Often times we don’t get to see the fruit of our labors, especially if you work in ministry.
I can’t count the number of times I was reminded that most of the time I would never see the results of my work in ministry. I would never get to see the lives of the people I helped turn out ok, or know what they were up to in a year. I would never know how many times I happened to talk about God with guests in the hostel, it actually stuck and changed something in their lives. That’s discouraging, but it’s also true.
Taped to the mirror in my room was a small piece of paper with this quote on it:
“No act of kindness was ever wasted.” -Aesop
At first I smirked at this note every time I saw it. I thought it was some cute platitude, and I would even roll my eyes at it. Well obviously, I would think as I would look at the mirror to do my makeup or hair.
But after awhile, this thought wormed its way into my mind until all I could see in the mirror was this little note.
And on my last night in Amsterdam, I got to see the truth that this note was speaking.
I was sitting in a cafe overlooking the canal I would follow to work every day when I saw a man who had worked with us for a long time as a cleaner in our hostel. This man is incredibly intelligent when it comes to technology and is fluent in power languages like German, English, and Dutch. But years ago he lost his job and struggled to find one again. Normal life became overwhelming for him and he found it easier to be on the streets. He would live in squats and wander aimlessly around Amsterdam, trying to find some sense of normal again.
When he came to work in our hostel, I wanted so badly to see his life get back together. I worked with him for half a year. Along with other staff members, I prayed for him, I encouraged him to come to church, and I tried to make him see how much God love him.
When I saw him, I ran outside the cafe to give him a last hug. He was smiling like I had never seen him smile before and told me that he found a job. He looked proud, hopeful, and joyous-emotions I never saw on his face.
It’s not by my will, or work that his life turned around, but God’s persistent love for him. And out of His goodness, God allowed me to see a little bit more into His heart, a little bit more into His kingdom, and a little bit more into eternity, where all things are made right and perfect and beautiful again.
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14
I’ve been living as a missionary in Amsterdam for a year now. I hesitate labeling myself as a missionary, the same way I hesitate calling myself a writer, the same reason I don’t wear a cross. I don’t want anyone to define me because more often than not, I don’t measure up to the standard or expectations of any of those labels.
But I can’t say I’m not any of those things. I am a missionary, I am a writer, and I am a Christian.
And that’s probably the most important thing I’ve learned here-to embrace yourself just the way you are.
I know that’s how most of the stories go. The hero sets out on a journey just to find that they have changed along the way, but somehow they’ve arrived at the same place where they started-needing to embrace who they are, or maybe who they’ve become.
Not that I’m a hero, not at all.
But I am returning from an adventure and its scary.
I’ve embraced more of who I am now, but what about when I get home? Home is where things are comfortable and sometimes comfort leads to complacency. I’ve learned things here I don’t want to forget. I’ve experienced more of who I am and I don’t want that to change.
But sometimes returning is just as big of an adventure as leaving-and when you look at life as an adventure instead of a chore, it becomes exciting instead of overwhelming.
Winter is coming to a close. The air is still cold, but the sky is a weak blue instead of an impenetrable gray. Snow falls, but it melts into rain and clings desperately to the ground before turning into slush.
The shifting of seasons feels so much more noticeable here. Each season is marked by a change of the air, a change of the trees, and a change of the sun.
The seasons of the soul may be less apparent, but they are still occurring. As winter moves towards spring, I feel my joy growing.
This time, I am ready for a new season. Winter was full of trials and tears, but I am ready for rest and recovery. I am ready to be honest, and point that honesty towards myself. I want to process what a year has done to me. I want to breathe. I want to close my eyes at night and feel complete peace.
Even in seasons of rest, God is still at work. Rest doesn’t mean nothing grows or changes, but it allows for reflection. Like watching a movie or reading a book for a second time, if we take a second look at ourselves we see changes that are bigger in retrospect than they were in the moment that change was happening.
God makes the most of every season that he gives us, even if we feel like nothing is shifting, or growing-even if we feel like the lessons we’ve learned, or the trials we’ve faced from winter are not over. And sometimes lessons carry over from one season to another, sometimes they last a whole year, but there is grace enough to persevere in learning.
Springtime may mean that things don’t change, but it also may mean that they won’t stay the same.
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
In light of all my thoughts about my future, this was convicting.
Recently it came to my mind to make a list of the ways my work is a blessing to others. This isn’t to boast about what I do, but what God does through the organization I work for.
helps a Iraqi refugee feel loved and like he has a family because his family at home has disowned him for becoming a Christian
guides a doubting man back to his faith
gives a recovering alcoholic a vision and a hope for his life
opens up people to seeing themselves as loved, valued, and worthy
creates a chaotic family made up of people from all over the world, of all colors, languages, nationalities and histories
shares stories of life, love, and faith
proclaims goodness in a dark world
provides shelter for the restless wanderers, travelers, misfits, failures and broken
How can I have a normal job after working here?