Twice a year my sending organization sends out evaluations for me to assess how things are going and report on goals I made. One of the questions I just filled out read something like this, “What unexpected things happened this year and what lessons did you learn?” I laughed when I read this question. What happened during my first term in India that WASN’T unexpected? Did I expect to break my arm or go through two months watching goats die from plague, or spend three months standing in ATM and bank lines because the whole country decided to de-monetize and get rid of 80% of the currency overnight? Or how about expecting to be told that a visa that should be able to be renewed five times can only be renewed once? Or the latest: expecting that a one day little political rally would turn into an indefinite strike closing down all transportation, shops, banks, schools and business in the area where I live. One thing about living overseas: expect the unexpected! As I have been home these past two months, applying for a new visa and waiting for the political situation to resolve, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the second half of the question: “What lessons did you learn?” The truth is that my whole time in India has been spent dealing with unexpected challenges, and I haven’t really had a whole lot of time to stop and think what God is teaching me through it all. So here it goes—lessons learned in the midst of unexpected challenges:
- Most of the time we’re just going too fast. Most people in full time ministry I know are insanely busy. They wear about 100 different hats and operate in pretty much a perpetual state of burnout. In a culture that values productivity and work and even busyness itself, the only way we ever really slow down is when something comes along and just derails us. I hit the ground in India running. Between language learning, searching for land to start my farm, traveling to villages constantly, and training people, I definitely was on the path to burnout from the get go. It took a broken arm to derail me and slow me down for a few months. At first I was going crazy sitting holed up in a small room with my arm in a cast and nothing to do. But then I started experiencing sweet times in the Word and in prayer and learned the important lesson of leaning on the Body of Christ during a time of need. It also gave me and my teammates time to spend in prayer seeking God about where we should start our farm before just plunging ahead with a plan. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to get out of that cast and back to work building my farm and training people, but that forced time of rest was just what I needed to remind me that I wasn’t in India to go a mile a minute starting goat farms or projects. I was there to BE Christ to people and that meant taking time to slow down and really abide in Christ.
- We tend to forget God when things are going well. There was a point when things were going really well. We had a newly established healthy goat herd and people around us were praising us for the great work we were doing. We were busily going about our work and project and making grand plans for the future. Then our fledgling herd got struck with goat plague. With each goat that died, a little bit of our pride died as well. It took 90% of our goats to die before we realized the valuable lesson of praying daily as a team and depending on God instead of our own strength. The truth is that we tend to forget about God in the good times when it is easy enough to depend on our own strength. My small team is stronger and more united now because of what we went through. And we are also committed to seasoning everything we do with prayer. For this I am so grateful.
- God wants us to lay EVERYTHING on the altar. This includes our dreams, desires, and plans. I finally feel like I am living my dream in India. I know that sounds crazy considering the challenging first term I have had, but it has always been my dream to have a farm, work in rural villages, train people spiritually and give them tools they can use to financially support themselves. This unending political strike and my uncertain visa situation the last couple months has made me realize that I really can’t hold too tightly to anything—whether it be a dream, a plan, or a place. The only thing we can hold onto in this life is God’s faithfulness and promises.
Thank you so much for praying for me as I have been in the states the past couple months. Although I have had a wonderful time connecting with family and enjoying a beautiful Oregon summer, my time home has been overshadowed by the reality that those I love in India are suffering during this drawn out political strike. When I do return, things are not going to be the same as before and I will have some hard decisions to make in the months ahead as I discern God’s leading. But at least there is always one thing I can expect: that God will remain faithful and will carry out His purposes no matter what the circumstances.
Please pray for Kalimpong (pictured behind me) during this time of political unrest