I’ve been to a lot of countries. I’ve seen the devastation that civil wars, communism and poverty bring to nations. God has blessed me with a perspective that sees beyond my own geographical parameters. Yet, sadly, I sometimes forget what I’ve learned abroad as I live my comfortable life here in America.
Interestingly, by my country’s financial standards, I live at poverty level and yet I have a stash of money in the bank, two computers, two I Phones, a car and a TV. I have decent health insurance that provided critical care for my daughter when she was born even though I can only visit “state” run facilities. I have a refrigerator full of food even though I purchase off brands at Aldi. Compare me to much of the planet’s population and I’m doing fabulously.
I’m certainly not impoverished. Actually, I’m rich.
Spiritual wealth is at my fingertips, too. As I sit here typing on my Macbook, I’m glancing around the room. I see 3 Bibles and 4 commentaries, a book on starting a family, one on spiritual warfare, one on crafting with preschoolers, and one on loving people more effectively. I have an app on my I Phone with which I listen to Moody Christian Radio and I have podcasts tuning me in to my five favorite preachers every single day.
Yet somehow all of my resources seem to make me more restless than holy.
This morning as I tried to “focus” and quiet my mind for prayer (which is often akin to wrestling an alligator) I remembered a time in my life when focusing on the Lord was easy; when things seemed pure and I was living for God with beautiful simplicity. I was living on the MV Doulos, a ship sailing over 200 missionaries around the globe with the express purpose of displaying God’s love to a spiritually starving generation. Don’t get me wrong; I was no angel and no one on board glowed with angelic light or lived sinlessly. We weren’t even close to perfect. But everyone at least knew why they were there: to know God and to make God known to others. We were bold. Even willing to visit places that most Christians couldn’t fathom going to.
One of those places was Sudan.
Admittedly, Sudan was my least favorite country. It was just plain old dangerous and I could not understand why the leadership team wanted to sail the Doulos into Sudanese territory. Didn’t they know that Sudan was one of the world’s least stable nations, run to the ground by Muslim sects? Didn’t they know that Islamic regimes were attempting to eradicate Christians by bombing churches, hospitals, schools, villages, murdering pastors and leaders without hesitation? This country was ravaged by racially motivated genocide, massacres, rapes, mutilations and destruction of villages all perpetrated by Sudanese citizens in civil war… and we, a Christian Book ministry were headed to its shores.
As we sailed toward Port Sudan, the largest and busiest seaport in the country, the Captain got on the loud speaker and announced that Sudanese Officials had contacted our ministry head quarters and diverted our charted course to a new port of call. We were no longer allowed to dock at Port Sudan. Instead we would sail into Port Suakin, a virtually desolate seaport with nothing but miles of desert to look upon. Apparently, the local government was suspicious of our activities and wanted to isolate us in order to ensure we would not be proselytizing the locals.
It was a devestating set-back for the ship’s ministry. Months of preparation had been underway for the ship’s arrival to Port Sudan and now we would be docked several hours away from where all of our ministry was to take place. What would we do? It was a logistical nightmare.
As the tug boats approached to pull the Doulos into port, the scenery was grim. My face fell as I saw what we were headed for. Miles of desert stretched out before us, no buildings, no roads, no other ships, not many people. Just desert, a light house type structure, two army guns mounted in the sand, a military tank and hundreds of camels.
When the ship’s engines quieted and the gangways were lowered, not one person onboard seemed seemed eager to disembark. The sun was hot and waves of heat rose from the desert sand. Sudanese officials came on board with more bad news. They informed our Bursar that no one was allowed to step off the vessel until further notice! We were all trapped inside.
We waited eagerly for officials to hand out shore passes and allow us to fulfill our ministry commitments but day after day went by and no one granted us any permits. Trapped on board, we floated beside a wasteland, time running out and patience diminishing.
I sat in my office wearily preparing my ministry programs. I was in charge of executing a huge event for the locals that focused on cultural dances and dramas. Hundreds of Sudanese people were supposed to attend but it looked like the show would be cancelled. I put my head on the desk and started complaining to God about the utter waste of time this port of call was turning into. I glanced out the porthole, disgusted by officials with guns prancing back and forth on the quayside like we were criminals planning a missionary take over. I wanted to sail away and I prayed that God would get us out of Sudan quickly.
Resolved to be productive with my time, I put my head phones on and clicked open the ship’s database that contained all of John Piper’s sermons. I began listing and closed my eyes, tuning my co-workers out for a little. I listened intently to Desiring God’s opening commercial and introduction to the sermon.
Ironically, Pastor John opened in prayer for the persecuted church.
I can’t remember his exact words but they were something like this:
“Heavenly Father, I pray for all the believers in Sudan who risk their lives daily for their faith in you! Father I pray that they would stand firm in the midst of imminent danger even to the point of death! Lord, WOULD YOU SEND OTHER BELIEVERS TO THEM for their encouragement and edification and let them know that they do not stand alone!”
I took my head phones off and wept in shame and rejoiced in the camaraderie that we, as believers share, even though we don’t always see or feel it in a tangible way.
For the first time, it occurred to me that I was there for a reason.
I was a small part of a greater picture.
Me. My brothers and sisters in Christ. The Ship’s ministry. Being used as an answer to prayer; ministering to a population of believers who only knew pain and persecution. Being the body.
In the days that followed, God opened up new doors. Although we still couldn’t leave the ship, Sudanese believers were being bussed from Khartoum, the capitol, and other regions to the Doulos for Christian conferences, women’s meetings, luncheons and other events on board.
Life went from frustrating to invigorating and purposeful.
I stared at the Sudanese ladies who came on board and I watched them absorb every word they heard like they were drinking water after months in the arid sun.
I was inspired.
Eventually, we got permission to leave the ship and teams of volunteers left their cabins each day venturing into the hot desert to build schools, visit orphanages and talk to the locals. Our time was fruitful and lives were touched.
I can’t say I completely learned to stop grumbling and simply trust in God’s finely orchestrated plans. I am way too thick headed to just “get it.” But I can say that, even though I don’t always understand His ways, I trust Him completely.
And I know that He is always good.