What I Learned about Faithfulness When My Missionary Story Went South

When Sara* agreed to study the gospel of John with me, everything seemed to come together. My local language ability was finally good enough to work one-on-one through a book of the Bible, and she was interested and searching. On top of that, my introduction to Sara came about because of the faithful ministry of friends in the States—a worker’s partnership dream.

The Unexpected Fruit of Disappointment in Church Planting

Sara first heard the gospel from mutual friends on the East Coast, where she lived for a year after high school to improve her English. They gave her a New Testament, brought her to church, and shared about Jesus. I met Sara when she returned to Central Asia and began university in my city. Not long after we met, I restructured my prayer list for the new year and added her name to my list of women for whom I would pray every day in 2017.

We began meeting to study the gospel of John, delving immediately into the person of Christ, the eternal Word. Deeply encouraged, I felt anticipation for the first time in ages. Perhaps someone with whom I shared the gospel would believe. When people asked about my ministry, I finally had an encouraging story to share.

When My “God Story” Didn’t Go as Planned

During our third study, we sat in a café and read John the Baptist’s testimony about himself, foretold by the prophet Isaiah who prophesied that one would come to prepare the way of the Lord (John 1:23). Sara asked what the Bible teaches about prophets. I answered that a prophet proclaims a message from God, but she was not satisfied. Her next question nailed one of my avoid-at-all-cost topics—the prophet Muhammad.

Praying for wisdom, I quietly explained that Muhammad was a false prophet. I told her that all true prophets speak of Jesus—the same Jesus we studied in John 1. Jesus is the Creator, Word, God himself, Life, Light, and the promised Savior. Anyone claiming to be a prophet who denies this Jesus is a false prophet, and the truth is not in him.

“Jesus is the Creator, Word, God himself, Life, Light, and the promised Savior. Anyone claiming to be a prophet who denies this Jesus is a false prophet, and the truth is not in him.”

In that moment, Sara did not react to my words. But in the following weeks, I began to suspect her thoughts. She was always busy with school when I tried to schedule our next meeting. Finally, she wrote a straightforward message telling me that she did not even believe in a Creator anymore. She was abandoning our studies and thanked me for “understanding.”

The joyful hope that bubbled in my heart in the prior weeks transformed into subdued disappointment. I ached for her to experience life in Christ. On top of that, I felt ashamed. How many people had I told my cool “God story” about Sara? Was my story a sham? Was I a sham? I continued to lift Sara’s name to God daily. As I consumed Scripture and responded in prayer, the Holy Spirit encouraged me with the following three truths.

1. This is not the end of Sara’s story.

Mutual friends first shared the gospel with Sara. They didn’t see the end of her story, and neither will I. As vessels for God’s glory, we are only one small part of his work in Sara’s life. How simple-minded of me to think this is the end of Sara’s story. God is glorified as I recognize that he can bring others into her life beyond my influence and time. As I accept my role in this moment of time, God gets the glory. I want to continue dreaming for her salvation as she moves beyond my influence and bumps into others whom God sends into her path.

2. Faithfully proclaiming the truth about Christ will always be a success story.

John the Baptist announced, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 HCSB). He was faithful to proclaim the person and work of Christ. Many rejected his message, yet John stayed true to his calling. That is a success story. As a Christian, I am called to tell others about Jesus, and my obedience pleases God. Telling others the truth about Jesus Christ is a success story because it exalts a loving, merciful, and righteous God. It plants a seed in the listener’s heart that may sprout and grow at another time. Regardless of the listener’s response, I want to follow in John’s footsteps and faithfully proclaim the truth of the gospel to those I encounter.

3. Perseverance in prayer acknowledges that God writes the story, not me.

Six months remain in 2017, and I’ve committed to pray for Sara every day. Whether I see her again, I will persevere in this task. And each time my prayer book naturally falls open to my daily list of names, I remember that the work of salvation is God’s story, not mine.

“I remember that the work of salvation is God’s story, not mine.”

Next week, I’ll start working through discipleship lessons with a new friend who recently believed. She dreamed about Jesus, obtained a New Testament from a historic Catholic church, read it in two days, and believed. I didn’t have any role in her coming to faith. Apart from the Holy Spirit who opened her heart to understand the Word of God, no one did.

God is writing these stories. So as I pursue faithfulness, I will trust God to write the stories of women like Sara and my new friend. I will persevere in prayer. With this focus, I can say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 HCSB). And in that, my joy is complete.

*Name changed