As I’ve washed the laundry and put away the luggage, I’ve reflected on our 5 weeks overseas. It was an incredible adventure, not without it’s challenges, but such an opportunity. I’ll never forget the quality time spent as a family learning to do life and ministry in another culture, the amazing team of students and professors who joyfully and faithfully served with us, and the fruitful ministry we had with Italian students.
I’ve shared these three things with friends and family when they’ve asked, “How was your time in Rome?” and shortly following the “fruitful ministry” part, people tend to say, “That’s so great. Did you see any students trust Christ?”
Totally a valid question. Especially for people who financially invested in our work. I’ve always done ministry in places that were ripe for harvest and I’ve typically been able to report a strong number of conversions. This has made me feel like a rock star missionary and in the past I would have been ashamed to report a goose egg conversion rate as a result of our work.
This time, I find myself saying that even though no one “got saved” the trip was incredibly fruitful.
Sure, we longed to see someone’s life changed by the love of Jesus. Sure there were days when we were feeling like, “what on earth are we doing here??” But as we learned, Christian leaders in Italy have found that on average, it takes a European 2 years of hearing the Gospel and seeing it played out before their own eyes to surrender to Jesus.
Much like a chain with many links, each link represents seeds of truth planted and favorable relationships with Christians. These who are generations removed from the church need multiple exposures to the mind-blowing, life-changing concepts of God’s love, man’s sin, the sacrifice of Christ and how to place your faith in something you can’t see or touch.
While in Rome we initiated over 500 spiritual conversations with students and professors, yet did not meet one person who claimed to love and follow Jesus. But, you know what? The trip was fruitful because Christians were faithful to what God had asked them to do and because we serve a God who seeks to save the lost.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.
Our team nervously raised the funds necessary to fly to a foreign country, were taught and trained each morning and then walked on campus 3-4 hours each day to strike up conversations with Italians who THANKED them for talking about matters of the soul. These young missionaries articulately and lovingly presented the Gospel to over 300 students, most of whom had never met a person who actually believed what the Bible taught. Though no one “got saved” It was incredibly fruitful in the seed-planting, link-adding department.
But, here’s the thing. Even if our team had done a crummy job at obeying God’s call for them, God is faithful to Himself and to His redemptive plan from Creation to the fulfillment of times. He will bring His Kingdom and rule to earth because of or in spite of our participation.
Deuteronomy 7:7-9 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Each semester and every summer we are asked to turn in statistics about the steps of faith we take in ministry. We record things like, how many spiritual conversations we initiate, how many times we are able to fully present the Gospel, how many conversions happen, how many laborers are sent into the workplace or mission field, etc.
As an American missionary, one who is often driven by numbers, crowds, changed lives, heart-warming stories, and progress in general, it’s easy to buy into the American Christian Dream and forget that God asks me to be faithfully surrendered, faithfully holy, faithfully joyful and relentlessly loving. I tend to want results because results glorify me. Yet, God wants faithfulness because faithfulness glorifies Him. The hidden, quiet, devoted acts of obedience are the sweetest gifts we can offer to our King. And, man, I am glad that He is in charge of people’s salvation and not me.
Next time we think about our own ministry and legacy, support missionaries, or walk away from a church service ready to evaluate the effectiveness of Christian work. Let’s try to pause and reflect on the things God cares about, and I bet we’ll be hopeful and faith-filled knowing that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
For further encouragement about faithfulness vs. results:
Psalms 36:5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Psalms 89:8 O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?
Psalms 119:90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
Lamentations 3:22-23 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Romans 3:3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?
1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
2 Thessalonians 3:3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.
Psalms 91:4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Psalms 40:10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
Proverbs 28:20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
Matthew 25:21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
Luke 16:10 One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.
1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
2 Timothy 2:13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.