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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reflections on Moments You Wish You Could Forget...

We had finally arrived in Nicaragua after language study in Costa Rica and I received an invitation to speak to a meeting of the pastors from the northern part of the country who had come for the annual convention. I was to speak on worship, but this was to be my first time in Spanish and I was so new to the country, I really didn’t know anyone who might be able to review what I had written to check the Spanish and was definitely still learning the differences in vocabulary, expressions, etc. I stood up to speak to some very kind and attentive brethren, many whose daily rural ministry meant walking miles just to visit members. When I finished, one dear brother raised his hand and asked my boss, Donatilo, “Hermano [brother], would you translate for this guy, we didn’t understand anything he said.”

Well, I had understood what he said and clearly. Inside I was totally crushed; I had tried and done my best, but it was woefully inadequate. It was a moment I wished that I could forget. What happened in the next two minutes probably did more to change the direction of my missionary journey than any other single moment in the 12 months prior to that point. Inside, I was ready to thank them for the opportunity that they had so graciously given me, go home, and give up on ever being effective as a communicator in the language, or even go back to the states where I at least could speak like an intelligent adult [at least most of the time]. At that moment Donatilo looked at the dear brother who had made the comment and told him, “No, I won’t translate, he can do it.” Then he turned to me and said, “Do it.” I was on the spot. There was no time to hide or give other options, so I started all over again, this time without so many notes and trying to explain in a different way and trying to make clearer what I had said. I thought I would die before I could finish, but I didn’t die and I did finish. I’m really not sure how much more the men there understood, but the greater issue was settled; don’t give up when it gets rough.  Donatilo continued to encourage a very young and green missionary the nearly 2 ½ years we served before leaving for our first furlough. It was a defining moment in my life: God has called us to persevere.

I can’t tell you how many times I have returned to that moment in the years that followed. I doubt if Donatilo realized how great a part he has played in my life, though I had shared my appreciation to him. He had the insight from having worked with new missionaries over the years to know how to correct and how to encourage. From that memory two truths have been burned into my heart: [1] the importance of encouraging in the right direction, even though it may be hard and even embarrassing, and [2] the importance of making right choices.

Young worship leaders get discouraged often. [By the way, they don’t have a corner on the market for discouragement, more experienced ones have their moments as well.] Sometimes through their own inexperience they make mistakes. In one of the first churches I in which I had the privilege to serve as music and youth director, I said something to some of the youth and one got mad and decided to walk home from camp. That would have been a good 5 miles and his parents were active members. He started hitch hiking and was picked up by one of the pastors who was serving as camp security. The pastor took him home and then returned to tell my pastor everything that had happened. I was devastated and asked the pastor is I needed to resign, since I was obviously failing. The pastor was a wise man in the Word with years of experience working with inexperienced young men like myself and said, “No, the world’s not over. Let’s just move on.” Things did get better, and I continued to learn more, probably in part because I realized that I needed to learn more than I thought I did before all this had happened.

Right encouragements help lead to right choices. No, I’m not saying that I have always made perfect choices during my life. I think you could ask my wife or children and they could fill you in on more than I would want to admit. But, by God’s grace, there were those crucial moments, those times, though not recognized as such then, that were defining moments in my life that the right choices were made. I will be the first to tell you they were never easy, if not painful. When we’re corrected, it is only natural to “jump to our own defense.” There very well may exist the need for clarification, but digging in and taking a defensive stand on everything rarely accomplishes anything. Those with more experience are able to see the “blind spots” in what we do and hearing them can help us avoid even greater problems later.  All of these things are part of learning how to make the right choices.

One of the realities with which we need to live is that we need to seek to continue to choose what is right over what is just convenient or trendy, even though it may not be popular. There are no short cuts to the making of a diamond. Without the heat and the pressure all you have is a lump of coal. Only as we allow God to mold us through the difficult situations in which we find ourselves can He complete the process of transformation He desires to see in our lives. We need to hear the calls to “do it again,” and not give up. We need to remember Who it was that called us in the first place and claim in prayer Phil. 1:6, “He who began the good work in you, He will carry it on unto completion...”  You might be saying, that’s well and good, but what about my situation? What should I be doing? Who can you encourage today? It may not be a defining moment in your life, but it might be in theirs. What hard choices are you facing? Remember Paul’s admonition in Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It's worth it and it's part of living of life that you will not regret later.

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