The Most Successful Ministry Failure Ever

When Seth and I were seeking counsel on whether or not to return to our suddenly-shockingly dangerous mission field, one counselor made some pithy statements that stuck with me; and I’ve ruminated on them since.

That meeting was quite humbling, because the take-away main point had to do with how unnecessary we are. We really needed convincing on that point! 🙂 When we contemplated leaving Africa, we couldn’t get around the “need” for laborers in our field.

Ours is a pioneer mission field. Swiss Presbyterian missionaries laid a wonderful foundation in the last century by translating the entire Bible, translating hymns and inventing a musical notation system for a hymnal, starting schools and hospitals, and building Presbyterian churches. Unfortunately by the ’50s,  they were going liberal in their theology and lost the Gospel; and by the ’60s, the missionaries were gone.

We, along with our teammates, and a national pastor or possibly two, are the only true churches with a Gospel witness in about 2.2 million Tsonga people in South Africa, and 3.1 million more in Mozambique. Truly the laborers are few! Who else, we wondered, would go through the struggle to learn this African language that had no language school? Learning the language and culture was an investment we weren’t going to easily give up.

And we hadn’t been “successful” enough yet to leave! Our infant church needed us. It wasn’t ready to stand on its own.

But this counselor wanted to make a point even more important than our need for humility (and yes, even he, I think, would concede that our field does “need” laborers), and that is, that our children also needed us–parents, alive and whole, whose eyes could focus on them, and not always be focused on the ministry–in fact, that our children needed us more than the ministry needed us.

I know, this isn’t really rocking your world yet, is it? Duh, no brainer. We’d all say our family is more important than ministry

But then he mentioned a Scriptural example that gave me a new flash of understanding, that set that truth in a clearer light for me. Are you ready for some easy Bible trivia? See if you can answer this question, the question he posed to us when we were busy arguing for why we were needed in Africa:

Who did Noah take on the ark with him?

Noah's Sacrifice by Jacobo Bassano

Noah’s Sacrifice by Jacobo Bassano

The Bible is clear– “Noah, the eighth person,” it says.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. ~Heb. 11:7

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. ~1 Pet. 3:20

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. ~2 Pet. 2:5

And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. ~Gen. 7:1

And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark… ~Gen. 7:7

The new, interesting thought to me was an analysis of Noah’s “ministry” successes. Peter called him a “preacher.” I’ve heard some sermons or children’s presentations that mention him preaching to the ungodly for over 100 years. Dramatic recordings usually have Noah pausing in the middle of building the ark to preach a sermon to unbelievers in evangelistic 21-century style.

I’m not sure if that preaching was the same as what we think of today when we think of preaching. But at the least, we know that his righteous lifestyle was counter-cultural, and that preached. And his building of the ark, motivated by fear grounded on faith, spoke; that also was counter-cultural, and this “preaching” condemned the world.

And what does he have to show for his evangelistic efforts?

“Nothing,” most of us would respond.

And there’s the rub, the immediate rebuke: nothing??! Saving his family is nothing?

But I’m pretty sure that if Noah were reporting to supporting churches after twenty years of service, he’d have lost support. If he were trying to raise more support in his 87th year of service on his oh-so-very-needy field, he wouldn’t get it! If ministry successes were based on numbers, and let’s admit it, we all do assess our ministry successes this way to some extent, we wouldn’t support Noah, the eighth person, today. Wow.

Noah's Ark Mural by David Jermann

Noah’s Ark Mural by David Jermann

But was he a failure, then?

Ezekiel implies he was one of the best, listing him in a group of three along with Daniel and Job. And what of Jeremiah, preaching for fifty years, with only three converts mentioned?

No, Noah the eighth person was righteous, and one of the most obvious marks of his righteousness is that his “house” got on the ark with him. In a day when evil abounded, and every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually, Noah saved his family. His family got on the ark with him.

What about you, dear missionaries and preachers of righteousness? Who are you gonna take on the ark with you? It can be so hard to balance the needs of ministry with the needs of family. My husband tried to think through the difficulties of obtaining this balance here.

For those all-out, die-hard missionaries who can sometimes run over people in their zeal, let’s get this one point from Noah’s example:

In the eyes of many, his “ministry” was a failure; but he saved his family. And God called him righteous. The eighth person was a hero of the faith.

Noah's Daughter-in-Law in the Dovecote by Mary Jane Q. Cross

Noah’s Daughter-in-Law in the Dovecote by Mary Jane Q. Cross

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And Let One Interpret

I am so excited about something that won’t be in my life anymore. Not because I don’t like it, but because I’ve finished it! Last week I finished translating the last lesson of our Sunday School curriculum into Xitsonga. I started this project over six years ago and finally have finished 212 lessons from A Beka Book’s elementary Bible curriculum. Earlier I had translated 32 lessons with Firm Foundations, a chronological approach from New Tribes Mission.

I usually spent three to four hours per week in translating a lesson plus review questions, then another hour or so picking out a memory verse for the week, making memory verse visuals, and practicing teaching the lesson. I am very excited to have some more time in my week now that this lengthy project is finished! I am also happy when I think about national teachers being able to use these materials in the future when we have hopefully moved on to another church plant.

Once at a college graduation I attended, a man was awarded an honorary doctorate for having written curriculum for eight semesters of a one-day-per-week seminar. I tickled my fancy, awarding myself with an honorary doctorate for finally finishing this accomplishment. 🙂 Not tooting my own horn, just enjoying finishing this “chapter.” Oh, the work missionary women do that will go unheard of, unsung, or unnoticed. (By the way, much of what I write could apply to pastor’s wives as well.) So share with me, are you working on any projects on your field right now? Have you finished any projects that excited you? I’d love to hear about it!

Decorating Valentine's cookies at a Sunday School party

Decorating Valentine’s cookies at a Sunday School party

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An Open Letter to the Missionary (Woman) Quitter

When criminals entered our home last December 2nd and attacked our family, our lives changed completely. The obvious, immediate question after the crisis was, “Do we quit being missionaries?”

It was an excruciating question to work through, partially because it was completely unexpected. We had had no thought of leaving the field. My husband’s screen saver on his phone when we were dating said, “Go tribal!” Hadn’t I known what I was getting into? No, actually! And yes. His heart for the Unreached has defined him, been his core, since I’ve known him. It seemed there was no avenue forward that didn’t involve reconstructing either Seth’s or Amy’s make-up. We reached out for counsel.

As you may have guessed, especially if you already heard of our situation and were thinking “in our shoes,” not many counselors had an easy answer. It would have been wonderful if God had spoken to us in a vision. Most counselors were unwilling and unable to give a certain “yea” or “nay.” Understandably so.

What a blessing that most counselors were amazingly supportive. By “supportive,” I mean that they understood and articulated that leaving our field was an obvious and valid option, and that we weren’t bad Christians to be considering it–that godly Christians have chosen both paths, to leave or to stay.

But a few comments stuck with me memorably–in a negative way–that, in my opinion, made our decision even tougher. They hinted or outright stated that they viewed me as weak or wimpy to even go back to the States for an eight-week visit to think about our future, that I was holding back my husband (because his personality did not struggle with the decision to return to the field even a fraction as much as mine), thus I was unsubmissive and “wearing the pants in the family” (and therefore, my husband had blame for not “leading me” appropriately), that I was not obeying certain Scriptures that encourage risking all for Christ, and that I was not a strong person or missionary or Christian if I couldn’t go back.

Well, comments like these (made by people who have not experienced even a quarter of what I have) were not accepted well by a traumatized woman concerned for her traumatized children! And there, in that sentence, may lie part of the answer. Some people cannot empathize fully with a wounded person until they themselves have experienced the humiliation of trials and suffering. I cringe when I remember my naive judgmentalism as a young missionary. Oh, how I’ve changed now, and eaten my words (rather, thoughts) a hundred times over.

It is true that many leave the field for wrong reasons at the wrong time. And it is true that we do not hear enough encouragement to risk all for Christ. I don’t want to take the teeth out of Scriptures like these:

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

But: Around the time when I was struggling with the fact that I knew that we would be going back to the field, I heard of a missionary woman who was likewise struggling, almost…despairing. And my heart went out to her. She had “put in her time,” labored for years on the field, followed her husband to a difficult people, had children in inferior hospitals on the field, and after numerous trials, was beginning to crack under the pressure. I cried for her, someone I’d never met. Why should she, dear timid warrior that she is, be criticized if she needs to come home (America) for the sake of her sanity?

Honestly, I struggled to even word that last paragraph, because I know alpha male theologians who would respond that she shouldn’t need that, that if she were responding biblically she could handle this, etc. But I think long-term missionaries understand what I mean, because They’ve Been There.

So while I truly don’t aim to encourage anyone to leave the field, especially for wrong reasons, please understand my desire in this post. I desire simply to offer compassion to that lonely, spent missionary woman who so badly needs to hear compassion, not guilt trips, if she goes home for good or simply for a rest. At other times, I will take the opposing side and encourage perseverance. But for right now I want to simply offer compassion, only compassion, in an open letter to the few missionary women who may be in this situation.

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You dear woman,

You’ve been told so many hurtful things.

It is okay. It is okay to leave the field because you are cracking under the pressure.

Your hair is prematurely graying. You are beaten down by the degrading depravity of your field. Your health is failing. You have forgotten that you used to have an easy laugh and can’t remember what it feels like to converse easily with another Christian without weighing every word and its possible miscommunications. And you struggle to list one positive item per every fifty negative things about your field.

You have fought on the front lines of the war for a long time, and you are coming home a wounded soldier. Yes, soldiers wounded in the war receive an honorable discharge. You deserve a medal. Indeed you are a hero! So few people want your job that you are irreplaceable.

God bless you! You tried. You gave your all. You gave beyond your all. You submitted to your husband and raised your children in challenging circumstances. Now channel what remaining energies you have into enduring yet more change, but hopefully a more restful change because of its familiarity. If your coming home allows you to gain the benefits that Jesus got when He “came apart to rest a while,” and to continue being a helpmeet to your husband and to keep going in the ministry, though it be no longer foreign, then come. Come home, and continue to follow Christ as well as you can in the place where you are.

You will hear no word of condemnation from me. Only compassion.
Only compassion, dear missionary friend.

Love in Christ,

Amy

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Now We’re the Perfect Family!

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I thought after seven weeks of being a seven-member family (the perfect number!), I probably should include our newest little on the family blog. Cameron Lee Meyers was born August 12, 8 lbs. 6 oz., and a kinda short length if I recall right, but it’s stretching a missionary to convert all of those dimension from the metric system to English.

At birth

At birth

He promised to be a butterball at birth, and he has delivered on that promise, becoming a nice 13 lbs. 6 oz. at seven weeks. Great job, Cameron! (He has accomplished this while his siblings have been through three bouts of stomach flu in eight weeks. I’m trying to figure out what’s up with that.)

Meeting their new brother in the hospital

Meeting their new brother in the hospital

Welcome signs they made for Cameron and me! (I love the way they're dressed--shows that Mom wasn't around.)

Welcome signs they made for Cameron and me! (I love the way they’re dressed–shows that Mom wasn’t around.)

Cameron–chosen mainly because it starts with a “C,” but also for Cameron Townsend, a famous Bible translator.

Lee–my mother’s maiden name.

Meyers–my husband’s maiden name.

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Cameron is a joy. He has already blessed us with several smiles, including a dimple! Yay! I waited several children to finally see my husband’s beautiful dimple displayed in an obvious way on one of them. As I said, perfect.

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Cameron will always be a reminder to me of God’s grace and lovingkindness–a needed rest from worries to rejoice in new beginnings. Welcome, Cameron.

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On the Subject of Cheese, Triage, and Blogging

A while ago, Seth’s best friend gifted him with a stack of old issues of Credenda Agenda, a magazine put out by Doug Wilson and friends (and family). What a nice gift. We’re still working our way through those, sharpening our brains and hearts with thoughtful words, some new to us, some old. One issue was entitled “Wood.” Every article was somehow related to wood: the article written by Doug’s wife Nancy on the family table (theirs was pine, by the way), the article on music had to do with wood, another theological article on the cross…it was kind of neat seeing how they tied all these different categories of thought into the subject of wood.

Then there was the issue entitled “On the Subject of Cheese.” Um, some of those articles were a stretch. I do get what they’re trying to do—all knowledge is related in some way, and Christ is Lord over everything, and all, but, cheese?

IMG_2359This last year has been anything but “easy cheesy” for us. Last year this time, I was staying up late nights to help a new single mother from a different culture deal with her colicky baby—in the newly remodeled homeschool room that I never envisioned being used immediately for that purpose. This was followed by a 10-day stint myself as a single mom, as Seth was gone; he came back with an international visit by a family member. We took another trip, preceded by a bad leg break for my two-year old. After that I had a miscarriage.

Caleb right after surgery

Caleb right after surgery

Then came the momentous attack on our home, followed by two different exhausting international trips (they were also nice!), a new troubled pregnancy, a rushed move to a new-to-us but not-as-nice house, a horrendous arm break for my 7-year old, ministry changes, many ministerial discouragements, a new-to-us car and puppies, and more.

For a while after the attack, I was unable to even think about blogging. When you’ve had a gun pointed at your head and at your child’s head, it seems sacrilegiously unimportant to spell out the contrasts between two spelling curricula. I couldn’t even bring myself to read books (my hobby). No books seemed important enough to engage my attention, yet none seemed unimportant enough to take my mind off of our dilemma.

On occasion that issue title “On the Subject of Cheese” came to mind, chewing on the edges of my comfort like the mice over here chewed on our bookshelf (yes, a bookshelf!) Finally I dished out a couple of my thoughts on the subject of “the subject of cheese” to Seth—went something like this:

Me: “You know—you really have to have peace to be able to write a whole issue on the subject of cheese.”

Seth: “Huh?”

Me: “You know—that issue by Doug Wilson, where the whole thing was about cheese? You can tell he’s not a missionary. You really have to have a lot of time, and PEACE, to be able to write like that. And nothing else more immediate to write about, either.”

I’m not trying to pick on Wilson. I’m trying to point out why I haven’t been writing lately, and why I still may be spotty for a while. I told my mom that I felt like I was living in a state of triage, assessing where urgent care was needed most. Even without the trauma of our last year, a missionary lives closer to the battlefield, closer to the smell of gun smoke, the cries of the wounded and dying, and the cares of immense spiritual struggles in others who don’t care for themselves.

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome

I guess the Baptists have always tended that way—running for their lives, manuscripts being burned along with their martyrs’ bodies, unable to have enough peace to write down their thoughts. Doesn’t mean they didn’t think them. Bunyan’s writings came from his jail cell.

Anyway, when you’re in that state of the urgent and necessary, it seems really unimportant to write, especially when you doubt that you ever had anything worthwhile to say at all. When there is so much to be done, and only so much of “mom” to give to your scared, needy children, and the only constancy in your life is upheaval, well, the last thing on your mind is how to relate a theology of family to cheese.

It takes time to write well. It takes peace to write thoughtfully about minute details under Christ’s sovereignty. I’m glad someone has both; I haven’t. When I do, and when I can, I will enjoy writing again.

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An Unexpected Return

Seth wrote this letter yesterday about the recent “goings-on.” Thank you for your prayers.

UNPLANNED “FURLOUGH”
Though unlooked for, we are nevertheless compelled to return again to the US as you may have already heard. A few weeks ago, I heard from an immigration lawyer who opened our eyes to a new law that just took effect in 2014. Owing to a legal technicality enmeshed with the dates of our December return to the US, we may now only reapply for new visas from our “country of origin.” Though I have contacted just under a dozen lawyers, this is the only way Providence has opened for us.

Regardless of these plans that we would not have chosen for ourselves, we rest confidently that God has good purposes for moving us this way. Hopefully, we will visit six of our nine supporting churches as well as see a number of families. Our flight arrives on 8 May and departs again on 29 June. Please send me an email if you’d like to get together during our two-month sojourn.

Those dates are blocked on either end by some major family news as well. Caleb’s broken arm will be freed from six pins and a cast next Monday, 20 April. He should be healing nicely by the time we get on the plane.

The other end of the trip is clamped in by the good news of Amy’s fifth time to unpack the maternity clothes. Since she is due in August, we have to come back by the end of June or face the dire consequences of paying American health care costs.

We fear that needy people can be exhausting, nevertheless, I must ask if anyone knows of a donkey cart with six seatbelts for rent or sale that we might use during May and June.

LEAVING OUR CHILD BEHIND
Owing to the expense of plane tickets we have decided to leave one of our children: Elim Baptist Church. One of the ways we anticipate God glorifying Himself is by using this trip like vitamins and a workout regimen for EBC. Already the members have divided up the ministries during those two months. God has given us a humble and competent man to serve as pastor-teacher during most of the weeks with another college student also helping one or two Sundays.

Recently, we have also seen two 26-year old men in our church take demonstrable steps of character. Both of these men are showing evidence that they are willing to follow Christ rather than culture in marriage and work. In the past, we have entered the first or even second levels of church discipline with both of these young men.

OTHER CHURCHES
On Easter Sunday three Tsonga churches met in Mbhokota at Trinity Baptist Church for a thrilling service. The highlights of the day included the public testimonies of three young people from EBC who were baptized as well as a unique confession from a member of Paul’s church. In 2013, this man fell away from the faith. Over the long intervening months and years, he had been hardened toward Paul, but in answer to the fasting and prayers of the church members God granted repentance. Two Sundays back, he surprised many of us by publicly humbling himself and submitting to the Lordship of Christ. May a deep longing be created within those poor churches in Africa or America who do not know the unusual pleasure of seeing church discipline work out like this.

You may recall that Justice Sebola, an LBI graduate, served at our church in December and January. He and his new wife have decided to plant a church in a rural village in Zimbabwe about 4 hours away. Helped by his brother, who also graduated from LBI, they have already gathered a small group of believers in a village much poorer than most of those in SA. Please pray that a Baptist church in Wunga would flourish.

About four hours from the Sebola’s village, the attached picture shows the Rock Baptist Church planted by Wastemore Sarireni. On Easter Sunday, a large gathering of people they have been evangelizing from different villages all met on the large rock that gave the church its name.

For the Church which He purchased,

Seth and Amy

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Little Miracles for the Meyers

Bun in Oven

It’s time for some good news from the Meyers family! Our little Meyers Miracle Number Five will be arriving mid-August.

I don’t use the word miracle lightly. I consider three of our five children to be miracle babies. Indeed, every child is a miracle of God’s creativity; but I felt that three of mine were special gifts that “shouldn’t have been” by natural standards.

After my firstborn, Caleb, I suffered two miscarriages. I wondered if I would be able to have any more children. I discovered I was expecting Colin during a time of intense personal and ministerial trials. Having been through two miscarriages already that year, as well as other trials, my emotions were fragile. So afraid that God would actually give me more than I believed I could handle, and that this baby would be taken as well, I went on bedrest and tried to cast my cares on the Lord. I thought of Colin as my gift of hope, a miracle baby, born as a reminder from the Lord that He is good, and that every good and perfect gift comes from Him alone.

Colin

Colin

I fully expected to lose my fourth child, Carson. He came unexpectedly close to my third child, and I prepared myself for another miscarriage. All the signs were there. I stopped nursing my small baby Callie, went on bedrest, and tried to save him; but I told myself my efforts were futile–that it would end the same way as before when I had weaned Caleb in order to try to save a pregnancy.

Carson

Carson

For five weeks the pregnancy threatened to terminate itself, until finally, fully into the second term, we began to believe that Carson might actually be okay! To me, Carson truly was a miracle baby. Even my friend, a midwife, thought I “should” have miscarried him. My memories after his birth have disappeared down a black hole. I have no memories of that time trying to raise four children ages five and under, but looking back I have nothing but praise for a wonderful Maker.

 

Four kids 5 and under! What a number of blessings!

Four kids 5 and under! What a number of blessings!

And now, number five.

2014 was a stressful year because of our neighbor’s continued thefts and hosting a long-term guest in our home. We wished for another child and were disappointed to miscarry after a time of bedrest in October.

When the attack happened on December 2, I was hit hard in the stomach by a rifle. The way my body reacted to the stress of the event and my injuries actually confirmed to me something I wasn’t yet sure of–I was pregnant again. Had I not miscarried in October, that child would have been about five months along and would have been in more danger from such a hit. But now this new pregnancy showed signs of danger right from the beginning. I prepared myself for another miscarriage.

But that was not God’s will! Again at eleven weeks along, while in America, I thought I was miscarrying. A crisis pregnancy center gave me a free ultrasound and confirmed that the baby was growing just as it should be. There was a heartbeat and obvious movement. The technician, my mom (who had never before gotten to see an ultrasound after four children of her own and sixteen grandbabies!), and I were excited.

Through all the stresses of this time in our lives–the attack, international travels, packing up and moving to a new house, Caleb’s broken arm and surgeries–this baby has survived and grown. Again I thought to myself, “If any baby should not have survived, it should have been this one!” I am so grateful that I did not miscarry again. We are looking forward to meeting our miracle baby in August…

If the Lord wills. This I have learned to say: If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that. Praise the Lord with me for the miracles He has given us!

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