump in my throat, I would slip out unnoticed, and just thank the Lord to have witnessed His goodness, His grace, and the evidence of His glorious gospel in this little village tucked away from the eyes of the world.
One afternoon in May, as Danny and I stood washing the dishes, talking over the ministry here and the options for the future, he mentioned maybe we should think about moving on earlier, rather than later. Moving to this new work was going to take some time, logistically speaking. Learning another language and culture would take us a lot of time. Then there was the question; were we really needed here as much as we were there? The church here still has needs, but we know our co-workers are more than capable to meet those needs. There are men raised up by the Lord to be teachers here and our personal roles are getting smaller and smaller. Meanwhile, in a little mountain village on another island there are missionaries desiring co-workers, and people still waiting to hear the Good News.
I knew he was right. It made sense in my head, but, oh, how my heart wavered.
“Lord, I don’t know if I can do it all again. I love it here. It’s home here. How will I ever say goodbye? How will I watch our kids say goodbye to a place and a people they love?”
It took me back, twenty years ago, to being that 19 year old girl in university, when the Lord asked of me, “Philippa, are you willing?” And this, friends ,was the real question I was struggling with; was I still willing to be obedient to Jesus by leaving it all behind to follow Him? Over the course of the following weeks, God continued to work in my heart. I let go of hopes of an easier ministry, dreams and selfish desires, and I said yes to the Lord. Yes, to leaving our home, yes to learning another language, and yes to starting all over again in a place I have never been to. The decision was made, we would move to a new village.
If, by now, some of you are reading this and feeling a little sorry for me, sad about the change, then, honestly, that is exactly what I was feeling. I was feeling sorry for myself. Willing, but heavy hearted. Thankfully, the Lord is so good and so kind and He did not leave me there to feel sorry for myself. He always has something so much better for us than we could ever hope for ourselves.
At the beginning of June, I was climbing the stairs to our room on the 4th floor of our mission guesthouse, and with each step my spirit grew heavier. I had peace of mind about our decision, but there was a continual lump in my throat when I thought of what the next few months would entail. As I climbed the stairs that night, I asked; “Lord, can you just tell me why it has to be this hard? I am willing to go, but why can’t it be easier?
I sat on my bed that night and opened to my reading for the day. (I read daily through the One Year Bible and my reading that night was in the book of 2 Samuel ch 24.) The story is of King David who was told to build a sacrifice to the Lord to ask for God’s mercy to save the people from further punishment. He goes to a man named Araunah to buy his threshing floor, because it is there he is told to build the altar to the Lord. Araunah offers it all to him for free, to use it as David wishes. He even offers him the oxen for the sacrifice and the tools needed to build it. But, David refused the generous gift and the easier way. Instead, he insisted on buying it all from Araunah, and the reason he gave answered the murmurings of my soul. He said; “..neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God which dost cost me nothing.”
Burnt offerings that cost him nothing.
Those words answered the question of my heart. It hurts, it feels so hard because it is costing me something to leave and to go to a new place. Right now, I am in my happy little home on the hill and it really isn’t costing me anything. This has become my comfort zone and my safe place. I realized that to stay longer for the sake of my pleasure, for the comfort of my kids, would be like bringing burnt offerings to the Lord that have cost me nothing. Giving Him the sacrifices of past obedience, while holding on to the control of today.
That night I surrendered, not our home, not the relationships with our friends here, not our ministry, I simply surrendered me. The tears that fell were no longer of self-pity, or sadness, but they were tears of relief to have seen myself once again in light of the cross. So unworthy to have received anything from Jesus, and yet, in His mercy He gave His all for me. In those moments when we see our lives suspended between the cross and eternity, decisions and choices have a way of becoming so much clearer. Jesus or me? Temporal or Eternal? Entitled or grateful?
I am remembering afresh, that it isn’t about how many years we have been in ministry, or how long we have been walking with the Lord. We are not entitled to some easier path due to our past sacrifices or difficulties. But each day, each decision, is always all about the Cross and how we live in light of the ultimate sacrifice that was paid for us. Grateful, humbled, privileged and honoured to be a child of God, a servant of the King, a friend of Jesus. How could we not live our lives fully poured out for Him? He gave us it all!
As I listened to Danny share with our friends in church that we would be moving on to a new place, I prayed, “Lord, help me….help me to show the people here, that though there are tears, it is an honor to give this life to you.” These words, which Pastor Larry Pabiona prayed at our missionary conference, are now written in the front of my journal;
“Lord, may we be honored by Your calling and may You be honored by our commitment.”
It is only the Lord that could bring me to this place of now looking forward to what lies ahead. I am even excited to learn another language! It has been a miracle within my own heart to experience joy, peace, contentment and anticipation about the road ahead. I still know very little about the place we are going to. However, Danny was able to visit the village for one day in June and I have seen lots of pictures. What we do know, is that God willing we will be transitioning out of this ministry and into the next one at the beginning of 2017. The name of the people group we are moving to are the Ga’dang people. We will be joining two missionary families the Eastons and the Talbots as we seek to bring the Word of God to the people there in that mountain village.
There is so much more I could share. However, this post is already way too long. I just want to say thank you to all of you who pray for us and for the ministry that we are involved in. I trust you know how much we value your prayers for the months ahead. I am hoping to be able to share the journey with you, by continuing to write here on my little blog. It is my prayer that the words I share may be a blessing, or a challenge, to you.
Always with love,
“If my life is surrendered to God, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were in peril in His hand, but would be safer in mine. Elisabeth Elliot.