Date of original journal entry: Wednesday March 8, 2016
Isaiah 49:4 Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.
Isaiah 49:4 has deeply struck the chord strings of my heart this morning. As I sit comfortably here in the States and think back on the work in Sierra Leone, I confess how terribly easy it could be, and at times has been, to think it all in vain. There is no way to adequately express the hard trials of our first 4 years. I don’t mean just hard plowing and hearts hardened to the Gospel; it was so beyond that.
There was the allied effort between the town leadership and the Pentecostal church to literally drive us out or burn us out; we’ve endured four serious arson attempts. The “toilet bombs,” as we called the plastic bags of human waste lobbed toward our home. The many times of public humiliation and berating Stephen graciously endured as he was brought before the chief and other leadership on invented charges, lies, and slanders leveled against us and the mission. Helplessly watching the cultural ostracism, threats, and shunning of the few locals who stuck it out with us, giving us their dedicated friendship and loyalty. Yes, there were times it felt in vain. Yet surely the judgment of the work was with the Lord our God; surely it was not in vain.
We were later made aware that much of what we endured was a time of testing in the community. Would we quit? Would we retaliate in kind? They were looking for signs of weakness as well as indicators that we were using the mission as a cover-up for illicit gold mining. They were looking to see if we had come to exploit the community. Had we quit, had we run away, that would have, in their minds, validated their position that we were there for less than honorable purposes. Our quitting would have vindicated their treatment of us.
But we were being tested by the Lord too. Did we love Him above all else? Would we be willing to take the undeserved abuse that He might be honored thereby? Were we as committed to the work as we thought we were or as we claimed to be? Would we quit?
Now, nearly seven years on, we enjoy the sweet fruit of committed, dedicated labor. The little church, born out of persecution and pressure, is flourishing and growing. The Bible Institute has six hard-won graduates. The circuit of training and evangelism continues to expand. In all of these labors, we have the thrill of watching the earnest resolve of locals who have joined wholeheartedly in the work and are examples of faithful dedication to their fellow Sierra Leoneans.
Former Muslims willing to face the pressures of social persecution from the Muslim community that they might follow the way, the truth, and the life they’ve found in Jesus Christ alone. Husbands who, under the teaching of the word of God, are swimming against the tide of cultural norms and are now treating their wives with dignity. Families in regular church attendance together. Christians not only learning to show compassion to one another but also to those in the Muslim community. How I wish I could tell you of them all; each is so meaningful, so precious and dear to us; each has a unique story of their own.
The struggle, yea, the battle, we all went through together to come to this point is a binding agent that closely ties us to each other like no other bond. It is a demonstration of how unity in Christ can transcend cultural and ethnic differences; it is a testimony to that blessed “tie that binds our hearts in Christian Love.” It is so much more than I could have asked or even thought possible during the pressures of our early years.
While pondering these thoughts and running these pictures through my mind, as I prepare for my soon return to Sierra Leone, I am reminded of a quote which is particularly fitting:
“Days like the days we had passed through test the stuff of which souls are made and they prove what we call friendship. After the fire has spent itself, the fine gold shines out purified and there is something solemn in its light.” Amy Carmichael from Lotus Buds
Yes, it will be worth it all when we see Christ, but truly, it is worth it all here and now.
I Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.