Back in July 2019, my first stop in the States on home assignment was Colorado, where I visited my brother Eli, who lives in another beautiful region of the world, where he is surrounded by mountains instead of jungles. He was excited to introduce me to one of his new hobbies, mountain biking.
That intense adventure with my brother in the Colorado mountains led me to reflect on intense adventures with Jesus in an Amazon village.
A few days after the bike ride, I jotted down some thoughts and analogies, which I will attempt to explain and share in the next couple posts. (I had been in the village right before visiting my brother, so the following reflections are based on experiences which had recently happened there).
For someone who has done quite a bit of road biking over the years, this experience was a first. The unpaved, rocky trails twisted up and down and through the mountains, impossible to predict.
Within the first twenty minutes, I didn’t turn sharply enough for a curve and flew over the handlebars. Losing control and wondering how hard I’d hit the ground was terrifying. Nevertheless, flying through the air, while not very safe, did bring a certain sense of exhilaration. And even from the vantage point of lying in the dirt, spitting some of it out of my mouth, the view of the surrounding mountains was beautiful. Thankfully, I sustained only some bruises, a tiny cut, and a few thorns.
This incident reminded me of a verse that had strengthened my heart on many occasions during the first several months of 2019.
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23, 24
Many times in the village, when hitting sharp curves or unexpected major bumps in ministry, it felt like I had flown over the handlebars, and was lying bruised on the trail. The unpleasant sensation of tasting gritty dirt in those moments was surpassed by the delight of seeing God’s glory in the surrounding beauty and tasting the rich flavors of grace. Even though I sometimes fell into doubt, discouragement and even fear, the Lord upheld me and I was never utterly cast down.
Can grace ever be more precious than in moments when Jesus picks us up, brushes us off, pulls a thorn out of our knee, and reminds us that He loves us and that with Him as our Guide and Protector, we are more than conquerors?
You see, it doesn’t matter how rough or intense the trail is if the trail guide is fearless and competent.
Eli made the trail look so easy, zipping up and down each incline with grace and skill. Our expedition was his idea. He was the one who planned it and invited me to participate in an adventure that would have been foolhardy to attempt on my own. All I had to do was go along for the ride, confident that Eli knew what he was doing and that we would have a great time together. I felt honored and privileged that Eli included me in this aspect of his life.
Missions is Jesus’ idea. He is the One who is building His church, calling out His Bride from every tribe, language, people, and nation. He laid a plan which started before the foundation of the world and reaches to the ends of the earth. Jesus wants the villagers and the rest of their people to know Him and become His disciples, and He invited me to participate in this part of His mission. What an honor and privilege to be included in what He is doing!
It would be foolish to go to dark places and preach the gospel on our own.
But the expedition narrative changes with Jesus as our Master and Leader, our Trail Guide.
In Jesus alone we find confidence to set out on the winding, rocky path. We journey to jungle villages and other places knowing that the One we follow is completely dependable and worthy of our allegiance. While Jesus doesn’t tell us the details of what will happen as we obey His great commission, He promises that He will be with us always, even unto the end of the world.
We have counted the cost and realized that the joy and delight of relationship with Jesus far surpass the risk and danger of riding with Him. Believing that safety and health and comfort are overrated, we relinquish any perceived rights to these benefits. Moreover, safety and health and comfort are not actually guaranteed to anyone, no matter where a person lives and works.
Just as mountain trail biking isn’t the safest outdoor activity, life on the mission field is not safe. In recent months I’ve realized more profoundly the levels of risk and peril involved in this calling.
This journey has been lonelier and rockier than anticipated, so intense that it has required nearly every ounce of focus and concentration just to stay the course. All I could do was follow hard after Jesus, 40 hours/week of ACL* with my village friends, and just enough cooking and dishwashing and laundry to get by. There was no leftover physical, mental or emotional energy for anything else. So I streamlined routines, simplified life, and cut nonessentials. I stopped blogging, didn’t plan for home assignment, rarely even called family or responded to e-mails. It was survival mode.
(*Acquisition of Culture and Language)
With God’s help, I tried my best to keep my eyes on Jesus and the people He sent me to, and not let anything else waste precious energy and attention. Nevertheless, a few minor crashes occurred, but by the grace of God, no injuries worse than scrapes and non-life-threatening wounds. I’m entering home assignment bruised and weary, yet with a spring in my step and a smile that emanates from a secret, deeper place of joy than I even knew existed a year ago. This is still the best life ever, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.