When our daughter Arwen, then 10, was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma nearly two years ago, there was no question that we would need to transition from the mission field to pursue treatment. The news was devastating for our family. We were facing the real prospect of losing a child, and Arwen was forced to come to terms with her mortality much sooner than many people. More than that, the entire family was displaced from what we thought of as home and displaced from our mission, our life’s work.
What may be less obvious than our need to return from the field is our determination to go back. Both my wife and I were called to missions work as children, and we take the call to go and make disciples very seriously. The undercurrent of our lives has always been to serve in obedience to that call. Even in the first few days of our family crisis some of our thoughts were of how and when the Lord would permit us to return to the work He has provided for us—it was not really a question of “if.”
Clearly, the God of heaven knew of our detour and had been preparing us for that and for a type of ministry in the U.S. rather than overseas. We have sought to be gracious in carrying out the tasks that we have found designed for us over the past couple years: the Lord has prepared kingdom work for each of His children at various times and in many places, and it’s not always what we expect it to be. We praise God for the fruit we’ve seen in our lives and for the small ways in which He has used us to bless others. Every season in life is more than a time of growth and preparation for future work that God has for us; He is also revealing Himself to us and preparing us for eternity with Him. Part of the process of our sanctification is learning about joyful obedience.
In raising our children we have sought to instill the desire for obedience to God’s word. Obedience to God is something that we learn to practice daily. We must shun sin and evil, but also look for opportunities to advance the kingdom of God. This too is a daily activity! It incorporates encouraging the church and sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for us with those who do not know Him. Yet, obedience isn’t always easy. Our physical reality is eclipsed by an actual spiritual existence – and there is constant warfare in that plain. All that appears ordinary, every experience or situation, is used to wage war in the spiritual places.
Arwen’s cancer diagnosis is no different. I can tell you with all certainty that every member of this family has faced days of discouragement, doubt, and temptation because of our present situation. We are tempted to doubt the absolute sovereignty of God. We are temped to believe that we deserve a miracle according to our terms. We’ve had days of giving in to despondency, when we know that the joy of the Lord is our strength. I know the enemy wishes to see God’s children crushed and their faith destroyed. Yet, we continue to equip the full armor of God and fight with what tools we have been given. God’s word is our source of truth, and our family stands stronger in our faith than ever thanks to the trial we have faced.
Failing in our spiritual destruction, what more could the enemy desire? To deter the growth of Christ’s church. Ours is only one of hundreds of situations that might keep a family from returning to the mission field. I’m not calling out any who have left and cannot return – there truly is work for God’s children in every corner of the world. For our family, however, we still feel called to missions in Africa despite the obstacle placed before us. We have persisted through the course of all prescribed cancer treatments, and yet the malignancy remains unchanged. We recognize that, according to the ways of man, we might not be expected to continue to pursue mission work and would easily be excused if we chose to remain. Our calling, however, and our path leads us back to our work in Africa.
Arwen herself has told us that it is her desire to return to Togo. She would rather die on the mission field, if that be God’s will. Of course, we have not lost our hope: our hope is sure because it is placed in Christ. We continue to ask the Lord for Arwen’s healing or that He would show us how else to treat her cancer. Beyond that, our family’s desire is to step out in faith and return to Togo. We are all the more excited to tell others about our God who has given us His grace, joy, peace, and love during the course of our own small tribulation. Indeed, He is real and we are witnesses of His mercy and faithfulness. What a joy to share the hope we have in Christ, He who conquered death!
What obstacles are you facing today? Our hope is that in the midst of those, you also are able to look to Christ and find hope. Look for the ways in which He is teaching you. Search out those whom you can encourage by sharing your experiences. Remember that we are in a battle, so put on your armor, and stand firm. Obedience may not always look the way we expect it to, but don’t let any obstacle keep you from obeying God’s call on your life. All that we have here and now is temporary—invest rather in eternity.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)