The Work Done In Me

By: Alysia McCord

I remember as a 26-year-old headed to the mission field how excited my husband and I were that we might be part of a church planting movement.  No matter how difficult our living situation might be, it was worth it; we were doing this for Jesus.

It’s true that our calling made the difficulties of life in our new country worth it!  Still, I had a rude awakening coming.  A college Bible teacher had complimented my ability as a teacher of the Word.  In my new country, I had control of very few words at all.  I didn’t even know the alphabet.  Cultural differences shocked and assailed me…were we really required to pay “tea money” every time our phone lines were cut?  Could I handle wearing a skirt every single day, even for exercise?  Could I face being laughed at when I chose the wrong word, or reduced to below the status of a kindergartener, who at least knew how to use chopsticks or ask for a toilet when he needed one? 

The entire experience our first term was, in a word, humbling.  But it was humility that I needed desperately!  To develop the language skills and friendships I would need in order to communicate the gospel, I would have to become a learner.  I would have to learn to laugh at myself when I made language mistakes; some of the things I said were actually hilarious (hilariously wrong, that is). I would have to learn to depend on others to give me words I didn’t know and to navigate the culture.  More than that, I needed to remember that a Holy God whose ways are higher than mine was and is in charge of me.  I needed to remember my place before him, and I needed then and still need now lessons in humility.

This change in me—this humiliation—this crumbling of dependence on self, was the great work I saw God do in our first term.  This was what HAD to happen for me to learn the language, to become an effective cross-cultural servant, and to grow in my faith in a God who forgave my sins even when I was still His enemy.  

I would encourage a first term missionary now, and even a volunteer, to,yes, as William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God…”* The great work, however, you see God do in your first visit or first experience in crossing cultures may be the great work of cultivating humility in your heart.  That important work of humbling ourselves, even as Jesus did in Philippians 2, is an important spiritual exercise and may be an important social exercise as well.  If we Americans can take on a posture of learner before other cultures, there is a wealth of knowledge to gain.  We can use this knowledge to effectively share the gospel.  We can grow in our ability to exercise obedience to Jesus’s great commission.  We can show the world that we have not only something to give but something to learn.  As we learn, we can experience God’s great world and make friendships.  Some of those friendship just might lead us into new steps of faith and obedience.