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November 24, 2020
March 21, 2024

Surrender in Suffering

B&L — Sub-Saharan Africa

At our commissioning service over five years ago, we were told that God would allow us to experience more than we could imagine. Those words could not have been truer, though they took shape in different ways than we would have predicted at the time. We have seen Him move miraculously to answer our prayers, to give faith, and to lead us. But our story also includes more hardship than we expected. Our hope in sharing some of this story is that it might encourage you to continue surrendering to God and to take joy in how He uses difficult circumstances to form Himself in you.

In late 2015, we joined a young team forming in central Africa. We arrived with a 1 year old and within days were overwhelmed by Arab life on the dusty edge of the Sahara. We were just beginning to enjoy local friendships when L went into preterm labor, only 27 weeks into her second pregnancy. God miraculously protected our son throughout the long evacuation process back to the United States and he was born in good health! We returned to Africa eager to finally get established among the refugee camps we had planned to engage along our country’s border. Initially, it seemed like God was opening doors. Despite the remoteness of our region, we enjoyed our neighborhood and worked hard to build strong outreach programs. However, as our team struggled to maintain a consistent vision, we began to really suffer from loneliness and isolation. Our days were bright but our nights were long and dark as we dealt with a barrage of sickness and the depression that accompanied it. L even struggled with suicidal thoughts as her body and mind spun out of control. A brief retreat from ministry brought helpful new rhythms and plans for healthiness, but our team’s support and direction continued to deteriorate until we felt forced to resign at the end of our term.

Our hope was to have a quick home assignment before trying to transition to a nearby team, but this was not to be. The morning we were to fly back to Africa, we awoke to the news that L's sister was in the ER in sudden septic shock. She went to be with Jesus later that day, and though we were grateful to be present for her sudden departure, we also struggled to make sense of what God was doing. Several days later, we learned of severe complications with L’s unexpected third pregnancy. We decided to stay close to her parents for the next year, but reeled with the cumulative trauma and loss we were experiencing. Was God really in control? How could Satan seemingly have so much influence in the lives of believers? Could God really lead us out of such a dark season of suffering and restore to us any sense of hope and purpose? These were the questions we struggled with, along with the practical challenges of finding a job and keeping two active boys dressed and alive.

But step by step, “the Lord was [our] support. He brought [us] out into a broad place” (Psalms 18:18-19 ESV). We enrolled in a grief counseling class and began to reprocess the history of brokenness across the ages and God’s comfort amidst our own losses. Through this class, God began to show us our need to surrender, both the plans we had made and our desire to control those plans. As we began to slowly step forward again, He continued to provide. We fought for early times in the Word and the despair slowly lifted. Our third son was born with no complications. And we were connected to another long-term team in Africa that developed into a great fit. The following year we were sent to a third language study, and although this was not our first choice in returning to the field, God knew we needed more time to heal and strengthen. One of the French classes we took during this time focused on spiritual warfare and worldview, providing a much-needed opportunity to reexamine the sovereignty of God and our own vulnerability. We realized how central the mind is in this spiritual battle, and how important it is to “take every thought captive” to the truth of the Word as the enemy tries to gain influence in our thinking.

Two years to the day from our missed flights back to Africa, God finally allowed us to return to ministry, this time with three healthy boys and our hope rebuilt. It feels as if we have had many seasons of clawing back to a healthy place, physically and spiritually, and even this week have struggled with some sickness and discouragement as we resettle. But, as we reflect on these last years, we can testify to the incredible ways God has been present in our suffering and used it for our own good. We are confident He will do the same for you.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV)

A&A — Sub-Saharan Africa

Our time overseas started many moons ago back in 2009. Our only son at that time was 10 months old and we were separated from our teammates by a grueling hour-long bike ride under the intense Sub-Saharan heat. Throughout the past 11 years, many bumps, unexpected curves, and detours have pervaded our path, but God continues to lead us faithfully.

Skin cancer, food allergies, marriage strains, organizational disorder, financial concerns, security threats, oppressive heat, learning disabilities, loneliness, language comprehension, mysterious illnesses (even as we write this!), and injuries due to a motorcycle collision are some of the challenges that have barraged our time overseas. Knowing the list could be much more severe, we are grateful for the many days of grace we’ve received.  

Through these struggles and our arduous lifestyle, we’ve gotten to see and experience His power. We’ve seen God come through with His promises. It’s absolutely true that, “... we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).

Our most recent bump in the road was when we were forced to remain in the United States due to our host country’s closed border during the pandemic. On top of that, like so many other of our colleagues, multiple flights were cancelled. Our housing and vehicle needs—in the United States and our host country—were some of the complications we had to figure out due to the cancellations. Then, when we finally did arrive at the airport for departure with our 19 suitcases filled to the maximum weight limit, we couldn’t help but laugh when the fleet service agent couldn’t even find our names in the computer. We finally made it back to Africa in September.

So, how do we process the challenges from the past decade? Recently, God has been wooing us back to the seemingly basic, yet utterly profound truth that we are His children! We are free to run to His open embrace and experience His love and affection for us. And when we can’t run to Him, we know He will find us.  

Whether it’s disappointment in slow progress or answering “zero” for how many Bible studies we’ve started for the millionth time on our reports, discouraging situations on the field affront our identity and cause us to doubt. The evil one has played the doubt card since the beginning. It’s effective and destructive. Doubt, if believed, begins to steal any good fruit like love and joy. Then, it turns into anger and bitterness, producing counterfeit affections when we look for love and affirmation from places other than our Good Father. But, we cannot love others in any capacity if we are trapped in a cycle of seeking counterfeit affections and experiencing shame when we fail or when those affections don’t provide enough satisfaction. It’s a killer. When our hearts are brought back into fellowship with Him and we have a revelation of our true identity, then, and only then, can we endure through adverse challenges and remain in Him. There is no need for us to indulge in any counterfeit affection if we are in His arms.  

If you are anything like us, then you also get into the rut of trying to earn His favor. Ironically, we’re wasting our time, aren’t we? His favor for us is absolute because of Jesus. Nothing changes that! At a recent point in our lives this has gone from head to heart knowledge. From a “knowing” that we are His children, to a fresh experience and revelation of His warm embrace. This has made it possible for us to continue and endure difficulties.  

As we enter a new phase of life and the stakes feel high, it’s always good to look back at each ebenezer we’ve built throughout our journey to remind us of all God has done. That, coupled with an ongoing remaining in Him moment by moment, is what we are currently practicing to endure hardship.  

We encourage you to ask yourself two questions:

What am I turning towards to find my affection, identity, purpose, and love? Is it performance or appearance? There are so many counterfeit affections to invest in and try to prove our value.

What is hindering me from finding my identity, purpose, and value in Him? So often it’s as simple as humbling ourselves and confessing our sin to Him and those we’ve hurt.  

Our hope is not that you simply compare your struggles to ours and decide that your life is harder or easier. Our hope and prayer is that, in the upcoming days, you will have a powerful and experiential revelation of His love for you in a fresh way.  May we find our rest and identity in Him. May we receive His love and affection in an abiding relationship so we can extend that to our spouses, children, and neighbors as we endure through very real challenges.

His kingdom expands when His children are broken free from counterfeit affections and start living in the certainty of our sonship or daughterhood in Him. We can live in the reality of His affection toward us as it brings light to every dark and hidden spot in our lives. When we enter the reality of a right relationship with Him, then we can be both healthy spiritually and emotionally to endure difficult situations. Keep pressing on, friend!

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Goers from The Austin Stone
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