During my time in Africa, there were many days that I felt the weight of darkness in the village. It was pioneering work in an unreached people group with no local believers, a handful of long-term workers, and me. Locals were generally apathetic about life, everything was difficult to accomplish due to limited resources, and it was oh so lonely there. One day, as I sat at the front desk of the hospital in my usual attire of long sleeves, a floor-length skirt, and two layers of fabric wrapped head-to-toe in a veil over my clothes; I was sweating from the 115 degree heat blazing through the window, swarmed by flies, and without a fan or AC to help. My big project of organizing the patient records system was in process but not anywhere close to the end, so it was often challenging to locate the correct files. I needed to speak with patients to get their names but we couldn't understand each other well. My local hospital co-worker, who miraculously spoke some English, was having to correct what I thought the patient had said to me. I was annoyed. I'm asking their name, age, and where they're from. Why is this so hard? How is my work here doing any good for anyone? I sharply told my local co-worker that she could talk to all the patients because they obviously didn’t want to talk to me and I was tired of people telling me their name was one thing and telling her something different. Then I was convicted. Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Ouch. I wasn’t demonstrating the Holy Spirit in my life as a good witness to these people who had never heard the truth of Christ because I was too focused on the temperature, flies, language, and being right.
I went home that afternoon and wrote Scripture on index cards. For many years, I have used cards to memorize Scripture and keep the Word obviously before me, either in my pocket or on the wall at home. I took three (Philippians 4:5-7; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 4:1-3) to work the next day and put one beside the keyboard. My newfound motivation was met with immediate opposition, as I could have expected; so keeping these verses at the forefront of my mind was really needed. There were locals crowding at the window yelling over one another to be helped, computer problems, more language confusion, and the heat. The heat made all of life harder because things overheated, and people were cranky and dehydrated. But the Word did not return void. I was internally joyful and steadfast because God was helping me.
Another day, I was told to find a folder for a person whose name could not be found in the computer. Names were spelled differently all the time and vowels seemed interchangeable. I was doing the best I could. One of the local employees was causing more tension by insisting on the name being spelled in a way that wasn't documented in the system. It occurred to me that I should sing, so I let my mind drift away from the stress at hand and focus on the grace of God as I sang silently. I stepped back and let the local worker do her thing while I waited patiently. I knew my labor was not in vain because I was working with and for the Lord. I was so thankful for His presence.
Since I arrived in the country, I had been intentional about singing songs of worship and submission to the Lord on a daily basis. It was so helpful to me to declare God's goodness and power, my identity in Christ, faithfulness and love toward God, and other Gospel truths. When I was feeling incredibly discouraged, my mind would reel with negative thoughts. But when I started singing, the simple lyrics would speak to my heart. I heard the truth of the Gospel as I sang out my dependence on God.
The village usually felt so thick with darkness because frankly, it was dark. We were praying daily as a team to be lights for Christ, but we were just four to six flashlights. It seemed to be a daunting task. It was typical to experience times of encouragement and strength from the Lord, followed by hitting a wall of discouragement, and then clinging even more to the Lord for perseverance and joy. Sometimes the discouragement seemed to take over though, even while relying on the Lord. How are these people ever going to come to know God for who He really is?! I want to just yell out that they need to know Jesus Christ as God, Savior, and Lord! But even if that was legal to do, they wouldn’t accept it. They’d think I was crazy and trying to ruin their lives. How do I have perseverance, Lord? How can I have hope in your victory in the midst of the apathy of life here? It was such a battle.
I knew I was responsible for my reactions to people and problems. Of all the things I couldn't control, I could control my responses. I would be frustrated when someone said or did something that bothered me, but I would remind myself with a Scripture verse or song lyric that God was sovereign and I'd focus on having a godly response. And… ouch. I had a big blow to my soul. Another conviction. I was wrong. God showed me that even before I responded to a person or circumstance I was sinning! Those thoughts in my mind that were annoyed with someone, or my frustration about my discomfort in a circumstance — sin. That is pride. Even the smallest thoughts of comparison that I knew more or better, they were insufficient, or whatever — my ugly, dark, prideful heart. I started praying constantly for God to remove those negative thoughts, and I realized I was having prideful thoughts all day long! I figured out the best way to do this. At least I don't have that trait. At least I am acting genuinely. I’m doing a great job visiting people for tea. I'm the one working without a fan or AC, and I don't complain. I'm so glad I'm keeping a good routine to stay healthy in the heat. Every thought or inclination of my heart was stemming from pride.
I was brought down before the throne of God and saw my insufficiency. My heart was broken over the pride that had been hiding from my sight. It stunned me to realize that He had used me for His glory for over a decade in spite of my sin. And then there He was with open arms, picking me up and showing me that THIS is grace: how He died for me while I was still a sinner and continues to use me for His glory. Romans 5:8 and 2 Corinthians 4, plain as day. It seems my sin went so deep that God didn't show it to me all at once because I wouldn't have been able to handle it. Step by step He showed me and gave me the opportunity to lay it down.
My hope in God (i.e., confidence and assurance that He is sovereign and will prevail over darkness) grew. I could see it as an illustration of a tree. It started with a humble heart — soil. As humility increased, faith was planted — seed. As faith increased, my trust in God and His Word grew — roots. From those roots, hope grew like a tree that flourished with good fruit for Christ's glory. It was a wonderful change in my workday and life. I had been frustrated working with people, so I worked with the Lord instead, while being around people. God loved them through me. My focus became the Word of God, called Faithful and True. Rather than frustration toward the darkness and hopelessness around me, empathy exploded from my heart for the villagers. The compassion had been there before, but it was hindered by my sin. God's heart for them was filled with love, longing for them to see Him. And that was why He brought us there. He wanted us to be the living representation of Himself in that lost world because He is glorified when we broken sinners love with His love. Throughout my life I will always need to submit to the Lord again and again. That process is what will continue to take me closer to my Savior.
In whatever darkness you find yourself, may you humble your heart and mind before the throne, choose to work with the Lord, and spend time putting the Word of God before you all day in word and song.
Here are a few of the other passages I focused on that year. I hope they will speak to you, too.
- Psalm 126:5-6
- Psalm 130
- Proverbs 10:19
- Ecclesiastes 5:1-2
- Colossians 3:12-17
*The author of this post is a member of the Summit Crossing family. Due to ongoing work in Africa, it is best the author remains anonymous.