Thursday, August 03, 2006

Follow up letter for my East Asia mission trip

As you know, I had the opportunity of spending the past two weeks in East Asia teaching English and sharing the gospel with students. In the end, we had the blessing of seeing a few students respond positively to our message, along with many others willing to listen. It would be easy to write a report describing the success we had, but it would also be an incomplete picture. The truth of the matter is that God worked out things for good not because of our skill and strength, but in spite of our weaknesses and sinfulness. During my time over there, I read through 2 Corinthians and was reminded of the sufficiency of God’s grace and how His power is made perfect in weakness (12:9). Because of this, Paul made up his mind to only boast of the things that show his weakness (11:30), so that the power of God might be magnified. My hope is that in sharing about my trip, you also would see that it was the power of God ultimately at work.

Weakness in teaching – As one who has never really taught English before, I was expected to go in and teach a class of sixteen middle–high school students. These parents had paid a substantial amount of money for their children to take this class, so there were high expectations. In the end, by God’s grace, my partner and I were actually able to plan lessons that were educational, interactive and fun for the kids, which allowed them to learn about the language and culture, as well as make friends. The principal who hired us ended up being very pleased with our work. This was certainly an answered prayer and hopefully will open the door for future ministry opportunities.

Weakness in patience – Our days were very long. We woke up at 7, had group devotions at 8, taught from 9-12, had lunch with students from 12-2, taught again from 2-4, hung out with students from 4-6 (sometimes later), then had evening de-brief from 7-8 (sometimes later), and then after a shower, began lesson planning for the next day, which usually took at least a couple of hours. This, compounded with jet lag, stomach problems, record-high temperatures, and inconsistent times in the Word, tested the limits of my endurance. Often times, I found myself grumbling and complaining in my heart. Sadly, this resulted in a less willing heart for serving my team and my students. As I look back on the trip, I am greatly humbled and realize that I still have so far to go in my sanctification. In spite of all my theological and ministry training, much of my contentment is still dependent on earthly comforts rather than on God. Knowing this, I am particularly grateful to God for what little ministry He accomplished through my efforts.

Weakness in sharing the gospel – My teammate Dan shared with me in the beginning how he has never had a gift for evangelism, and this is something also true for me. I am often timid and at a loss for words when it comes to sharing the gospel. In addition to my personal weaknesses, I was given the younger class, which meant that their English wasn’t as good and it would be more difficult to start spiritual conversations. However, I ended up having the opportunity to impact them through a couple of ways. First, I had many opportunities to hang out with my students outside of class. We roller-skated, went to the video game arcade, played ping-pong, played basketball, and ate together a lot. As a result of these times, we were able to discuss many things, from church, to life in America, to their future aspirations, and occasionally, even share the gospel. Most significantly though, God used these times to develop a mutual friendship, which gave them their first first-hand, real-life relationship with a Christian. By the end of the trip, it was clear that part of our impact was not only our message but the life that we shared with them. Second, one of our lessons was on Christmas, so I wrote a Christmas pageant, with different parts for all the students in my class to act out. As I introduced to them the Christmas story, how God sent His Son to be Savior of the world, it was amazing to see how engaged the students were. They were especially interested in the wise men from the East. I was able to explain to them that this was my favorite story in the world, because I believed it to be a true story that actually happened in human history. Therefore, I concluded, it is important that we come to understand who this child really is. This changed many students’ perspectives on what they once considered an Americanized holiday. Finally, before we left, we were able to pass out Bibles and children’s Bible storybooks to every one of our students. Because I was able to build relationships with some students from the older class, I was also able to hand out many Bibles to those students. Many of the students received the Bibles with much excitement and shared with their friends, resulting in more coming to me wanting Bibles. One of the students recently emailed me, writing, “I have begun to read the Bible. It's really a long story, isn't it? Maybe after reading this, I'll have a new understanding of Christians and Christ Jesus.” My hope is that all my students will open these books and read and understand that the reason we loved them is because God first loved us in Christ. The work is now left to the local Christians and missionaries. May God give them wisdom in following up with these students.

Weakness in the church – One of the advantages of working with a long-term missionary is that we got to meet local Christians. In the past, when I have met local Christians, I have often been amazed at their perseverance through sufferings, their passion for God, and their discipline in the Word. Yet this time, I saw a different side to the local church over there. I met young Christians struggling with immorality, relationships and abuse. I heard older Christians bemoaning the lack of leadership and adequate teaching, and the danger of cults. But in spite of all this, I also saw in the lives of these few Christians that Christ is still being preached and the Holy Spirit continues to work. I had the privilege of hearing one Christian lady share the story of how her husband was recently converted after a long time of prayer for him. I saw missionaries working together with local ministers to discipline and care for the local congregation. And in meeting these Christians, the biggest blessing was to experience the immediate, mutual love we had for one another because of our unity in Jesus Christ. These are our brothers and sisters, with whom we will spend eternity. Let us ever be praying Eph. 3:14-21 for Christians all over the world.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul encourages the Corinthian church in their prayer, ministry and giving by pointing them to the thanksgiving that will result to God because of their faithful labor (2 Cor. 1:11, 4:15, 9:11-15). As I have shared, there is already so much that we have to be thankful for as a result of this trip. But oh, may the thanksgiving not end there! My prayer and hope is that through the ripple effects of our ministry, giving and continued prayers, many more students would turn to God and be saved, resulting in overflowing thanksgivings to God. To God be all the glory.


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