We recently returned from 11 days in Colorado. We spent the first week preparing for departure at the WorldVenture headquarters (see our previous post); we spent week two at WorldVenture’s annual Renewal Conference, where we joined others from around the world who are at various points in their missionary careers–preparing to go, on home assignment, retiring, serving in the home office. It was a sweet time of focused fellowship, prayer, worship and learning. We feel both exhausted and refreshed. After all, spending five nights in a hotel room with sick children is tiring. But, there is much grace to be had when your hotel is filled with loving people who are eager to serve and encourage you in the Lord.
I (Jamison) remember a time when a friend was grilling in the rain. Somehow, the hotdogs ended up both charred and wet–quite possibly the only way you can entirely ruin a good hotdog. And, that’s exactly how I felt going into our trip. Burned out and soggy. Tired and a bit apathetic. Yuck. Yet, somehow the exhaustion and encouragement of the past two weeks wove themselves together to create a new sense of excitement and freshness around going to Japan. I’ve been reminded that the Lord is at work, gathering people from all nations to himself.
The Summer before I started first grade, my family moved into the home where I spent the remainder of my childhood. Though the house is now on the market, my parents still live there today. They’ve made a lot of updates over the years, including new landscaping outside of the front door. There used to be a concrete slab just below the front step that angled rain water away from the house and its foundation. It’s been replaced by outdoor tile.
I can still picture the concrete slab clearly, because I studied it as a young boy, though never for more than a minute at a time. While my parents worked their keys into front door, my eyes would wander and observe the details of our home. Early on, I noticed a small brown spot beneath the spigot, where our iron-rich water would drip. I looked at that brown spot thousands of times as a child.
Over the course of what must have been a decade, the brown spot on our slanted concrete slab grew. Not only that, but the occasional dripping of water over many years was sufficient to wear away at the concrete. A small crack grew and began forming into a mini pot-hole. As a teenager, I came home from school on a memorable day and saw the concrete had cracked through. The brown spot was divided in two. Through the crack, I could see dirt. Surprisingly, something green was already sprouting up.
At some point, the final drop fell and split the concrete. More than a decade of dripping–perhaps millions of droplets–prepared the way. As soon as the concrete was thrust aside, life began growing.
We’ve been told numerous times that Japan is a very difficult place for missionaries, not materially, but spiritually. It’s an “open” country in the sense that we can go there as Christians on religious worker visas; it is a “closed” country in the sense that people do not respond to the message of the gospel. It is highly unlikely that we will face open persecution or overt rejection; it is, however, very likely that our message will be received with unbelief or apathy. Hardness of heart toward God, like concrete, shows itself in many forms.
Yet, last week’s conference left a growing sense that there would be a day when God, by the power of his Spirit, breaks through the hardness in Japan. In some places of the world, God comes like a jack-hammer through the preaching of the gospel. Concrete hearts are shattered quickly, revealing a fruitful field. In places like Japan, it seems that God works like a slow, persistent drip. I believe there will be a day when the final drop lands. Concrete will crack open. Laborers will be surprised to find a soil that yields growth, instead of the persistent hardness that has characterized Japan for decades. God may do a new thing among the Japanese people.
That is my prayer for Japan. Perhaps it’s already begun, and the early signs of life are already sprouting up. Or, maybe we’ll be one of a million drops that must fall, leaving an imperceptible mark while preparing the way for others. Would that be a waste? Would we be better used somewhere else? I don’t think so. And, that’s why I left the conference encouraged.
During the past two weeks, we heard stories of men and women who faithfully poured themselves out, so that the gospel would go forward into difficult places around the world. While some have seen more fruit than others, it is clear that none of their lives have been wasted. They have been–and continue to be–well spent. That is my prayer for my family, that we would be faithful to plough and plant, even if the yield appears small. Yet, who knows, perhaps the Lord will do a surprising thing in our lifetime? It will be worth the effort to find out.