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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

Where is the Fruit?

That is a question I get asked a lot. In today's world of stats, metrics, and instant data, people want to quantify progress and break it down into neat, clean, identifiable charts. They want to see constant sustainable growth and determine if your work is "worth" supporting. That is a question I get asked a lot. In today's world of stats, metrics, and instant data, people want to quantify progress and break it down into neat, clean, identifiable charts. They want to see constant sustainable growth and determine if your work is "worth" supporting. In Galatians 5:22-23 the Bible says that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such, there is no law."

So, as missionaries, we should expect to see fruit in the lives of those we minister to. I think our downfall is when we expect to see it for our own sake and in our own time instead of on God's timetable.

People want Twitter updates, happy, smiling faces on Facebook and instant responses. They want to know that you have a good formula, perfect programs, and high success rates for those you work with. They want to see the numbers and statistics that will give them the "proof" they need that you are doing a good job.

I think all of these things are great, but the truth of the matter is that dealing with people is messy, and dealing with children, especially hurt, broken, abused, and fragile ones, takes it up to a whole new level.

Yes, there are basic formulas that produce results. We work with psychologists, social workers, and counselors. Our children attend a church where people care about them. We research and implement best practices so the children we work with can receive the best possible care.

But, like I said, people are messy. You can control the environment and tweak the parameters of your actions, but you can't control how people respond.

People are messy, but people are the mission. It is easy to manage programs; it is hard to manage people's lives and hearts. I have seen lives changed and hearts restored in short amounts of time. Still, more often than not, I have seen years of effort, teaching, training, ministering, and praying for people before lasting fruit was evident in their lives.

If we look at the Bible, we can see examples of God patiently working in people's lives. Take Moses, for example. He spent 40 years working as a shepherd for Jethro in Midian and 40 years caring for sheep, and through this, he became the meekest man on earth. After that, he went on to free the children of Israel and lead them to the land God had promised them.

Through this and other examples in the Bible, we see the need to trust God's slow work.

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit theologian, used that phrase in one of his poems, and I would like to share it with you here.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

And yet, it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability—

and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don't try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new Spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

I am not, by nature, a patient person. When I came to Guatemala 12 years ago, I was ready to change the world in 3 months. I didn't even know how much I didn't know.

But with each passing year, as I watch the people I have poured my heart and soul into, I see that the greatest fruit is often evident in the lives of those I have been ministering to for the longest time. In I Corinthians 3:6, Paul writes, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building."

I am reminded of a story written in the mid-1950s about a man hiking through Provence, France, and into the Alps, enjoying the relatively unspoiled wilderness.

The man runs out of water in a treeless, desolate valley where only wild lavender grows. There is no trace of civilization except old, empty, crumbling buildings. He finds only a dried-up well but is saved by a middle-aged shepherd who takes him to a spring he knows of.

Curious about this man and why he has chosen such a lonely life, he stays with him for a time. After being widowed, the shepherd has decided to restore the ruined landscape of the isolated and largely abandoned valley by single-handedly cultivating a forest, tree by tree. The shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, makes holes in the ground with his curling pole and drops into the holes acorns that he has collected from many miles away.

The man leaves the shepherd, returns home, and fights in the First World War. In 1920, shell-shocked and depressed after the war, he returned. He is surprised to see young saplings of all forms taking root in the valley and new streams running through it where the shepherd has made dams higher up in the mountain. He fully recovers in the reborn valley's peace and beauty. Over four decades, Bouffier has continued to plant trees, and the valley has been turned into a kind of Garden of Eden. By the end of the story, the valley is vibrant with life and is peacefully settled. The valley receives official protection after the First World War. (the authorities mistakenly believe that the rapid growth of this forest is a bizarre natural phenomenon, as they are unaware of Bouffier's selfless deeds), and more than 10,000 people move there, all unknowingly owing their happiness to Bouffier.

The beauty of the story is that the shepherd seems unconcerned with numbers, data, success, and glory. He continues on day after day, year after year, doing what he knows is right, regardless of whether or not he will see the fruit of his labors.

The story is fiction, but the lesson is priceless. Like the healing of the land, healing people is a slow process and takes time. It takes time to heal the brokenness of the Spirit. And, while you can see the growth of plants, sometimes the evidence of growth in people's lives is harder to gauge.

But you know what? That doesn't worry me. I have slowly and surely learned to patiently do my job and trust that God will bring the fruit in His time.

Yes, people are messy, but that makes it all the more glorious when God slowly takes those messy people, changes their hearts, and uses them to accomplish His purpose.

So if you don't see lots of numbers and exciting things happening in our reports, try to have a little patience with God and trust that He knows what He's doing.

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