In 2009, a Fusion Team serving in a large city in North Africa had to leave unexpectedly due to visa issues. They had planned to stay four months, but less than a month into their project they had to leave.
We quickly came up with a new project that would send them to South Sudan from North Africa. Given the short time we had to shift gears, the project was not well defined. Also, the location we were sending them to was much less secure than where they had been in North Africa.
I happened to be in the region with meetings and met the team in Entebbe, Uganda. We then drove two days to Yei, South Sudan (an adventure in itself…). Once in Yei, the team was to base out of a compound that was austere to say the least—especially after living so well in a large metropolitan city. I was proud of this team of young people because, although the living conditions became much harder (not to mention they were now living in an active conflict zone), the team figured out ways to thrive in that environment and to make disciples despite the challenges and hardships. It’s important to note that for four months prior to their deployment to North Africa, they had prepared to live in an urban environment. However, within a month of being on the ground, they found themselves being moved to a rural location with ongoing tribal conflict as well as an active and persistent threat from Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Make no mistake about it, this was a HARD MOVE. The team DID struggle. But they made the most of their situation and finished well. In these situations where we have prepared ourselves for one thing and then God gives us something else, we have to be careful not to become disillusioned. It is in times like these we must shift our perspective of what we might desire (or what we think we deserve) toward Jesus’ perspective in John 10:10. In that verse Jesus reminds us:
“The thief comes only to steal kill and destroy. I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
So what does this verse teach us about ourselves and our calling when dealing with hardship and struggle?
First, we must understand that God’s calling is not primarily to a geographical location or even to a people. God is first and foremost calling us to Himself through personal salvation in Christ alone (“I have come that they may have life”). Secondly, based on our eternal life in Christ Jesus, God is calling each of us to thrive where we are planted (“and have life abundantly”). We do this by following His ways and practicing His commands. The term “abundant life” Jesus speaks of is the ability to thrive in the environment in which God has placed us. God, in His sovereignty and lovingkindness, has both saved us and is continually equipping us to thrive for His glory and our good. The ability to thrive is not defined by location or situation alone. The ability to thrive is certainly not defined by our possessions. Thriving is not about happiness; it’s about finding joy and fulfillment in Christ in the midst of our circumstances.
Over the years, my experiences in the military and in ministry have taught me that almost anybody can merely survive. But GREATLY BLESSED is a Christian who learns to thrive (to find joy and fulfillment) in the many challenging and austere environments that life throws at them. In this case, back in 2009, I watched a group of young people quickly shift and pivot their ministry. It was hard, stressful and even overwhelming. They had to struggle not only with the security threats but also health concerns including Malaria, Typhoid, and Dengue Fever. They had to learn to love each other in this environment as they demonstrated to others the love of Christ. It required a lot of grace on everyone’s part. In doing, they were able to find joy and fulfillment in the work of ministry and walking with Christ through hardship. I think God wants us to understand and practice today the same principles that these young people had to learn over a decade ago.
That is to say, if we are to thrive (have life more abundantly) as Jesus desires for us, we must follow His ways as we find joy in fulfillment through our relationship with Jesus. Success in this endeavor requires us to be proactive in our love and disciplined in crucifying our flesh and desire for self. We must willingly place on the alter our fleshly desires for fulfillment and seek to be fulfilled In the things of God instead of the world.
I always hope that we (I…) can learn these principles without facing hardship. But the reality is, hardship is usually the best teacher. So, wherever you find yourself today, reflect on the truth of John 10:10 and the fact that Jesus came to give you eternal life through salvation in Him, and desires for you to thrive as you are committed to His ways. That way, wherever you are, you might find joy and fulfillment through right relationship with Christ—for God’s glory and your good!