24 Aug REFLECTIONS: TWO YEARS IN THE FIELD
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you might rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” – The Apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:12-13)
2 years, 2 months, and 6 days. Or 797 days. Or 1,147,680 minutes. These all reflect the amount of time Ashley and I have lived in Africa at this moment. In that time period the country where we live has had it’s name changed from Swaziland to eSwatini (which means “land of the Swazis”), I’ve helped capture a six (and a half) foot long Black Mamba snake from our yard, we’ve had food borne illness more times than I can count, I’ve chased aggressive monkeys away from our home, we’ve fought a fire the fire department wanted nothing to do with, and we’ve killed the largest spiders we’ve ever seen. We’ve also shared the gospel with hundreds of Swazi children, youth, and adults. More events could be shared, but these are what currently come to mind.
Of all the things encountered and experienced during our 797 days here, the most profound and important by far has been the sharing of the gospel. Maybe that sounds boring. It might not sound like the most exciting item on the list, or fit the bill of what might come to mind when you think of missionary “adventures,” but it is the driving force of why we are here and it’s the reason we push forward even when we wake up and don’t want to continue the mission God has called us to. But after all, the primary goal of a missionary is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. If that goal isn’t the focus, the missionary becomes a secular relief worker. I’m not dismissing the benefit of secular relief work, just stating the difference. Lately their has been some personal struggles. I’ve missed friends and family in the states a lot, and I know Ashley has too. I’m currently in a season where frustrations with the culture are elevated. Because of a recent betrayal, I’m finding it harder to trust the people within our host people group. I recently sat and counted up the number of missionary friends who have left eSwatini the last two years. 9 couples equal 18 people we know and have said goodbye to in that time. Some of them we were very close with, and others were a little more than acquaintances, and others somewhere in between, but either way it makes you question if it’s worth building close relationships with other missionaries when there’s a high probability of a goodbye on the horizon. Of course it is worth it, after all, we’ve all helped each other get through some pretty rough days. Honestly, we are more than thankful for the friendships we’ve made in eSwatini, but still have moments where we question if getting close to others is worth it.
But despite the personal struggles and emotional stress, God is proving to be as faithful as ever, and He is daily reminding us of the reason He has us here. Despite any momentary affliction, we rejoice because of His goodness. He continuously reveals His love for us and gives so much grace when we make a mess of things. Hearts on Mission’s goal is the same as it has been since we came to eSwatini; to feed the children and young people emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But the spiritual feeding is what God has been especially pounding into my heart, mind, and soul lately. What good is it to feed someone physically, but to ignore their spiritual need for a Savior? Is it truly helpful to encourage a struggling young person emotionally without addressing their spiritual state when they show no interest in the things of God? Providing food for a hungry person is great, and letting an upset teenager cry on your shoulder is certainly helpful. But in and of themselves, those things don’t have eternal ramifications. What God has revealed to us the past two years is that there is nothing wrong with those things, and in fact they’re even biblical and necessary. But they could also be useless if the sharing of the gospel is neglected. Personally, I would rather die hungry and in despair with Jesus, than die encouraged with a full stomach without Him. That may sound a bit overdramatic, but we have to remember what we have been called to do as Christians and what the mission is. Remember, missionaries aren’t secular relief workers.
It’s especially important to remember the mission when you consider the spiritual battle which is raging in eSwatini and much of Africa these days. The number of false teachers and spiritual cults is higher than ever, and growing. It’s difficult to assess the actual number of evangelical Christians in eSwatini; whatever the number, it’s not encouraging. According to the U.S. Department of State, the population (1.2 million) is approximately 35 percent Protestant, 30 percent Zionist, 25 percent Roman Catholic, and 1 percent Muslim. The remaining 9 percent of the population is divided among the Baha’i Faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and other religious groups. You might see these statistics and think that 35% Protestant number is encouraging, but there’s a big problem. Of that 35%, a majority of what is taught and believed within those churches is the so called “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel,” or “word faith teaching.” If you’re not familiar with what the prosperity gospel is, it’s the false teaching that God’s main purpose and desire is for his followers to have everything they want in life, and that they will no longer get sick or have troubles, reducing God to a magic genie or an ATM machine. People who fall victim to this teaching believe that faith is a “force” or power rather than a trusting relationship with Christ and the belief in His finished work on the cross. When hardship comes, the belief within this group is that the hardship is a result of lacking “faith,” thus blaming the person who’s struggling for their cancer, broken marriage, unemployment, etc. The false teachers which promote this teaching take verses from the Bible out of their correct context to fit with their self-centered, man-focused agenda. Sadly, what they teach is certainly not Christian. For more information on this, please read my blog called “The Plague of the Prosperity Gospel.
2 Peter 2:1-3″But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
There are a plethora of cults as well. Most Zionists attempt to incorporate ancestor worship and black magic (muti) with Christian beliefs, which we know is counter to what the word of God says. They, along with the “jericho church” walk around eSwatini in their brightly colored uniforms and staffs. Members of the jericho church will walk around screaming at the tops of their lungs, claiming to be communicating with God, all while convulsing and looking through you with empty eyes. Many people in eSwatini who say they are Christian will attend church on Sunday and visit a witch doctor on Monday. They will put on their Sunday best and slap on a church face for Sunday morning service all while having multiple extra marital affairs throughout the week. Hexes, spells, and the summoning of demons are all too familiar here, even amongst people who claim allegiance to Christ.
So you can see the need for strong Bible-centered teaching in eSwatini. We are in a spiritual war here and are praying for the next generation in eSwatini. Hearts on Misson wants to play a part in raising up a new generation of strong disciples. A new generation of people who are on fire and living “on mission” for Christ and His glory alone. Pray with us as we push onward in this battle, and that the younger generation will begin to renounce the evil practices which are accepted and commonplace. Pray that we will not forget what is at stake and why God has us here in this season of our lives. Pray that no matter what struggles we have, that God will give us endurance to continue to fight the good fight no matter what He calls us to do.