Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Spirit of Christmas

Almost Christmas. I've just spent two weeks in classes. So much seen, so much heard, and now it's time to assimilate the data. I had a chance to visit the missions archives in Missouri twice. The second time, the missions files have been pulled so I can get right to work.

I look for three case studies of Pentecostal missionary women: how did their experience inform their life and ministry? Reading reports and letters from Upper Volta (West Africa) and North India, China, and Japan, I'm stunned by the hardships the women took for granted. They expected to suffer, and suffer they did.

They tramped miles of jungle and mountain paths to remote areas. They learned new languages and developed writing systems so they could teach locals to read scripture. They expected God to transform societies, and watched villages change from war zones to peaceful communities. Miraculous healings (from TB, leprosy, and deformities) and desperate illness and death coexisted side by side. "Please pray for us. We lose at least one missionary a year to malaria," someone wrote from Liberia.

I read lists of missionary appointments: "Arrived on the field 1915. Died 1918." "Arrived on the field 1919. Died 1920." "Arrived on the field 1920. Retired 1957." Long columns list names and dates of retirement or death.
Old people, finishing a lifetime of telling the Story. And young people in their prime or entire families... wiped out.

From India comes one glowing report from Dr. and Mrs. T. They are planting churches, love the people and work, and sense God's blessings through the hardships of acclimating to the culture. The next letter from Sister T says her husband Dr. T has died of influenza. "Pray that I can provide for our four young children. I am staying in place until the Lord speaks to me about my future. I love these people and hope I can stay to serve them." Her children are aged 18 months to 8 years.

A follow-up a few months later from a single, female coworker, says, "Mrs. T passed away of influenza. I arrived to help with the children when I heard she was ill. Pray for me. What will we do with the children?"

And finally, "Their grandmother has come from Australia and taken the children home with her. Thank you for your prayers over the past few months for this family. I am going back to work in my area." Of course, the time lag for a letter to home can be months. I wonder how people reacted to the sad news. My heart fills with sorrow and awe at their stamina, even ninety years later.

I'm asking this week, how does Christ make a difference? Am I willing to be mocked as a narrow-minded plebian by pluralists in Seattle? The man who sits beside me on flight home
is stuck on the Catholic Church as colonial empire and his father's resentment at the forced conversion of his family, from the Brahmin caste from India. He tells me of multiple relationships around the world. Pleasures that never satisfy. A life of ease and emptiness.

cuts our conversation short when we begin to talk about Christ. He He turns away, shuts me out, and I think, May God find you and give you the love, joy and peace you seek, transforming your world from darkness to light. Like many others whom I've met and chatted with this month, Glen will be in ongoing prayers over the Christmas season. Who are you praying for?

Read more:
*Look straight ahead and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don't get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. Proverbs 4:25–27 NLT

*He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. Romans 2:7 NLT

*So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 NLT

*So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV

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