Where is the Fruit in your ministry in Guatemala?
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.
People 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."
As missionaries, we should expect to see fruit in the lives of those we minister to. I think the 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 the 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, 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 what you do, but what you can’t control is 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, but, 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 to 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, 40 years caring for sheep, through this he became the meekest man on earth. After which, 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 the slow work of God.
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,l
et 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 life, 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 1950’s 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 and 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. The shepherd, after being widowed, 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 later fights in the First World War. In 1920, shell-shocked and depressed after the war, he returns and 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 makes a full recovery in the peace and beauty of the reborn valley.Over four decades, Bouffier continues to plant trees, and the valley is 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 of them unknowingly owing their happiness to Bouffier.
The beauty of the story is that the shepherd seemed unconcerned with numbers, data, success, and glory, he just 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, the healing of people is a slow process and takes time. It takes time to heal brokenness of spirit. And, while you can see the growth of plants, sometimes the evidence of growth in the lives of people 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 and have a little patience with God, and trust that He knows what He’s doing.