Reflection. This is a word that has come to mind lot to me over the last few months. Since we returned to Mozambique in December and knowing we are saying good-bye to our full-time ministry in Nampula, I have been doing a lot of reflecting. While continuing to teach my classes (we’re working through the parables of Jesus), I found myself being very encouraged by the Word of God. Mat.13:31-33 really stood out and encouraged me. Take a moment and read these verses.
“He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’ He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ “
What encouraged me was the following idea.
We are leaving a field that has been difficult in terms of the physical stresses. Illness and death are always so close: the fragility of life is so clear and evident, and the harshness of life is overwhelming. The cultural differences can also be overwhelming. It is true the differences from my home culture are great but that is to be expected. And when one spends time away from their home culture they come to understand just how much of their home culture is not honoring to God. Even with physical and cultural stress the reception of the gospel has been overwhelmingly encouraging. It has been so evident in my times of reflection that God has done a great work here and it has been a privilege to be part of it. This was not anything that has happened because I am some great missionary. No, the Spirit of God has been working and I, as well as those I have discipled, were tools used by God.
Robin and I, are not naive and we don’t expect God to work the same way twice. We know that Portugal is resistant (or maybe it is better to say slow to respond) to the Good News. The cultural and spiritual barriers to people having a personal relationship with Jesus are very great. A religion of rules and rituals, laws and legalism is strong and hard to break. Darkness is strong. Portugal will be a slow work. It could take 10, 15, or 20 years just to see a small group of believers come together whereas here in Nampula, in 9+ years, in just one area alone, those I have been discipling have planted 80 churches. And this is were Mat. 13:31-33 comes into play.
The Kingdom of Heaven starts small and grows and works it way through society at differing rates of speed due to cultural and spiritual barriers that need to be overcome. The idea that high numbers of people converting show a successful ministry is not a Biblical idea. Actually what we see in the Bible is all across the spectrum. In the book of Acts you can see cities where hundreds and thousands of people come to faith in Jesus and other cities where only a few come to faith. Does that mean one ministry was more successful than the other? No, because each city, country, or people group have very different spiritual and cultural barriers. Some can be overcome easily and others take years and generations to overcome. The Kingdom starts small and grows at different rates of speeds.
As I reflect on our next ministry in Portugal I expect Mathew 13:31-33 will become a sort of mantra for us. Looking to see where the Kingdom of God is starting small but taking root. Where it is small but working its way through community groups, neighborhoods, families, and individuals. Praying, waiting and watching for years to come…..for the small to grow bigger….