Vision for the Persecuted Nations
Proverbs 13:12 (NLT): Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
In 2020, Claudia and I were planning to make our first trip to a specific persecuted nation we’ve been planning for years. We began to consider in practical ways what it would look like to develop something long-term with our base in the Philippines. We were looking to the summer of 2020 but little did we know the lockdown would happen in the Philippines in March 2020 and until now we are still in various phases of lockdown.
That changed how we do missions in a very radical way. Most of our work has been done face-to-face and in large gatherings with thousands of people in school districts, hundreds of youth involved in discipleship movements, dozens of churches in a region partnering together for one united task of making disciples.
We had set our sights on 2020 being our biggest year in terms of impact but everything changed within 48 hours. That was very traumatic for a lot of people; for us specifically, there was still a huge gap between what was planned and what was actually accomplished that year.
Proverbs 13:12 really stood out for us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.”
For me, personally, hope deferred really hit me because we had built a lot of momentum in pursuit of the things that I felt like God was saying in the timeline God gave me. But once the Pandemic hit, everything changed and a lot of things started spiraling out of control for me in a tangible sense.
Here are some of my personal setbacks. What was God trying to teach me?
Frozen in Time
When I was 14 years old, I developed a back injury with one of my discs and it would slip out every once in a while or become herniated. That got worse when I became a personal trainer, especially when I was dead-lifting, and it just followed me. When I became a Missionary, I noticed that it would crop up every year. My disc would go through some kind of displacement and indeed, since 2016, when I came to the Philippines, it got progressively worse.
2020 was in fact the worst it’s ever been. It got to the point where I could literally only get out of bed 30 minutes a day and I would have to rest for two or three hours at a time, and come out again for 30 minutes. Even when I was out for 30 minutes, I would still have to have a back brace. It would be like scaling the wall to actually move forward. But I feel a lot of it was a manifestation of what was happening on the inside of me because all of the stress and hope deferred within me was really getting to me.
It got worse as the lockdown continued with the ministry still having to find its way around new regulations and a completely changed order of things. There were restrictions for pregnant women going out, and Claudia was pregnant with Jeremiah and also bedridden due to a few health issues and complications. That put a lot of responsibility on me to handle the day-to-day household chores, the groceries and minding the kids.
With so much pressure, I was really trying to understand what it was that the Lord was trying to do with my life and what He had for me in the Philippines.
That’s when I kept hearing the same scripture, John 15:2: “He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit and he prunes branches that do bear fruit so they’ll produce even more.”
As I asked the Lord, “What is it that You’re trying to do?” I was reminded of fasting. If you get angry when you fast, it doesn’t mean that the fast is making you angry but that the fast is showing up your anger issue. It’s the same with stress and pressure. The stress and the pressure and the external circumstances don’t make you someone that is angry or stressed out, but they really expose the inside of your heart – anger, anxiety, hopelessness – areas where your faith could be frail. I realized that was one thing personally that God was doing with me. He was trying to change the rhythm of how I saw things, and how I operated.
So God was pruning me, first, in a personal way – my character and foundation – and, second, in how I led the base and the movement. There were certain things that obviously couldn’t be done solely by me anymore. Because of all the challenges we were going through, they really had to be done through different leaders. That gave more leaders the opportunity to really rise up.
Now, this is one of the first times in our mission organization’s history where internationals couldn’t travel in and out worldwide. While different countries have opened up at varying paces, the Philippines is having one of the longest lockdowns in the world, and even now, we are still in lockdown, which is quite incredible.
Finding Hope in a Hopeless Season
Proverbs 16:1 (NLT): Go ahead and make all the plans you want, but it’s the Lord who will ultimately direct your steps.
The Lord was also pruning missionary leadership styles that needed to go in order for us to reach the next level of harvest. Once that revelation came to me, it became less of a fight with “What is it?” “Why are these things happening?” versus, “Lord, what are You doing and let me just do that more.” That’s when Proverbs 16:1 sank in: “Go ahead and make all the plans that you want, but it’s the Lord who will ultimately direct your steps.”
That’s where I began learning that, just as David had the heart to build a tabernacle and though God blessed it, He delegated the construction to Solomon, the visions that God had placed in the heart of Claudia and me were from God, but some of our methods had to be changed. Clarity and wisdom on how to do it, timing and so on were important. The vision was still there, but God had to redirect some of the steps. From there, it became a process of, instead of doing things in the way we thought right, God made it such that there was only His way. And that involved more people.
In any case, because of my back and family circumstances plus the lockdown, I just could not operate on my own anymore. For the mission to survive, it really had to go into the next generation of leadership. That is God’s heart; that’s what God wanted to do. So in the process of pruning, the Lord actually gave us more fruit in collaborating with leaders across the country. The strategy was to raise up more young leaders in the Philippines. Together with that, the Lord was strengthening our family values. You see, as things shake and pressure comes, these solid values, if you really commit to them, are like diamonds that don’t break with pressure: they actually get stronger, more beautiful, and more resilient.
Proverbs 29:18 (ESV): Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint but blessed is he who keeps the law.
And so with all the pruning, God was actually showing us how to be more fruitful. And at the end of the day, it was Proverbs 29:18 that provided this great assurance: “Where there is no prophetic vision that people cast off restraint but blessed is he who keeps the law.”’ This was something that came and lifted me out of my anxieties and concerns.
This is where I had to really ask myself, “Why am I here?” What am I doing?” and “How am I going to do it?” It’s always different when you look back at the things that you’ve done. Now, you have a 20/20 vision –perfect hindsight into what you did wrong or right. But when you start the year, you don’t have any of that information.
Walking with God is often more about trust than knowing how you’re going to do it. This is especially true in pioneering work, when you don’t know how some of these things are going to play out. All you know is that they need to happen.
That was where the Lord was reminding me of the vision. He was telling me not to be overburdened with all the how-to’s but to put my trust in Him. He would direct the process of pruning, of bearing fruit with, and of directing our steps. He didn’t want me to get overwhelmed with navigating all the logistical and operational details. He wants me to really focus on what He wants to do in me and around me; and that is enough to get us through to the next stage.
Once I really took hold of that, then I went from surviving to thriving.
During this whole process, one of the things that was really getting to me was this feeling of isolation: you’re all by yourself and nobody really understands what you’re going through, except for those with you. As I look at a lot of countries, I see many have started opening up; things are getting back to normal and so much of this stuff is behind them already. However, looking at the pace of things here, it might be like another year or two that we could have gatherings again and do all of our usual events in the school districts.
As I was reading Storms Of Perfection by Andy Andrews, my attention went to this letter by C Fromkin. It said, “Most importantly, the message from the Soviet Union is no longer why have you forgotten us? They knew that they haven’t been forgotten after all.” Basically, this is about a Holocaust survivor who was waiting for liberation in a concentration camp. Once he got it, he was expecting that the world would receive him, but he came to find out that the world didn’t want to take in any of the Holocaust survivors. He felt like nobody cared and carried that his whole life; nevertheless, he kept on fighting for the release of hundreds of other Holocaust survivors from Soviet Union camps.
What struck me was his conclusion: “And so, my friend, this is the story of both my deepest misfortune and my greatest triumph. I firmly believe that the most harmful phrase in any language is ‘this is terrible, someone should do something about it.’ Here’s the newsflash; here, there is no someone. He left last October and he is never coming back. There is only you and you could do whatever needs to be done, so don’t wait for someone to do it.”
Here’s the newsflash; here, there is no someone. He left last October and he is never coming back. There is only you and you could do whatever needs to be done, so don’t wait for someone to do it.
That really stood out for me because I was always waiting for, maybe, some kind of catastrophe in our situation that would cause someone to care enough to fix it. But, at the end of the day, if you’re seeing the problem, then, ultimately, you’re the one that’s supposed to fix it. You can’t be living your life relying on other people to help fix things. Because he was a Holocaust survivor, I can’t imagine what it was like for him to go through all that. That stirred in me the resolve that, if I see a problem in global missions and I don’t see anything getting done about it, then, ultimately, it’s my responsibility to do it and I shouldn’t wait around for someone else to do it. I just need to get it done.
Fromkin’s letter, practical and as straightforward as it was, helped me pull myself together and straighten up.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what’s happening in your country or any nation or what’s happening in your life. If God gives you the solution within a vision to bless the world and establish His kingdom, you can’t wait for other people to fulfill that vision. You are given that mandate for a specific reason and that’s the reason why God wants you to work on it.
As Proverbs 29:18 says, if you cast off restraint, meaning, if you have no vision, then it feels like you’ve perished, and many people perish with you. But if you keep the law, if you remember what the word of God says, you remember who your God is, you remember who Jesus is, you remember what you’re supposed to be doing, and you do it, then you will find the strength to move forward. You have renewed hope.
That brings us back to the beginning of my message: Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
One of my biggest insights from the situation in the Philippines is that your dreams can still be fulfilled regardless of how many obstacles come your way. And nothing should be able to replace the faith, hope, and love that you have in Jesus. So I reject the notion of hope deferred and put on fresh hope. The book of Corinthians says that, while all of the other gifts will fade, faith, hope, and love will remain forever. Nothing should take away our hope when we’re focused on Jesus and the work that He sent us to do in establishing His kingdom all across the world now into eternity.