Dealing with disappointment on the field

Nicole James | Near East

When Dan* and Jane* moved to the Near East (OM ministry field consisting of Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria), they expected to meet Arab neighbours in the streets, be invited into their homes and quickly make friends. But as new arrivals to an urban area in their host country, the couple moved into a “city-culture neighbourhood: People come home, get inside and lock the door. People weren’t out in the streets,” Dan described.

The picture they had envisioned was vastly different than what they experienced, the couple said. “When you first come out, people share stories with you about what happens [in missions], but they don’t share what happens from when you wake up to when you go to bed. You don’t get the full picture of what life is like when you’re out on the field,” Dan explained.

“Expectation catches up with reality really quickly, and then you’re like, ‘Now what?’”

Rick, a long-term OM worker in the Near East, understood Dan’s experience: “I think there can be a lot of disillusionment in the sense that people often think it’s going to be easier to make friends than it is. They hear the Arab world is the most hospitable land in the universe. … Then they come out here, and it takes so much work.”

“When you’re with your local friends, you’re always in ministry mode,” he continued. “One of my best friends in the universe is an Arab. We’re accountability partners; I tell him everything. But … he doesn’t know that I’m [a missionary].”

Faithful obedience

Some adjustments take time—learning the language, making friends with Arabs and, in Dan and Jane’s case, moving.

“Now we live in a community where more people are out in the streets and kids play in our yard. Meeting people is easier. Sharing stories with people has been easier,” Dan explained. But other restrictions, like a part-time job and a new baby, have made ministry more difficult. “It’s taken a lot of time away, which we would have had before.”

Still, there are opportunities for faithful obedience. At times, the message itself might prevent the listener from grasping truth, Dan suggested. “Often we come with our stories from the Western context. There are barriers, but you can’t see them; you can’t hear them.” In those cases, providing cultural context might help, he noted.

A year ago, Dan was having a conversation with a local friend, Ahmed*. Ahmed was viewing a YouTube video about a father watching his family drown in a flash flood, unable to do anything to save them. As Dan watched the clip, he started crying. “How can you do this without [a relationship with] God?” he asked.

Ahmed didn’t respond. “Just the blankness on his face—[he couldn’t] relate to the emotional relationship of what I was experiencing,” Dan later processed. “There are many other [situations] where you try to share and hit a wall, where you share and don’t get a response back.

“You share your testimony, you share your heart in front of people and you don’t see anything. … Maybe it keeps us humble that we don’t see results immediately sometimes. Our dependency is on God to do the work.”

Sometimes, lack of interest in spiritual truth means moving on—after pouring days, hours, weeks and months into people. “It has been tough,” Dan admitted. But he clung to “the promise that God’s Word will bear fruit, to keep on persevering regardless if we don’t see it now.”

Rick, too, encountered disappointment after he and another worker studied the Bible with a couple Arab men weekly for two years. “It was amazing. I learned so much. Doing it in Arabic, you have to double study. Not only are you studying the passage, but then you have to study how to present this well in Arabic. So I really enjoyed it,” Rick explained.

In addition, he said he valued seeing the Arab men study and learn how to lead the lessons. “But after two years of doing this, nothing changed,” he stated. The men “did not seem to be sharing the gospel, … they were definitely not overcoming things like fear … and they started to see this group of four guys as church.”

When Rick and the other worker invited a local pastor to join their study and provide teaching on church, the two Arab men and the pastor ended up arguing with each other. Suddenly, two years of studying Scripture ended.

Rick and the other worker reconciled with the Arab men after the fight, but they decided to discontinue the study. “If these guys are just interested in this comfortable, happy play of sitting in the living room, drinking tea and reading the Bible, is it worth it?” Rick wondered.

Another friend Rick was discipling stole from him, ending up in jail. “There have been a lot of disappointments,” Rick said. “It always leaves you wondering, ‘What’s the point? Is it really worth it?’ And I think it is.”

He cited Matthew 9:38, where Jesus told His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into the Harvest (NKJV). “Jesus is the Lord of the harvest,” Rick explained. “You and I are not the lords of the harvest. We can’t produce fruit. But what we are called to is faithful obedience through times of great moves of the Spirit, and we’re called to faithful obedience when God doesn’t seem to be moving at all.”

Pray for workers in the Near East field to persevere with faithful obedience through times when they do not see fruit. Pray for breakthroughs in relationship and opportunities to share truth with the least reached.

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with fields to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.

Published: Wednesday, 01 November 2017
Credit: Nicole James
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