I’ve just returned from a week-long mission trip, where I saw the perseverance of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 in the local church there.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
Each time I come home from this place, I am greatly encouraged by how zealous the Christians there are in sharing the gospel to the unreached in their community.
One particularly encouraging encounter was an opportune chat I had with our local missionary about missions, after concluding our programmes for the village’s house church. I asked her what motivated her to answer God’s call to full-time missions.
She shared that God had placed a burden for His church on her heart more than a decade ago. In response, she increased her commitment of voluntarily serving the church, while keeping her secular day job as a means of income.
As she dedicated herself to gospel work, she saw the eternal value of the gospel. She witnessed how God transformed the lives of people when they trusted in God. That was the push she needed to move from the marketplace to full-time mission work.
What would it look like if we were all as obedient?
AFFLICTED … BUT NOT CRUSHED
The next day we made house visits in other local villages.
We asked our local missionary how this small community of believers in an area so remote and inaccessible came to be. She candidly replied that these believers had been converted when she and her team evangelised them on a prior house visit.
She makes regular house visits to them since then, because these believers are elderly and attending church weekly is a challenge especially for those afflicted with mobility issues.
When I considered the plight of these elderly believers, I was reminded of Paul’s letters to the New Testament churches. I thought of the time he exhorted the Thessalonians not to be surprised by the afflictions they were facing – that they should even expect to suffer for their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).
Just as Paul found encouragement in the Thessalonians’ faith (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3), I was encouraged by how the local church in my mission trip continues to stand firm in the faith and share the gospel, unfazed by human inconveniences.
Living in Singapore, where churches and well-paved roads abound – where we have a relatively well-developed transport network – I personally can no longer complain about the lack of accessibility between my home and church.
PERSECUTED … BUT NOT FORSAKEN
While on the mission trip, I learnt that the local church there has had to exercise extreme caution in view of the routine checks the authorities occasionally conduct. I heard of church services where the authorities would slip into the congregation so they could stealthily observe what went on in the service. Thankfully, the church and its people remains unharmed.
Just as I encourage the locals to continue placing their hope in God in every trip, I am encouraged by their perseverance at the same time.
Being so used to life in Singapore – a multi-religious society – it’s difficult to envision being persecuted by the authorities here for my faith.
So as I observed the local church’s steadfastness in faith – in spite of their circumstances – the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1 came to mind.
I thought of how Paul couldn’t “help but thank God for [them], and proudly [told] God’s other churches about [their] endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships [they] are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, NLT).
I too was filled with the same joy. I couldn’t wait to tell my home church of the enduring faith of the believers in the mission field, for their encouragement and God’s glory.
It really makes me think. If I was one of the locals … Would I have the same fervour for the Gospel?
STRUCK DOWN … BUT NOT DESTROYED
With each trip I make, I am reminded of the local church’s partnership with my own. It’s a long-term commitment that has lasted for more than two decades. And it hasn’t always been smooth sailing: There have been occasions of miscommunication and even conflict between the local workers and my home church.
Above all else, we strive for unity. Unity in the common goal of pursuing growth in the local church, and maturity in the faith of its congregation. It has been a slow and steady journey, where we now have a small team of local gospel workers. It’s a far cry from when the ministry was in its infancy, managed by a single member of my home church.
Despite the occasional setbacks, I remain thankful for this gospel partnership, bearing in mind how far God has taken the ministry. In my thanksgiving, I think of Philippians 1:3-5.
There, Paul gives thanks when he remembers the Philippian church (Philippians 1:3). His gratitude stems from his partnership in the gospel with the Philippians (Philippians 1:5), who contributed to his work after he had left Macedonia and when he was in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:15, 16).
I am encouraged, motivated by the joy and privilege of seeing God grow His church. And my heart is warmed, knowing how much the local people treasure our presence and fellowship.
Whatever role God calls me to play in supporting this ministry – I will be obedient.