Earlier this month, my wife, daughter, and I traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico to visit our oldest son, his wife, and their three children. It was our first ever visit to that country. Even though we only spent a week in this large city in the north central part of the nation, I learned a few things there, mostly things that contrast with life back in my home country of Canada.
Let me begin with some observations of physical and cultural things:
9. This particular mission has been around for more than eighty years. It is well-versed in what it does, namely, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to remote indigenous people groups around the world, groups that do not have the Bible in their own language. They send missionaries, singles or families, to live in remote regions, usually lacking some of the modern conveniences of life, in order to work among these people groups. They have to learn the tribal language and culture. Then they create a written language for the people, teach them literacy skills, and translate the Bible into the peoples’ heart language. Finally, they labor to evangelize the community and establish a viable local church there, one that eventually will not be dependent on the missionaries any longer. What a fantastic, God-honoring goal (see Matt. 28:18-20). And our son and his wife and family are pursuing this. But it takes a tremendous amount of patience, hard work, persistence, and team-work to make it happen. I spoke with one missionary couple who appeared to be well into their sixties, and they were about to fly into a remote village yet again, a place they’d been working for thirty-five years. Wow! This is so counter-cultural from a Canadian or American twenty-first-century perspective. Here we want everything fast: fast food, fast internet service, fast results. We hop from job to job, from one amusement to the next, and even from church to church. We have little stick-to-it-iveness. But the ways of God are not our ways. God sees the big picture stretching out over centuries and millennia. And He would have a people given to His Son that is representative of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). To make this happen, God uses godly, dedicated servants, laboring in the quiet, unseen places of the planet among people He cares about. They labor without fanfare or applause. I find this inspiring. One day, such laborers will be brought before their Lord and hear Him say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). Everyone has to serve someone. Most people serve themselves with as much comfort and personal self-esteem as they can muster. But God is still calling people to serve Him for a greater and higher purpose. As Jesus shockingly said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). And it will be worth it to serve Him. Those who faithfully do will not be disappointed with their lives, even if others have declared they’ve wasted them. Instead, they will be rewarded, both in this life, and in the world to come (Mark 10:30).
Last, I have a personal incident to share from which I draw a simple conclusion:
10. I enjoy hiking new trails and areas. I spent a lot of time inside the city of Chihuahua on this one-week trip. On Tuesday morning, however, most of us got out and climbed a hill called, “Fish Mountain,” that overlooks the city. It was not too strenuous. We were at the top in about a half an hour. Then a friend of my son’s offered to take me on a longer, somewhat more strenuous excursion up a higher mountain in the early morning hours on Thursday. We agreed to meet at 6:00 in the morning at the base of the stairway outside my accommodation. This man, an avid hiker, would meet me there, presumably with his vehicle. I even pointed at the spot we would meet, so I presumed we had a mutually-well-understood arrangement. I was up at 4:50 AM. I freshened up, did my Bible reading and prayer, and ate breakfast. I was eagerly anticipating this hike, partly to see new territory and get exercise, and partly to spend time with another man who I’d met earlier, a man who led a Tuesday morning missionary prayer meeting. I was sure we’d have lots in common to talk about. I love to talk. And I perceived he loved to do the same. At about 5:54 AM, I heard the sound of a vehicle pull up outside my living space. I thought that that must be him. I’ll just brush my teeth and go down to meet him at the bottom of the stairs at 6:00. But when I opened the door to go outside, no one was there. I walked to the bottom of the stairs and look around. No one. I checked my watch. It read 6:01. Did I miss him? Did he leave without me? The man, I found out later, when he did not see me outside at 5:55, assumed I might not have been staying at this residence but that maybe my son would be driving me over here from his house. So, the man drove outside the compound where I really was staying, parked in the street, and waited for my son’s vehicle. When it did not show up by 6:05, he concluded that maybe I changed my mind. He then proceeded to leave without me. He went and climbed the mountain on a beautiful, cool Mexican morning, with the sun showing glimpses of its presence over the horizon. I texted the man. No reply. I emailed him. No answer. We did really miss our connection. I was very disappointed. When the man did show up at my dorm at 8:30, after climbing to the top of the mountain, we discovered what happened. He was very diligent about being on time, but made the bad assumption about where I was residing. I was likewise very diligent about being on time, which for all intents and purposes I was. But somehow, we were like two ships that passed in the night. We never saw each other. What conclusion do I draw from this? It is this. We humans often do not know why things work out the way they do; even with things that grieve us, disappoint us. But if we are Christians, we have the comfort of knowing that God knows exactly what He is doing and He always has good reasons for directing and allowing things to unfold the way they do. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). I can only chalk up this experience to this reality: God knows what I do not know, and I need to put this little disappointment, like so many other disappointments, behind me, rejoicing in His love and goodness. Maybe you’ve had some similar disappointment in your own life recently. Maybe it’s one that you cannot explain any other way than: God must have had another plan for me in all this.
So, there are my ten things I learned in Mexico. Most of them are just little observations that underscore the variety that exists in different cultures on planet Earth. But a couple of them are lessons that I needed to be reminded of. God has a big purpose on this earth to save a people for Himself, using human laborers to help accomplish it. And unexplained disappointments are a real part of life. Most of us are used to them by now. But God is good and wiser than we are. We have to let some things go and continue to trust Him.