Updated: Oct 28, 2022
In September of 2021, I was speeding down US-287S towards the closest hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas; one second I was pleading with the Lord to spare my wife and the next I was telling her to stay with us and not close her eyes. She nearly died in the van as the kids and I were begging God for help. The doctors would later tell us that it was a number of factors (the accumulated effects of stress the year prior to traveling for meetings that weakened her immune system, altitude sickness from a trip in Colorado and Covid) leading to a “perfect storm” that caused her sodium to drop to a fatally low level. There are many road hazards while traveling as a missionary – both on deputation as well as furlough – although most not quite as dramatic as what happened to Sandy last September.
Since June of 2021 we have traveled raising funds to return to Italy driving over 26,000 miles, visiting 31 states and presenting our ministry at 118 churches of which 20 were for missions conferences. Hundreds of hours were spent on the telephone and through email to contact over 2,500 churches in order to fill our schedule. For a missionary on the road, life consists in living out of suitcases; loading and unloading the vehicle; many early mornings and late nights; long hours on the road; thousands of dollars spent on fuel, lodging and meals; staying in hotels, motels, homes of church members, and in church mission apartments. If illness strikes, it means spending hours in urgent care to be seen by an unfamiliar doctor. For missionaries with kids, challenges arise while trying to care properly for infants and toddlers, juggling schedules for home-school and teach effectively in a car, saying good-byes to those entering college, etc. If there is one word that describes the negative aspects of traveling as a missionary it is “instability.”
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to “road hazards” in his travels as a missionary; hazards to such a degree that few, if any, in church history could compare to what he endured for the sake of the gospel:
Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
Paul wrote the above to a carnal church that embraced the influence of false apostles who served only their inflated egos. In listing his trials in service to the Lord, he meant to shame his critics who boasted in their spiritual gifts, lived a life of relative ease and created a toxic spiritual environment among the church. Most likely, the prideful and self-reliant Corinthians would have seen Paul’s trials as evidence of a failing ministry rather than what they really were: part of his credentials as a true servant of Jesus Christ. Paul could have lived a different life but if perils and hardships were part of serving Jesus, he would accept them. In the next chapter, he pivots from his own weakness to the strength found in Christ.
Paul begins chapter 12 by juxtaposing a powerful personal experience and revelation of the Lord with a “thorn in the flesh” meant to keep him humble and reliant on Christ. This “thorn” was an affliction to such a degree that Paul repeatedly pleaded with the Lord to remove it. But nothing changed. The Lord’s response to his prayer was: “my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). In the midst of his affliction, Paul felt, in a deep and personal way, the all-sufficiency of Christ. Spurgeon’s insight is helpful:
Great tribulation brings out the great strength of God. If you never feel inward conflicts and sinking of soul, you do not know much of the upholding power of God; but if you go down, down, into the depths of soul-anguish till the deep threatens to shut her mouth upon you, and then the Lord rides upon a cherub and does fly, yea, rides upon the wings of the wind and delivers your soul, and catches you away to the third heaven of delight, then you perceive the majesty of divine grace. Oh, there must be the weakness of man, felt, recognized, and mourned over, or else the strength of the Son of God will never be perfected in us.
I don’t know that many of us will arrive to the spiritual level of Paul to “glory in our infirmities” (12:9) but even if we cannot praise the Lord for our suffering, for the “road hazards” in our journey of faith, we can, along with Paul, praise Him for who He is in the midst of our suffering – an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving, sovereign Lord and personal Saviour whose grace to us is all-sufficient.