In affliction, then, we do not know what it is right to pray for. Because affliction is difficult, troublesome, and against the grain for us, weak as we are, we do what every human would do. We pray that it may be taken away from us. However, if he does not take it away, we must not imagine that he has forgotten us. In this way, power shines forth more perfectly in weakness.
In Luke 24:29 Jesus looks over his disciples before going up into heaven and tells them to "stay in the city until (they) have been clothed with power from on high." This command to "stay" or to "wait" however comes only a few verses after Luke tells us that Jesus "opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (v. 45). After seeing, hearing and understanding the most amazing news that they, and the rest of humanity, had ever heard, they were told to wait. To stay together in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit.
I almost titled this post "Why we wait" or even "The struggle of waiting," since in many ways this passage, and my own story lately, has been one of waiting. But, as you will see a bit later, there is a greater message here that I want to get across; one of not being forgotten.
Just two weeks ago my ministry team in MMP (Mission Ministries Philippines) finished up a two month season of waiting on God for our next ministry area to start. We finished our last two year church planting ministry this past June, officially transitioning the 70 member church and 30 student preschool to our partner pastor, Pastora Lety, and partner teacher, Sister Perla. It was a joy for me to complete my first cycle of planting a holistic church in a slum community here in Manila, and to watch as others from the community began handling the responsibilities that I and other missionaries had had during our time in the community.
After the official transition in June, I and our team of five missionaries were given a two month sabbath in order to rest, pray, spend time with our families, study, and discern where the Lord was calling us next as a team. While we still participated in our mission organization's (MMP) regular rhythms of prayer, worship, and fellowship 1-2 days a week (and I teaching at a local Bible college in Montalban 2 days a week), the 3-4 days of the week that we usually devote to working in our ministry areas were freed up and given to us to use as we needed. During this time, I personally was able to do some running, finish two doctorate classes and write my dissertation proposal, take a week long prayer and study retreat, and spend time catching up with many here in Manila who have become my good friends and even family. I even had the chance to spend a week at the beginning of September with some of my family who came to visit from the States including my brother, his wife, my dad, and one of my best friends from back home. In the end these last two months proved to be a restful and restorative time!
But on the other side of the 'coin', these last two months were challenging, wearisome, and even at times painful.
The first reason for this is that while I officially stopped doing ministry in my former area, a relocation community on the outskirts of Metro-Manila, I continued to live in that community with my host family who has become one of my many adopted families here in the Philippines. I also continued worshiping at the church that we had started every Sunday, and participating in occasional times of fellowship with our youth. It was during these continued interactions in my community that I experienced the first struggle. I had to endure witnessing first hand the challenges and trials of this young church, and the emerging leaders, as they began to wrestle through community and church issues on their own, without the support and encouragement of our five missionaries who had been helping them four days a week in the prior two years. The most challenge I feel fell (and in some ways continues to fall) on both our partner pastor and partner teacher who have now had to learn to train up new leaders and delegate responsibility to those moving into leadership positions. For sure, I'd ask those of you reading this for your continued prayers for those two workers, Pastora Lety and Sister Perla. As well as our other emerging leaders in this church and community.
The second challenge for me over the last two months was learning to wait, be silent, and be still, while the problems around me continue, including the daily struggles of hunger, poor education, lack of electricity, addictions, untreated sickness, and unreconciled relationships with God. For those of you like me, who like to always be using our time and energy to help restore people to themselves, their families, their communities, their environment, and most importantly God, this was a very difficult 'task' just to wait and to seemingly remain idle.
However, I learned that there is a big difference between 'Resting' in the Lord and wasting time through idleness. In fact, as I reflect over my previous seasons of waiting on the Lord in the past, I realize that I have often let down my guard during these times, and given the enemy a foothold through idleness, wastefulness, and other types of sin. This time around, though these enemies again reared their ugly faces, God was teaching me about the real kind of Rest that He desires for us. This is a type of resting in Him which leads to more strength and energy, a waiting that directs our attention to the Holy Spirit, and a recognition that despite our minds and eyes being opened to the truths in the Scriptures, our ministry will not be complete or as beneficial if the power of the Holy Spirit is not the driving force behind our work.
So we waited. That is, until two weeks ago, when we felt the Lord say to carry on, this time in a community only a ten minute walk down the road from our last community.
I titled this post "He has not forgotten us" because during these two months of waiting and resting in the Lord, I realized that indeed, God has not forgotten those of us (myself included) living in Montalban, nor had He forgotten those of us in MMP while we were waiting on Him for our next ministry.
Today, after two months of silence and waiting, I can say with confidence that "God has not forgotten us!"