Dissolving into a puddle of tears, she cried as if her heart would break – no delicate, ladylike crying, but ugly nose-blowing sobs that shook her body and left her face red and blotchy instead of its normal white.
Who was having such a major meltdown? It was me, of course. I certainly wouldn’t write about other people’s meltdowns. So what happened this time?
Juliana had just informed me that our missions consultant won’t be able to do our linguistic evaluation this year. Last year he couldn’t come at all. This time, he is still coming, but the only viable dates fall during a major celebration here in our village.
And I’m left feeling heartbroken at this news that something we were counting on has fallen through. It feels like we aren’t important enough to somehow work things out to do our evaluations.
Despite the fact that an evaluation is a bit like a “test,” bringing with it a bit of anxiety, I was genuinely excited about it, expecting it to be a very useful tool in pinpointing where each one of us is in our ACL, evaluating our knowledge and skill in both language and cultural understanding. At least our professors and mission leaders always told us it was a useful tool. And now I am frustrated and distraught about not getting to find out firsthand.
Logically, I know my feelings are unreasonable. It’s certainly not Sergio’s fault that the celebration happens to be during the only chunk of time he can visit. He is responsible for evaluating many teams of missionaries in a huge region of Brasil, along with his other duties and ministries back in Manaus. Another consultant left our field a couple years ago, so Sergio has been on his own, although training new consultants, but probably spreading himself far too thin already.
But how can I wait another year? The mission has certain expectations after all, for the timeframe in whitch a language should be learned. What if I’m not making the anticipated progress here at the beginning of ACL, and get further and further behind? Then when an evaluation finally does happen a year or two from now, the leadership will be expecting me to be far more advanced, but by then it could be almost too late if I’ve been doing everything wrong, and no one knew, so no one could help.
Will the support, leadership, and orientation I was counting on really be there when needed, or is it just a nice idea that may or may not happen?
Suddenly, with toilet paper in hand to wipe away tears, I realized what the real issue is.
Somehow, my heart had turned away from my Father and Friend to other gods, to idols. No, I didn’t start worshipping the spirits from traditional Neno culture, but I had clearly turned away. Some questions I asked myself made it quite clear that all was not well.
Do I really think that the God who brought me this far will leave me stranded somewhere on the road between first words and fluency?
Will I end up destitute in any way after the abundant manner He has always provided?
Have I joined the Israelites in the desert, whining and complaining, thinking that God is not enough and that I need meat and vegetables and the stuff of Egypt to survive?
Am I putting my trust in man and methods instead of in God Himself?
If I think ACL will make learning the Neno language possible, does that mean I think God can’t enable me all by Himself?
In expecting Sergio to have the answers, have I forgotten that Jesus has the answers?
In desiring that progress and outcomes be measured and defined, do I remember that God’s Word evaluates aspects of ministry that are far more important? (Love, heart, and motives, for example).
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. Psalm 20:7
So what have I turned to instead of God, as my “chariots and horses”?
If God were speaking to my heart today, which He is, He might say,
“Some trust in ACL and some in language consultants, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”
Sure, methods and strategies and organization have their place. But they are not what gives us boldness and equips us, and will prove a poor substitute for the God who brought us here.
Elevating a method or a person to the place of God is sin, plain and simple.
In the words of a famous hymn whose name I cannot remember right now:
The arm of flesh will fail you; you dare not trust your own.
If it’s foolish to trust my own might, power, intelligence, and organizational skills, it’s equally foolish to trust the might, power, intelligence and organizational skills of another human being, no matter how gifted or experienced.
These are basic biblical truths. How did I turn away so easily? How can I know the Truth yet persist in living as if I believe the lies?
It’s as silly as stumbling through the darkness of a starless night in the middle of a jungle, with a high-quality flashlight in my hand, turned off.
The concept of ACL with or without consultants, evaluations, and support should be so simple. Not saying that the Neno language will ever be easy, but the concept is simple. We did this already, after all, Jesus and I.
Rewind to October 2008 – March 2009. Brasilian culture and Portuguese immersion 101. How many linguistic evaluations for that? None. How many visits from consultants? Zero. Were there ACL manuals to read and highlight and get ideas from? Nothing. I had set out on my own, with lots of people back home praying but with only Jesus as my Consultant, my Coach, my Vision, my Everything. He put other English-speaking missionaries in my path from time to time who encouraged me along the way, but our times together were sporadic and spontaneous blessings, not guaranteed support.
Was it hard? Sometimes. Was it fantastic? Most of the time. Was it the adventure of a lifetime? Oh, yes. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
You know what? Right now, I don’t think I need an ACL evaluation after all. I don’t even need Sergio to visit, as helpful as it will certainly be to ask him questions and get his input.
Oh, my sinful, wandering heart! What I truly need is to repent, to turn around, to change direction. What is it going to take for me to truly learn to depend on Jesus and Jesus only in this new place and challenge? Please pray that I will learn this lesson well, and live by it always. My deepest need is a heart that cries out for God and God alone as if there is no one and nothing else to fall back on in the day-to-day of ACL. Essential to this battle is a heart of holy desperation, a conviction that loving the Neno well and pointing them to Jesus is impossible without Him…not challenging or difficult, but IMPOSSIBLE.
And didn’t I say, a time or two, that I didn’t want to go somewhere too easy?
It seems more and more that the impossible part is not so much the actual task at hand, or the Neno people or language, but the absolutely inconceivable notion that God could ever use someone like this messed-up, broken, prone-to-wander daughter of His.
But according to 1 Corinthians 1:27, God hath chosen the foolish and weak things of the world to confound the wise and mighty, “that no flesh should glory in his presence.” (1:29) I certainly possess nothing to boast about, and am nobody from which greatness would be expected.
Yet by His grace, may God choose me, weak and foolish, with all my sinnings and stumblings, to make a difference for Him in this corner of the Amazon rainforest. May what He does in and through me stun and amaze all those who see it, proving His greatness and glory in unconceivable ways.