“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”—Acts 17:26
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”—Revelation 7:9,10
Along with five other members of our church, I am still recovering from a 12-day trip to India, which involved over 30 hours of travel on both ends. It was exhausting, and amazing. It was a privilege to represent Community Church to our ministry partners on the other side of the world. As is usually the case with mission trips, we went with the goal of being a blessing, and came home feeling tremendously blessed. God used the trip to show me some things, and remind me of some things, that I’ll try to pass on to you:
First, the entire trip was a reminder that God values relationship. Yes, we had tasks to perform on this trip. I did some teaching, and members of our team shared testimonies and lessons and helped out in various ways where we could, but the greatest impact we made was probably the simple message that we sent by showing up. Our brothers and sisters in India follow Jesus in an environment of poverty and persecution. Just the fact that we love them enough to come from the other side of the planet and spend time with them is a tremendous gift to them. The truth is that unless we take the time to learn to speak Bengali, we will never be as effective in ministry there as the locals are. But our presence said, “You are not alone. We are your partners, praying for you and rooting for you. We can’t wait to spend eternity with you.” God seems to think that message is worth sending, even at the cost of a plane ticket and some jetlag.
Next, it was abundantly clear that money doesn’t buy happiness. Instead, Christ gives joy beyond what this world can understand. It’s humbling to spend a week and a half among people who have far less than you do and to realize they probably smile more. Our time with the staff there was marked by generous amounts of laughter. And the retreat with 80 Indian teenagers were an absolute blast. It turns out teenagers are teenagers wherever you go. It was an intense few days of silly games, loud mealtimes, and friendly competition, but also plenty of heartfelt worship and genuine response to God’s Word. I returned home to Susanville to be reminded that our comfortable homes don’t shield us from cancer or marriage trouble. I’m often deceived into thinking that more money would solve my problems, but the truth is that usually I need more faith. It was refreshing and challenging to be surround by great faith in the midst of great need.
The trip was also a refreshing reminder that the Gospel is worthy of our best efforts. As I shared at our business meeting last week, it’s an unfortunate reality that not every missionary is necessarily very hard-working. But I can testify that our ministry partners in India (who I’m intentionally not naming here) are absolutely working their tails off for the cause of Christ. Their entire staff of 40+ pastors, care workers, and teachers have devoted themselves to seeing children cared for and the Gospel proclaimed. They endure long days, long weeks, long commutes, and in some cases the rejection of their own families because they have given their lives to Christ. As a result, they are seeing kids get healthy and succeed in school. They are seeing communities transformed. And they are seeing children and adults trust Christ and be baptized as His followers. It’s absolutely beautiful, and it’s not happening by accident. It was inspiring to be reminded that Jesus is worthy of sacrifice, and that God always takes our efforts to serve Him and makes them fruitful.
Finally, on a challenging note, it was clear to see on this trip that persecution purifies the church. What I mean is this: anyone who makes the effort to show up to worship in the churches we visited definitely wants to be there. They are not there out of habit or routine. This is clear in their joyful worship. The churches are smaller than ours, but they definitely have a higher percentage of engaged worshipers, fully participating in every aspect of the service. They are not there because their parents or spouses expect them to be. In fact, in many cases it is the opposite, and they may very well pay a price when they return home because of their choice to attend a Christian worship service.
Persecution weeds out the lukewarm and the halfhearted; only those who genuinely love Jesus or are genuinely seeking Jesus are going to bother attending. If someone is frowning on a Sunday morning in one of those churches, it is because their life is really hard, and they are bringing their grief and pain to God and seeking comfort in the company of their brothers and sisters. It’s not because they have chosen to take offense at some small thing and came to sit in the back row and sulk. In that environment of real joy and real pain, there’s no room for grouchiness or a critical spirit. There’s just gratitude that God’s love is real and that there are others with us on the journey. It was a reminder of what matters and what doesn’t, and it challenged me to ask myself whether or not I would still show up on Sunday mornings if there was a real price to be paid for doing so. This week, let’s remember that Jesus is worth everything we have, and that we have a great opportunity and responsibility to be an encouragement to the people around us.