After 11 years in Tanzania, I can say that our greatest occasions for ministry and our strongest relationships have developed from our times of need.
There is a particular kind of faith and character built from being in need. For most of us, it is far more comfortable to serve. Serving grants us a state of control. Need, however, forces us to relinquish control and depend on others to provide. More importantly, it requires us to rely upon God. Time and again, our God has revealed his power and provided his strength in our neediest times. During those times, we have been tremendously blessed and supported by our Tanzanian brothers and sisters. The moments we would never want to describe in a newsletter are often when God is most at work.
One of those not-for-the-newsletter moments happened over 11 years ago, before our missionary sandals had even fully soaked up the stains of red African soil. We visited a small orphanage just down the road from our language school. A skinny teenage boy named Joseph welcomed us at the gate. We arrived with a Kiswahili children’s Bible and plans to read stories to the children. Only we couldn’t pronounce the unfamiliar words well enough to be understood. Joseph heard our struggle and gently took the book from our hands. He read the stories to the children as we sat to the side, mortified and humiliated that we couldn’t even read a simple book.
But Joseph wasn’t embarrassed. He was proud that he was able to help us. In fact, he began coming to our home on weekends to help us continue to learn Kiswahili. Weekends turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and eventually Joseph left his home at the orphanage and became a permanent member of our family.
Fast forward to today. Not only did our inability to read a children’s book bring us a son; it brought us a ministry partner. Joseph heard the gospel and came to know Jesus. The more he learned about his Savior, the more burdened he became for the lost. Through ministries he started, hundreds of children, youth, and their parents have been saved. Countless young men have been discipled. Medical ministries offer care to the sick and injured in our city and in villages throughout Tanzania. I look at our son, who is now a remarkable married man and new father, and stand in awe of God’s sovereign plan that came forth from our desperate need.
Back then, we didn’t write in our newsletter: “This week we went to an orphanage and failed at reading the easiest children’s Bible available, but God will do something miraculous from this.” We had no idea that, in our moment of “failure,” God’s redemptive plan was at work in Joseph’s life and in many other lives. I wish we knew that being in need was one of the greatest tools that God had given us.
Now, looking back, I could fill a book with stories of God working through our neediness. As valuable as it was to plan, dream, and cast visions for ministry, God’s plan was for us to learn the humility of Christ, who arrived on earth fully God yet fully human, a helpless and needy baby.
For all of those considering missions, currently serving as missionaries, or following Christ in your homeland: May God grant us the faith necessary to admit our need, and may it all—even the failures and sitting on the sidelines—be for his glory.