Joy for the Desert by Susanna
The need is great and the worth of Jesus is greater.
It’s funny how long it’s taken for that sentence to actually bear enough depth in my being to cause me to act. God has been so gracious to me. My gentle, precious, zealous husband Mike first started talking about church planting in the Middle East four years ago. In that time, I have gone from resistent to hesitant to open to begrudging to filled with excitement. That is nothing short of supernatural. I have become convinced that there is no better way for me to spend my life than to be a drop in the bucket of glory filling up every tribe and tongue.
We were in a church service where an E3 missionary and author, Tom Doyle, shared some devastating statistics of unreached people groups across the Muslim world, and Mike was stricken--he was all in to pick up and move. If he were single, he probably would have left the next day. I am pretty sure he told me that day that he felt the heavy weight of conviction in his bones about moving there, to which I am pretty sure I said something like “Oh, yeah, awesome, I am in!” (the ol’ 19-year-old-new-wife-wanting-to-be-the-cool-wife thing). Inside I was so terrified that the conviction was real and I think I knew even then that our family was called to this.
But we weren’t ready yet. Being insanely young and untested, God still needed to salt us a little bit. He rattled us out of our ideas and false teachings. He gave us zeal that was immature, beautiful, sober, and often too harsh. Our relationships changed, our theology drastically changed, our way of looking at the world changed, and every conversation seemed to become awkward. It felt really dark, yet I felt very alive. God spent a year combing through us in that way.
Then, I really lost footing when I was tested with losing the thing that I idolized most: relationships. It felt like we lost them all. This season was filled with bitterness, anger, depression, sorrow, failed expectations, pessimism, and misunderstanding. I got pregnant with Verity a few months into that season and I felt like God used her little life growing in me to save me. The darkness of that time made me laugh at the thought of church planting in the Muslim world. Even talking about it got put on the back burner because I was in such a mixed up mental and emotional state that I got overwhelmed at the thought. I was convinced that we were called to it, but it seemed like a distant, unattainable call from a distant, unattainable God. Mike prayed for me so much during that year and a half, and he was persistent in asking God to make Verity a beam of light and refreshing joy to us. That is exactly what He did. We had been living in North Carolina and were planning our move back to Georgia when Verity was born, and I felt the lyrics “you have redeemed my soul from the pit of emptiness, you have redeemed my soul from death! I was a hungry child, a dried up river, I was a burned out forest, no one could do anything for me. But you put food in my body and water in my dry bed, and to my blackened branches you gave the springtime green of a new life!” It felt like this seemingly endless drought was over. It took me a long time to “pass” this test of bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, rejection, and perseverance in misunderstanding. God has softened my heart and taught me about mercy. He has taught me about forgiveness. The parable of the unmerciful servant hugely impacted me as I realized, "that's who I am." The danger of receiving mercy and not extending it is a sure way of tasting death in this life and after. I would have never been equipped for the trials that await had God not tested me in this way.
Right at the very beginning of the end of that season, one of our closest friends with whom we share single vision gave us a call to invite us to join his family and a few others for a season of team building, focus, and vision casting to prepare for a move to the Middle East in 2016. I felt afraid and uncertain and I felt the depth of this calling pressing into me--I knew it was the right thing and the right time, but my flesh was loud with whispers. Mike unswervingly felt like this was the right thing for us, and after prayer and tender consultation with each other, God gave me grace to submit to Him by submission to my husband (which is a brilliant design, might I add). To my joy and to the glory of God, He has met every need I could ever have in this season. Where I had felt him as far away and uncaring before (not true, but what I felt), I've felt the vibrancy of his love in this time--giving me holy anticipation to submit to Him fully. I feel the excitement of a life of full trust in God. While I'd felt like nothing could ever be joyful about a life in Iraq, I now feel like the most blessed person in the whole world to be called to this. I get to care for some of the most rejected people on the face of the planet. My children get to grow up in the middle of a life of faith. They will be friends with refugee kids and speak Kurdish. They will grow up knowing leaders of the underground church in the Middle East and hearing stories from peoples' lips of Jesus visiting them through dreams and visions. I will get to live a life different than I ever pictured, and lord willing, above all, we will see many come to cherish the gospel of Jesus and the hope that comes from knowing that he is coming back for us and we get Him forever. That is the richest thing I could ever imagine.
I think a lot of people who are called may never feel excitement about it. This may be a gift for now to get me there, and I may never feel excitement about it again. I know that culture shock and language frustration and unforeseen hardships await but for now, God is giving me a grace of energy to buy our tickets and plan the move. Always, in the darkness and difficulty, He is preparing us for the next step, if we will take it. The next step might take you into what looks even darker, but if you keep taking steps, He will not let you fall. Trust him in every step, trust Him with your calling, and be like a naïve child about it regardless of people calling you a fool.
With His worth compelling my every step, making me remember that the pain that will be inevitable along the process will one day turn into treasures to lay at His feet, I feel the strength to keep running with this. The need in the Middle East for laborers is astronomical, and His deserving of our all outdoes that still.