I wrote the short reflection below in our Fusion Jamaica WhatsApp prayer group about two weeks ago … and I am (mostly) glad that I did! So I will let you read the reflection and then tell a little bit of the story of the last two weeks.
“There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:22
There is an obvious contradiction in this passage. It describes what Paul and Barnabas’ said to believers after their first trip to the Gentile area (that is now part of Turkey), where they brought the gospel for the first time. They had seen many become disciples, but they had also been criticised, accused, physically attacked and Paul had even been stoned. But they returned through the same towns where these things had happened and “strengthened” and “encouraged” the souls of the disciples by telling them; “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”
How is it encouraging and strengthening to hear that you will face many persecutions?
There’s a simple answer: it is NOT strengthening or encouraging to hear that! (Not unless you delight in pain, in which case you have unhealthy masochistic tendencies and need healing). It IS strengthening and encouraging to hear that you have been accepted into the Kingdom of God. That was the strengthening and encouraging message; and it needed to be strengthening and encouraging because it did then, and does now, come through “many persecutions”. We would all prefer to go around those things, not through them, but whatever you are facing at the moment that you don’t feel you have the strength or courage to face … be encouraged and continue in the faith: it is through these things that we enter the Kingdom of God.
On the positive side, the last two weeks have included 5 summer trips for children and young people, each one being a highlight of the summer for the children who came and a great opportunity so speak into their lives (the majority of them just don’t get out of their community much at all). Working with our closest partner organisation (The Jesus Way Jamaica) we have also finalised and signed lease on a community centre in Trench Town, a place that will be a base for our programmes, and a Short Term mission team has arrived from Florida, and begun renovation work. So there is a tremendous amount to be thankful for.
However, while being very stretched already, Liz’s computer crashed, then mine crashed, and also Travis’ computer went down (Travis is a Missionary who heads up the Jesus Way Jamaica, and is overseeing the property renovation). When we met with the owners of the property they had forgotten the notes from their meeting with the lawyer, so could not give us specific amendments that needed to be made, so that added a lot of subsequent follow up work with the lawyers to get all the details correct. Then the edits to the 14 page legal document had to be made on my phone because I had no computer, and when it was done the e-mails to the lawyer mysteriously went missing in cyberspace! All this was while managing long days with the Day Trips, where we had to change the venue at the last minute because the beach we had planned to use was overrun with seaweed! At the new venue we had to manage some ‘distractions’ from other people at the venue, including a mentally ill man approaching our group brandishing a large iron pole and shooting obscenities before the security guards called the police and he ran away, a couple enjoying the physical expression of their intimacy only a few meters away from our group, and on another day a group of young ladies who were drinking and smoking actively trying to reveal themselves to the children we had brought to enjoy a nice day away from all the negativity they are often surrounded by. The building materials came late and the order was incomplete, the paint order kept getting delayed, and the morning that the mission team arrived a cement truck drove past the place they were all going to be staying and knocked down the post that all the electricity and internet wires are on, causing a small fire and meaning that we didn’t know how long those services would be gone for!
So as mentioned at the beginning, the verse has been an anchor of perspective and has helped us to keep referring to it and praying in every situation as we trust God to bring us through, not around, the challenges. The electricity and internet were back up and running within 24 hours, the paint is ready for collection, the ‘distractions’ on the trip meant we worked well as a team to ensure that the culture of the day was positive, and meant the children got to explore other areas of the river that we would not have done if we had felt comfortable where we were! Above all, in each situation, we have witnessed the presence of the Kingdom of God; the Kingdom of love, patience, kindness, truth and hope, where it most needs to be.