Barb Fisher -- Marshall Islands
What I wish I had known...
Honestly, where do we even start on this one?! No matter how long we’ve been serving the Lord we are always learning or at least that should be our attitude, shouldn’t it? It’s easy to get proud about the things we learn and forget that it’s only by God’s grace that we can even move and breathe and learn.
*I would like to share a word of encouragement to ladies that will be serving in countries where English is a second language. The importance of learning the local language cannot be emphasized enough. Make the mastery of that language part of your ministry philosophy and don’t be deterred from it. At first there is an excitement about learning a new language. After about the first week, reality sets in, and you realize there is this huge mountain in front of you that seems quite impossible to climb. It’s very tempting to get pulled into doing “good” things, especially ministry related things, at the expense of being out with people “just” to learn their language. Remember, you will never have an effective ministry with those people if you can’t communicate with them in their heart language. As a wife and possibly mother you have family responsibilities as well. Ask the Lord to give you discernment as you seek to honor Him with the responsibilities you have at home. Depending on the ages of your children and the country you live in you could possibly plan to have your children with you when you are out learning the language. Another idea is to have 2 or 3 times a week where you husband can watch the children while you go out for an hour or more on your own.
*This next one seems like a no-brainer but I guess I just never thought it through. No matter where you go in the world, in our hearts people are all the same. For some reason when you get to a place where people have different complexions, different customs, particularly lower standards of living etc. you seem to think that they are very giving, not greedy, not selfish etc. It’s very easy to be sucked into the noble savage mentality instead of remembering what God’s Word says about man’s heart- how desperately wicked it is. No matter if you’re in the high rises of New York City or in a remote jungle, people are sinners rejecting God and their greatest need is the gospel.
To be honest, one of the things that I constantly struggle with is the lack of fruit that we’ve seen in our particular area. You know that things may be hard but after a few years you expect God to bless in a certain way. When you don’t see things happening the way you planned them it is easy to get discouraged and begin questioning why you are even there. Sometimes God brings us into situations where the only thing we have to anchor our souls to are His promises. One of the passages that I love to read is Isaiah 40. It sure puts into perspective God’s awesome power and sovereignty and man’s puniness.
At first you are popular-like the new kid on the block. Then when you have your first confrontation it can be a real struggle to keep the right perspective. One of the early confrontations I remember was when I had to tell a lady she couldn’t borrow my bicycle. We had allowed some people to borrow my bike thinking we were being kind. After several weeks my bicycle would be gone for hours at a time being passed from one person to the next. People would rather use my bike than spend their own money on a bike. Many of the neighbor ladies would spend hours gambling with their money or spending it on frivolous things. We had to think through how we could truly help these ladies. They thought I was truly kind and helpful if I gave them what they wanted. We realized that saying “yes” to whatever they requested would only encourage them to continue wasting their money knowing that they could just look to me to meet their needs. As expected, my refusal to let them use my bike was met with anger. We had to remember that our goal was not to win people to ourselves but to win them to Christ. Having this fixed in our hearts helped us not get too discouraged when people got upset with us. We asked the Lord to help us to continue to love them and to remember that but for God’s grace our thinking would be unbiblical as well.
What a thrill to actually see God open someone’s eyes. It truly is a joy to be in a place where day in and day out we have the opportunity to help people see themselves the way God sees them and then point them to the Cross. God in His sovereignty works in different ways but we can know that whether here on earth or in heaven we will one day rejoice TOGETHER with the one that sowed and the one that reaped.
As hard as it is to go through certain struggles, it is really the goodness of God in bringing us to the point of clinging to Him alone and anchoring our souls in His promises. It is very humbling to have to admit our weakness and helplessness but that is when, by His mercy, He allows us to experience a sliver of what it really means to trust in Him. It’s a funny thing though, how you can know certain truths “academically” but sometimes it takes going though some storms (more like typhoons) for those Biblical truths to be cemented in our hearts. What a wonderful thing to be able to entrust ourselves to Him who judges righteously. He slices it up perfectly. (I Peter 2:21-25)One of the questions you asked was what makes you feel more at home in your new country? I guess many different things factor in to this situation. Take hope! You will eventually feel at home. Then you go back to America and you have a difficult time “feeling at home.” Sometimes it is a real challenge “fitting in” if you will, depending on how ungodly and to what extent the community you are living amongst is devoid of any Biblical foundation. Without meaning to, it is easy to be sucked into unbiblical thinking because we want so bad to be accepted so that we can share the gospel. Realizing that there will be many things that we will have to stand against it should demand a greater desire to learn the language and jump into the culture into whatever ways that we can. Even though we will always be outsiders it is neat to see God break down some of the barriers and in time you actually feel part of your new home country. Yes, all countries have their cultural distinctive etc. but it’s good to remember that inside we are all the same. The gals in Poland probably struggle just as much with hatred, jealousy, and pride as the women in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Once you are able to understand enough of the language it is very helpful to be in situations where you are in an informal group setting and you get to listen to them talking back and forth with each other. Those times can give you insight into how they think about different situations etc. We are going on 19 years here in the Marshall Islands and we are still learning new things and sometimes I think, “How could I have been here this long and never picked up on that belief or the way that word is used...or whatever.”