“Many a morning have I stood on the porch of my house, and looking northward, have seen the smoke arise from villages that have never heard of Jesus Christ. I have seen, at different times, the smoke of a thousand villages—villages whose people are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world … The smoke of a thousand villages … The smoke of a thousand villages.” Robert Moffat, pioneering missionary to Africa, early 1800’s
It would have been easier if they had left too…but they stayed. It would have been more comfortable if they had never gone in the first place…but they left anyway. Jesus must be interested in more than convenience and the path of least resistance. Yes, He is. Jesus wants friends who are not ashamed to bear a cross, or afraid to count the cost. They decided to become the answer to His desire, so they stayed. And their remaining is a fragrance ascending.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, NASB95)
This morning I look around the prayer room and for the first time in almost three months I see the ACTS students. Their feet are pacing the aisles again. Their voices are singing again. Their arms are raised toward the ceiling of this little room again. As my eyes slowly find their faces scattered across the room, my heart is so full. For ten weeks they have been in nations where Christ is scarcely known. All of their praying and praising has been happening in parts of the world where worship to Jesus is tragically rare. They went to try to fill this void and tell anyone who would listen about the true and living God who is worthy of all glory. They have returned, but leave behind ten weeks of love poured forth as a memorial to the beauty of Jesus.
As joyful as the scene is, something is missing. There are many faces that used to fill this room that weren’t part of the glad reunion this morning. These walls once heard their whispers and the floor caught their tears. Yet they are not here, because they stayed. While the ACTS students were boarding planes to begin the long journey back to America just in time for Christmas, they awoke to another day in a strange land that gives no heed to this Christ. I speak of the beautiful souls we said goodbye to last May. They were once students, but then they made a decision and became ambassadors. Jesus said “go”, and they said “yes”. That word “yes” changed everything, and they went from being participants in a program to being laborers in a harvest.
Right now they are about 9 months into a two year commitment to serve Jesus among the unreached. Things are still really hard for most of them. Missionary life feels more like a grueling monotony than an epic journey. It will get easier, but they can’t feel that right now. The food is still foreign. Language learning is unspeakably arduous. Cultural norms are not normal at all. Tangible fruit from their labor is almost non-existent. Every day they do the miraculous and offer hours of worship to the Lamb of God in cities where He is blasphemed, but there are no churches planted yet. There is nothing outward to point to, and there are no grand stories to include in the newsletter to the supporters at home. Part of them would rather be here. Part of them wishes that they were at the end of their ten weeks again and could leave.
It would have been easier if they had left…but they stayed. It would have been more comfortable if they had never gone in the first place…but they left anyway. Jesus must be interested in more than convenience and the path of least resistance. Yes, He is. Jesus wants friends who are not ashamed to bear a cross, or afraid to count the cost. They decided to become the answer to His desire, so they stayed. And their remaining is a fragrance ascending.
Well done, friends. May the incense ever arise. He is worth the waste, and He sees. With a heart full of love and with eyes filled with fire Jesus looks upon you today and says, “they stayed”.