Suppose I say to the wicked: ‘Wicked people, you will surely die,’
but you don’t speak to warn the wicked to stop doing evil.
Then they will die because they were sinners, but I will punish you for their deaths.
This summer marks the end of our time as church planters in South America among the Deaf. Between us, the wife and I have labored in one form or another in 7 different beautiful countries on the continent. Languages learned and forgotten. Beaches and mountains. Jungles and dust fields.
Not everything worked. We’ve tried probably 573 different strategies and ideas. I can tell you multiple half-cooked ways not to plant a church, with charts and graphs detailing the quickest, surest path to ulcer-perforating failure. We’re no more perfect than average, indwelling of the Spirit notwithstanding.
Even so – what a ride.
When we first began tentatively contemplating the possibility of a move, I compulsively obsessed over the depth and breadth of work that remained. “How can we leave,” I begged, “when there’s so much left undone? How dare we walk away! No, I can’t do it. I won’t. I can run 100 miles in a week and hike alone up mountains at 15,000 feet, but I’m not strong enough to board a plane away from here.”
As my friend PW says, though, that’s not the entire story. PW says three versions exist for every story: the version we tell others, the version we tell ourselves, and the truth. The truth behind my angst consisted of more than the mere realization of the lostness of a continent. Churned into the emotional mix of my doubt were questions as to whether I had done enough.
I decline, as usual, to delineate my failures over the last 10+ years of missionarying in the Americas. As well, roll-calling my successes will remain off-limits. Success rates and failure accounts have their places, but they simply remain inadequate measures of having done all I should have. Instead, I just want to know: did I warn people of His comings, past and future?
Have I shouted the warnings to all those to whom God sent me? I don’t truly know. I’d really love to convince myself that I have.
Am I Ezekiel’s lazy watchman, the one who fails to sound the alarm and blare the horns? Oh, how I hope not. Please, God, let it not be true.
Is the spiritual gap between where local Deaf communities were on our arrival and where they should be someday smaller because of my work? Is it as small as it could have, would have, should have been? Was I really the best man for the job, or were they scraping the bottom of the barrel the day they appointed us? These persisted as my plaguing doubts, even after we determined His plans led us elsewhere.
This evening, as I talked with and taught a local Deaf guy, we discussed Ezekiel’s lesson for us today. Without realizing it, Oswaldo offered words of great comfort.
“Other people know. I’ve seen you teach. You always have a Bible story ready. You always work to ensure comprehension and clarity. The Deaf at the association know where to get a Bible lesson, but they never come. The national federation leaders appreciate your honest contributions, but never really care that Jesus makes those contributions worthwhile. We could even name people who accepted Christ but decline to work for him. You and I – we’ll work together as long as we can, even if no one else comes along.”
Bless you, Oswaldo. May your diabetes get better, your girlfriend get saved, your car get solid gas mileage.
Every day we possess chances and opportunities to engage the call God places on us, to use the gifts He has bestowed for the edification of His bride and the expansion of His glorious kingdom. Convinced and convicted, I rest assured in the knowledge that I failed as often as I succeeded. I grew as much as I helped others mature. I learned as much as I taught.
And I blew the trumpet – off-key, too early or too late, too softly at times – but I hit the notes early and often.
Blow the trumpet, my friends.