My First Mission Field

When I tread the weathered terrain in my mission field, and sit down to rest, I often notice that the soles of my feet are stained black with dirt.  They walk barefoot over food scraps and particles brought in from the outside, weathered and calloused by the same beaten path.  It's not unusual to find that at the end of a day's work in my mission field, I'm covered in some of that dirt and food myself, not to mention the bodily fluids that stain my best clothes.

In my mission field, people speak poor or very little English.  They can't read the bible, so they rely on me to open it up, speaking it in prose they understand.  I often find myself sharing its truths, only to realize my unreached people aren't really listening to what it says.  Despite their unruly, God fleeing ways, I still must persist to translate the gospel into a language they can understand.

The language they understand, however, usually includes meeting felt needs.  The unreached people I work with are in desperate need of food, drink, shelter and clothing.  Their state in life makes the most basic tasks difficult, so they rely on me to help keep them healthy.  It's the kind of missional love that isn't noted, applauded or reciprocated by those I minister to.

The best of my work in the mission field is done when I pray for the tender souls in my care.  Where I plead with God to give me a heart again for this people group, who are about to wake for the day.

Where is this mission field?
While it might sound similar to the rough terrain of Africa or an orphanage in Haiti - this mission field is right in my own home - in central Iowa.  Opposition to the gospel is about to greet me as it runs down the hall in footie pajamas, pleading for sugary cereal.

As the days go by, I realize that this mission field can seem so obvious that it comes off as unimportant.  It feels like it could never be as great as the outside callings, where I could minister to the "real" poor and destitute.  But as I've meditated over the years about the great commission and those whose hearts God has place in my care, I recognize that the unbelieving children in my own home meet every criteria for the the lowly, despised and rejected that I'm called to minister to.

They have no material means of their own.
They can't read the bible.
They are deaf to spiritual truth.
They are low on society's priority list.
Who will care for these souls?

I will go, Lord.

Many women wake up alongside me in the morning to a mission field inside their four walls that sometimes feels invalid, lacking the "real" poor people that Jesus speaks of.  It is right and good to acknowledge God's call for us to seek and save the lost everywhere - in our neighborhoods, our cities, our country and the world.  We should see those needs and desire to spread the gospel far and wide.  Each person has a unique sphere of influence, through which, they operate as a conduit of grace.  But let us not forget the small and young unbelieving people who God has placed directly in our path.  It is not at their expense that we go out; but that we nurture, love, share and help them pursue Christ as we invite them alongside us into a world of unbelievers.

If you find yourself in this mission field of your own four walls today, I encourage you to go to battle on your knees like the missionary saints in other nations.  I pray that you will fight the battle for the souls through the mundane meeting of needs and unwavering faithfulness of Christ-like love for the poor and needy.  That you will translate the word of God clearly into toddler-ese, helping those nearest to you to treasure and trust the Savior.  Because for mothers, the first mission field of the great commission starts with the little hand latched at your knees - and spreads from there to the ends of the earth.

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Waiting for Baby #4 (A personal reflection)

It's late pregnancy.
I've been through this before, but somehow, the excitement has compounded and the hope set before me seems more real than ever.  In just a few short hours, days or weeks, I'll be holding our fourth son in my arms.  Until then, our family feels just a little incomplete, missing a piece we've known about for 9 months.  

Each story and each labor has been unique, teaching me different lessons and chiseling sin out of my heart in new ways.  With my first, a completely unexpected episode of my water breaking at 36 weeks sent us into a rush to the hospital.  I wasn't emotionally standing guard, thinking I still had a month left of pregnancy with no signs to tell me otherwise.  The sudden labor sent me into a fear spiral, and was more painful than I anticipated, tying my back into knots and continuing without a break.  I faced it with tension and panic, eventually needing the gracious relief that a modern medicine can provide.  But at the end of it, I fell in love with a dark-haired baby who's six pound frame was strong enough to go right home.

With my second labor, I spent 3 1/2 weeks trying to hold off the inevitable.  My uterus had stretched well beyond full-term, and my body struggled to walk around with the weight of two children.  Each step was painful, turning in bed was a test of patience and my back has yet to fully recover.  My contractions threatened as we took low-risk medication to keep those babies in as long as possible, but each day they increased and became stronger, eventually giving way to full-blown active labor.  But this time I was not afraid.  I was not caught off guard, I was eager.  I was ready.  My body was so strained carrying twins, that the prospect of labor and delivery seemed like a light and momentary affliction.  I knew that the risk of needing a c-section was high, and again, medical pain relief would be prudent in case of an emergency.  But when it was time to dull the pain, my strength was still in tact.  I was curious what would have happened with support and relaxation.  But at the end of it, I fell in love with two fragile babies who eventually came home after some feeding and growing.

This story is making it's own new way.  Again, I am experiencing the false starts of labor signs.  With other modern women, I'm googling "pre labor symptoms" and snooping in forums from years past, looking for clues that my time is near (or far).  The frustration of not knowing floods my brain, the fact that I can't control the timing stretches my faith.  I'm tossed and turned, wanting this child to come at the perfect time while also succumbing to impatience.  And yet, I know that (Lord willing), at the end of this I'm going to fall in love all over again - with our fourth son, who will soon be sleeping on my chest in a quiet hospital room.

Pregnancy brain and the murky reality of hormones are no help when it comes to sorting out wrong feelings from truth.  Just the other day, my oldest child ran in a pretend race in our community and I literally had to gulp hard to keep from bawling.  I couldn't handle his age, his strength, his independence - and mostly I just felt proud.  For a moment, everything in my soul cried out, "This is so worth it.  Nurturing a life - a person - contributing to their growth in every way..."  And my heart beat strong for these babies that God has gifted me.  I'm so undeserving at the chance to raise up these boys into men.

But in the midst of these mixed up thoughts, the ebb and flow of frustration and intense love, here are some observations:
  • We were built to anticipate the coming labor pains.  Everything in us cries out for a baby to be born, just as creation cries out for it's final redemption.  It is right and good to look for the signs, hoping and praying it's finally time.  Because eventually the baby will come - as will our Lord and Savior.  
  • We should prepare for the pain ahead.  Our instincts have us practicing birth relaxation techniques, breathing, talking to friends, taking classes and reading too many articles online.  We want to know what to expect, and we want to face it with as much grace as we can find.  And as Christians, it's healthy to stand guard, to be watchful and to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming persecution.  There is pain before new birth - both for women and for God's elect.
  • We can eagerly focus on the hope set before us.  The promise of holding a new life is overwhelmingly joyful - and at some point, most of us want the trials because the end result is coming and it's better than our current state.  At some point in pregnancy, we transition from wanting this baby to just stay put (because life seems pretty comfortable) to wanting that baby in our loving arms.  As Christians we need to make this shift as we mature, eventually viewing the coming of Jesus as a better state - the most wonderful thing we could hope for, and worth any painful cost.
This thing my body is doing and is about to do is a gift.  I get to participate in the great story of life-giving, life-bearing, life-bringing just as God does.  I get to reflect His image and live out a small picture of his greater plan as I wait, long for, anticipate and prepare.  I get to practice trusting His timing in the small things so I can believe His goodness with the big things.  As God himself knows, being a life-giver is costly and it isn't without pain and sacrifice...but it's worth it.

So as I wait for #4, this is my prayer - that I would glorify the Father and find more wonder in the story of redemption in this birth experience than I have in the past.  That I would let each desire for birthing pains poke at my greater desire for all things to be made new.
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