I love extravagant demonstrations of mission. My heart is always stirred by the testimonies of those who take radical steps of sacrifice for the glory of Christ. The millionaire who lives simply in order to give the majority of his income away, the family who adopts children with significant health challenges or special needs, the pastor risking his life to spread the gospel in dangerous areas of opposition. Actions such as these are worthy of admiration and emulation. They challenge us and strengthen us to follow Christ with our whole hearts.
But I’m learning more and more that strategic sacrifice for the mission often entails slow roads and tedious work.
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m pretty passionate when it comes to caring for refugees. This is actually relatively new territory for me. I would have always identified orphan care as “my thing.” Loving children with special needs would’ve taken a close second.
However, over the past couple of years God has realigned my attention towards these particular neighbors in need, and over the last year has given me practical outlets to serve them. Currently, there is a Syrian family that I visit every week. I help teach the mother English, while my kids play with her youngest son. We’ve really enjoyed this time together, and the only thing it’s really “cost” us is a few hours out of our week.
But in order to move past these simple acts of mercy to embrace a greater sense of mission, there is a step I have to take. It’s not one of those extravagant gestures that excite my heart. Honestly, I’d prefer to disregard this step, because I find it boring.
I have to learn Arabic.
The greatest challenge in our relationship with this family is communication. We survive off a few key phrases, Google Translate (which is an incredible bit of technology, but still limited in its effectiveness), and charades. This helps us manage at some level, but our language barrier is severely limiting.
I can care for this woman’s practical needs, but I cannot care for her heart. I can offer help with transportation, but I cannot offer her the hope of the Gospel.
Historically, my failure to share the gospel is wrapped up in fear or self-centeredness that needs to be repented of. This time, I actually cannot share the gospel! But I want to. I really, really want to. I believe that God is bringing Arab Muslims into our country so that they can be saved and live forever in His Kingdom. I believe that God is orchestrating war and terror to bring the good news of salvation to those who have never heard. And the only way I can be a proclaimer of this good news to my Arabic Muslim neighbors, is by learning their language.
And so, I’m trying. I’m still in the very basics at this point. I’ve learned greetings, key phrases, and a small list of vocabulary. But I have a long way to go. And if I am consumed with only wanting to do the extravagant, there’s no way I’ll stick with the slow process of learning a language.
God is using this undertaking to reveal how limited my definition of radical love tends to be: I would gladly pay for her groceries this month, but will I spent 20 minutes today studying Arabic? I would gladly write blog post after blog post about caring for refugees, but will I practice writing my vocabulary words?
More often than not, I haven’t followed through. My enthusiasm to learn only lasted a couple weeks. Then the reality of the difficulty set in.
I love the concept of learning Arabic, but I lack the patience for the day to day work it involves. I get pumped up when I hear David Platt preach about the unique opportunity we have to reach Muslim refugees with the Gospel, but then long for short-cuts and struggle to persevere. In theory, I want to dedicate my days to making disciples, but then I get tired and I’d rather just watch TV.
This process of taking the boring road has been humbling. Because the Holy Spirit has regenerated and is sanctifying my heart, I do genuinely desire to “take up my cross” to follow Christ. But my flesh is more powerful than I care to admit, and I’m increasingly aware of all the stipulations I want to add to the type of “cross” I carry.
Praise be to Jesus — it was His radical act of love that saved me, and as I trudge this boring road, I know that He will patiently forbear with my sin and transform me one degree at a time (2 Corinthians 3:18).