10 Years In: Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of RAK Evangelical Church
In March, the church my husband pastors in the Middle East celebrated our ten-year anniversary. Milestones like this invite, if not necessitate, a comprehensive evaluation of how we’ve spent the last decade of our lives. As we celebrated successes and lamented failures in the ministry, we were able to recalibrate and gain fresh perspective for the road ahead.
But as I surveyed how much the last 10 years had shaped my own family, I was sobered. I recounted significant sacrifices and loss. All this led me to ask myself a difficult question: is our life overseas worth it?
We loved the life we left behind in America. We were surrounded by people like us who were raising families together and seeking to follow the Lord. We lived within walking distance of a Chick-fil-a and Little League baseball fields. We took for granted the convenience of Amazon and drive-through Starbucks. Our life overseas has been significantly harder. We fought to form a community of people living together under the Lord’s commands, and we have scars left from the battles. Unity didn’t come as easily as when we enjoyed a shared language, shared hobbies, and shared holidays.
At our anniversary celebration, we noticed that only one other couple had been with us the whole time. Such is the nature of international church ministry in a transient place. But looking through pictures of all the faces of the people who have come and gone left a nagging sadness.
Living far away from our families meant a decade of missed holidays, weddings, and births of nieces and nephews. Family pictures hang in our childhood homes of major events that we never witnessed. Both my husband and I buried our fathers since living overseas and have had to watch from afar as our mothers navigate widowhood.
“Love God and Do as You Please”
I remember when making the decision to move overseas, Augustine’s advice to “Love God and do as you please” gave me such freedom. I did not have to move overseas to obey God. But instead, as I loved God, he gave us the desire to go to a foreign land to start a church where there was none. I knew then I would face obstacles and discouragement, but they paled in comparison to my desire to make the Lord’s name known.
Now, ten years later, I know specifically what those sources of discouragement are. And they have indeed been hard. Discouragement, sacrifice, and loneliness have been close companions. So if we are free to love God and do as we please, why do we continue to labor on?
Put simply, weak, frail, and scarred as we may be, these hardships have increased our love for God. Our weakness has shown clearly his strength and superiority. Our dependency on him has deepened our love for him, and that love has given us an even greater desire to make his name known where it currently is not.
The unity we battled for tastes so much sweeter when it’s enjoyed by people who have nothing else in common. Brothers and sisters from India, Pakistan, the US, Russia, and Afghanistan know deep friendship and love not because we share time around a little league field, but because we know what unites us in Christ is deeper than what separates us culturally and politically.
We’ve seen hundreds of people go back to countries we could never go to ourselves. So while we miss them terribly, we trust they are benefitting another congregation and bearing fruit among them. We trust that the Lord, whose wisdom moved them away from us, will one day bring us back together around his throne, forever.
Jesus’ words continue to comfort as we miss our family. Mark records Jesus saying, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time . . . and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30). We do not know how the Lord will redeem all the time we lost with our earthly families, but we trust his words are true. So we press on, grateful for our church family that sits at our dinner table, for our church family that has become our children’s aunts and uncles.
We don’t stay overseas because life is easy. We stay because we’re fully aware that the sacrifices we’ve encountered have made us more fit for the ministry, more dependent on the Lord, more focused on heaven, and more aware that the day is coming when the harvest will be gathered. We continue to rejoice in the victories and lament the defeats, recalibrating and pressing on.
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