When Nothing Works: A Path of Humble Obedience

In ministry and in parenting, the way forward begins with setting aside our own ambitions.

From Message magazine issue "'I Will Build My Church'"

The Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic and agnostic countries in the world.

Many layers of history and politics paved the way for the Czech Republic’s descent into secularism, making evangelism a challenge for missionaries like us. Our Czech friends’ worldview gives us little foundation on which to build.

Nevertheless, the Czech church has survived. Generations of withstanding pressure from imperialism and communism have instilled resilience in the church. But this beautiful hardiness can be a two-edged sword for missionaries. How can missionaries help churches to grow and reproduce when they have survived by their virtue of resistance to change?

Living out our faith in the Czech Republic has been a consistent and often-difficult learning experience. Yet all along, God has brought us circumstances to condition us for this task. The experience of raising a special needs child on the mission field has been one such tool in God’s hands.

Parenting a special needs child is a daily exercise in laying aside expectations. There is no “normal” for us. Every day, we adapt our parenting strategies and family life to new challenges. With each turn, we build a bit more flexibility, even though many days bring often-overwhelming feelings of failure. Yet we are committed to the long, difficult process of growth and maturation for our child.

The real difficulty isn’t our child’s special needs—it’s our own selfish ambition and pride, which God must daily chip away to fit us for humbler service. Ministry in the Czech Republic also has this humbling effect. It took years for us to understand that our “normal” strategies would not work here and that ministry in the Czech Republic is an uphill grind—even compared with other Eastern European countries.

Yet once we accepted the realities of both parenting and ministry, we became more useful to our Czech ministry partners. I once met a Czech leader who had seen some “success” in ministry—meaning that he had seen six or seven individuals saved each year through a nationwide ministry program. Trying to sidestep my learning curve, I asked, “What really works here?” He laughed heartily, then kindly recalibrated my thinking: “You must understand that nothing works. We try lots of different things, and we work very hard. We . . . [see one conversion] here, one there, but nothing works for many.”

That was a hard pill to swallow as ambitious American missionaries, but one with which we were already well acquainted as special needs parents.

When we laid aside our own goals to help our Czech brothers and sisters shoulder the load, we went from being a burden to being a blessing. The way forward in challenging fields is not to discourage our fellow servants by pointing out the fallow ground but to put our hand to the plow with them. I am grateful the Lord has used our challenges as parents to teach us this vital lesson.