Elaine and I pulled into our garage three days ago at 3 a.m. Fifteen hours earlier we’d said goodbye to newly made friends who work as Wycliffe Bible Translators in Peru. At this early hour the only decision we needed to make was whether to bring in the suitcase now, or wait until the next morning. We were tired, but content. As tired as I was from this trip, and even through the fight to keep my eyelids open on the two hour drive home, I did not easily fall asleep. What seemed to be a fight to stay awake turned now into a struggle to fall asleep. So, for over half an hour, I stared into darkness reflecting on the trip and how profoundly it affected me. The trip opened my eyes again as to why they (my new missionary friends) and I do what we do.
Four nights earlier I stood in front of 45 adults and reminded them that all their effort of translating the word is so those who read will know The Word. I can only imagine what it’s like to spend fifteen to twenty years translating the scriptures into a remote indigenous language. Several of these missionaries work with a language group of less than 300 people. Their attention to detail is unbelievable. The commitment to get it right is unparalleled by anything I’ve ever done. How do you speak about pride and humility to a culture who views everyone equally? What do you do with the phrase Kingdom of God, when their language has no equivalent term? I wondered too, is it possible to get so caught up in the translation that you forget the larger purpose; so people can read in their language of the one who lived here, died in their place and rose again so they can be reconciled to God? Perhaps this one week when they all gather together, away from the task, is their way of reaching that perspective. It humbled me that my role was to provide that context for them to pull back and embrace again the Great Commission behind what they do day in and day out.
All of us in vocational ministry can forget why we do what we do. We can be like the bridge-welder, who having spent weeks on a beam forgets his part is for a larger purpose, so one day, when the bridge is completed, people can cross from one side to the other. Keeping that large purpose to the mundane task gives value where otherwise, lost in the moment, there would be discouragement. Wrestling over a pronoun, agonizing for a synonym, jockeying for an appropriate verb are little and significant moments to a larger narrative. Pastors discouraged by the hard work of preparing sermons and counseling hurting people, will quickly rise with the encouraging realization that their part, albeit small, are contributing to the expansion of Jesus’ kingdom. The your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is made up of small, seemingly unnoticed moments and conversations, tasks and movements that, done in the name of Jesus also serve to promote his name – making him famous.
My take-away from this recent trip to Peru is to appreciate again why we do what we do. We’re renewed because of it. One day, Jesus is going to come back and finally set up his Kingdom to replace this broken one. I want, again, to do whatever I do to work heartedly, as for the Lord and not for me, knowing that from the Lord I will receive the inheritance as my reward. (Col. 3:23-24) Like you, I am a bridge builder, whose role might seem insignificant until I step back and see again what it’s all about. A bridge, when complete, will allow lost people, now reconciled to God because of Jesus, to step from death into life. (1 John 3:14)