Our personal belief is that everyone that comes to Christ has had someone praying for them. A mother, a friend—an intercessor somewhere, someone who has prayed you into the kingdom. We certainly had those who prayed for us; a group of intercessors, in fact. They were elderly women who had stormed heaven for the youth of our community to turn to God. We both also had intercessors praying for us personally. Candice’s aunt Mildred prayed her into the kingdom. Brian had some former high school buddies who had all been praying for him to come to Christ. Their prayers were answered powerfully when Brian turned from darkness to Christ one Sunday morning. Jesus gripped his heart powerfully and captured him.
Our whirlwind romance began at a Bible study group and led us to our wedding day. We were convinced we could serve our King better together than apart. Missions would be our passion, our pursuit. Jesus wanted all of us, and we said yes to him and yes to each other.
As new believers, we became fascinated with the Bible. After seasons of soaking our hearts in the Word of God and prayer for hours a day, God gave us dreams of reaching a tribe of unreached people with the gospel of Christ. More than anything, we wanted to go where no one had gone before and pioneer a kingdom outpost for our Lord Jesus. Our hearts’ desire was to be missionaries of the Lamb and to be the first people to share Christ with those living in spiritual darkness.
After four years of training and one year with Brian as a pastoral intern, we set out as a family for the jungles of Central America. We did not have an angel appear to us, telling us to go to the jungle as missionaries. God simply put an ache in our hearts that would not go away—an ache to see tribal people that had never heard the good news of Jesus Christ have a chance to hear the wonderful message of salvation.
We will never regret the times we only had a “maybe” and stepped out, only to find a miracle. We stepped out many times with a “perhaps,” and each time it resulted in a great victory. We were weak, young, inexperienced, and perhaps even a little cocky, but we believed that when we acted in line with God’s heart, we could usher in God’s will. Perhaps you can imagine how we felt as we took our newborn son and two daughters into the dense tropical rainforest for the first time to reach a tribe with the message of Christ!
We had never met the Paya-Kuna people before, but we had seen them in our dreams. We longed to be the ones to tell them that Jesus was the Savior and that his Word would be their hope and joy. What a surprise when we were taken into the meeting hut, a large communal meeting place, and were greeted with these words: “You might as well leave and go back now! The missionaries that came before you told us they loved us, only to leave us when it became difficult. We have seen others come and tell us they would learn our language and give us God’s trail [Word]. But they have all left us. We know you will leave us too! You might as well take your family and go back home.”
Our hearts sank low as we heard those words. We had assumed the people would be thrilled that we were willing to move into the midst of their poverty, learn their language, and give them the life-changing Word of God. Instead, they were hard, calloused, and even violent at times as we started to acclimate to their culture. One man in particular seemed to want Brian dead. Even his secret Kuna name was ominous: Kill Morro. They never called him Morro, meaning “turtle,” without using “Kill”with it. More than once he made us feel that if we dropped our guard, Brian might end up dead in the rainforest!
Yet something (or Someone) rose up inside us, and we determined right then that we would not go home or give up. We would stay there no matter what happened—they could bury us there, but we would not leave them or turn aside until they had the Scriptures in their own language! Holy stubbornness kept us in our calling. So many times, the Lord promised us that we would reap if we did not faint or give up. “Keep going, and you will bear much fruit,” the Lord seemed to say to us. With God’s unchanging grace and a revelation of his love, his children can endure any wilderness and be faithful in any desert. The God of mercy, who understands our weakness, can empower us not only to do a miracle but to be a miracle of steadfastness, if only we will let him take over our hearts. That was the greatest miracle we witnessed in the jungle—God would not give up on us!
Let us tell you another secret we learned while on our jungle journey: even in a wilderness, God will meet you and satisfy your heart with his presence. We often think that when we find our perfect place in the will of God, life will flow like a river of milk and honey. But that is a fantasy and not a fulfillment of faith. Jesus was a tender plant in a desert land (Isaiah 53:2). He was the opposite of his surroundings. Even when you’re in a hard and dry place, God can make you tender and overflowing with his life within. We must each come to the place in our life where we can promise God that we will never let our relationship with him be determined by where we live.
We love the lesson that Jeremiah can teach us through his parable of the ripe and spoiled figs in Jeremiah 24. The two types of figs describe people in two types of situations. It was those who were taken into captivity in Babylon who were the “good figs.” Those who were left in the holy land of Israel were the “rotten figs.” Babylon, though an evil place, produced the good figs, while Judea, the good place, produced only rotten figs. Oh, how this speaks to our hearts! The best “geography” is within you. The best place to be is not the easy place, but the place where we yield to Christ. The worst place to be is the place where we choose comfort over Christ. Your heart can be right even though your surroundings may be evil. Are you a “good fig” in a “rotten” place? Haven’t you found strength growing within, even at the weakest place in your life? God is ready to pour himself into your need if you will turn to him as one with “spiritual poverty” (Matthew 5:3). There is a strategy in these last days to leave us weak—weak in ourselves so we can be strong in the strength of another. The great exchange takes place when we deposit our weakness in front of his cross and ask for his divine strength. The surprise of the ages is that God delights in making weak ones strong. Let all the weak ones join us in this journey.