“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbal’s hand.”
I want to share a story about my outreach in Papua New Guinea (PNG). During our first month in PNG, we spent most of our time immersing ourselves into the community in any way we could. This included everything from street ministry, to sharing in local churches, playing soccer for hours with the neighborhood kids, working with existing ministries by doing photo stories, or even simply sitting in the front yard with a neighbor and hearing about their life. Our goal was simple: build relationships.
Because the country has such a relational culture, this proved to be a fairly easy task. After a few short weeks, there was hardly a place we went in the town of Wewak where we didn’t run into a friend.
Regardless of the positive way we were normally received, I often felt like our presence in PNG wasn’t really impacting anything. I had come from Kona, Hawaii with this intense desire to change the world for God. I wanted to see and experience the things I had heard from my teachers and other students. They had returned from their outreaches with amazing testimonies of miraculous healing taking place, and stories of hundreds giving their lives to Christ. I wanted to see God invade this town like that. Because of this desire, I often felt discouraged by what we were doing. It was easy to feel like the afternoons spent with the neighbors talking were not really doing much to further the kingdom. Did I really come to PNG just to play soccer with some kids?
It may sound crass, but those were definitely some of the thoughts that plagued me. It would take some unexpected people to change the way I looked at my outreach, and how I measured it’s success.
As I mentioned earlier, part of our first month in PNG involved us working with some existing ministries by volunteering our media services. We had trained as a media team, so we were always eager to work on any project we could. One such opportunity surfaced one day when the missionary we'd been living with told us about a Youth Conference that the young adults in his church were putting on the next weekend.
They had invited the youth from every province they had connections with, and anticipated around 500 youth to be in attendance. This was supposed to be a rallying of young Papua New Guineans for Christ. They wanted to champion the christian youth to rise up in leadership positions. They wanted to challenge them to realize their sphere of influence and use it to bring people to Jesus. Reggie asked us if we would consider filming on the second night of the event. Though we took time to pray and consider it as a team, I knew immediately upon hearing about it that I was ready to do anything I could to help with this project. As a team, we got our game plan ready. We assigned our responsibilities and had our shot list ready to go.
The Youth Conference was a three day event. Reggie was the main speaker, and they hosted a meeting in the morning and at night. Due to other obligations, we were only going to be attending a couple of the scheduled times. It was sufficient time to get the footage we needed, and after one of the sessions, we were planning on interviewing the leaders of the event. Reggie told us that it looked like the expected attendance had dropped form 500 to about 200. Substantial, but not an issue in our minds. We were still excited.
Fast forward to the first night. Reggie told us that none of the other regions had been able to make it, but they were hopeful some would show up the next day.
There was a zero turn out. 500 people, 20 regions, and no one made it. I was disappointed and thought that they would surely cancel the event if the only region attending was the hosting region, but no. They continued with the conference. They still hoped for people to turn up on the second and third day.
Fast forward to the day we were to go and start filming. When we arrive at the conference, I hear the sound of worship music playing as I climb out of the car. Walking into the outdoor gymnasium, which acted as the auditorium, I see around 20-30 people standing and worshiping.
We found a quiet spot behind all the crowd. Set up our equipment and sat down to observe. Most of the proceedings were in the Papua New Guinean trade language Tok Pigon, so I was only able to pick up bits and pieces about what was being said. I busied myself with taking pictures of anything that caught my eye.
Since we didn’t want to disrupt anything and had stationed ourselves in the back. We wen’t the only ones trying not to be a disruption. Like you would find at an event anywhere else, the back of the room was where you find the moms and small children. After taking some photos of the room, I started trying to make friends with a little boy that was running around. This led me to introducing myself to his mother who was the older sister of one of the leaders of the conference. Her name is Scholar, and what ensued was the most meaningful conversation I was to have during my entire time in Papua New Guinea. I’ll share with you only the details which correlates to my topic today. I must note, however, that I have never heard, and felt a more powerful declaration and outpour of Jesus before or since. She carries Jesus in every part of here life; as a mom, wife, sister, and daughter. The part of our conversation I want to share is when we were talking about discouragement and obedience.
It started because she shared with me how her brother and the other who were putting on this conference were so discouraged by the lack of turn out. She said that they had considered canceling the entire thing. As it so happened, the twenty to thirty people whom were in attendance, were the members of the church that was hosting. Not a single province had made it. I could imagine how disheartening that must be. I said as much. What I didn’t say was how I had felt similar feelings when it came to my outreach. What she said next was exactly what I needed to hear. “If you give up it off then you are doing exactly what the enemy wants you to do. He wants you to give up. He want’s you to feel defeated”. Scholar continued, “God told you to do this, so do it”.
We went on to talk about how it’s never in the numbers. It’s not in the amount of recognition you receive for doing what God has asked of you. It’s always about obeying God when he speaks. It’s about trusting his plan. Sometimes God asks us to do things that we believe is us ministering to others, when, in reality, God using those situations to teach us a very important lesson. The lesson is humility; It’s faith; It’s obedience. We are learning to stand firm in what he has commanded us to do, and resist the feeling of defeat. The enemy will constantly try to drag us down and keep us from pursuing the things God has for us because he is scared. His primary goal is to keep people from the truth of salvation in Jesus. He doesn’t accept defeat. so why in the world should we? Against all odds, the enemy is bent on extinguishing the spread of the Gospel. Even though he may have lost the battle over our souls, he will continue to try and keep us from bringing other to Christ. So, if we give in to discouragement we are accepting defeat. We must not despise small beginnings.
That is why I started this post out with Zechariah 4:10. In that passage Zerubbel is begin work on a temple, that other people in his group of peers deemed insignificant. God encourages him in his work. He enables him to finish what he started. I wonder what would have happened if he had given up out of discouragement. I don’t have an answer for that, and I don’t think it really matters. The important part that despite it’s seeming insignificance, Zerbubbel obeyed God, and held fast to what he knew he was to do. In the same way, Scholar’s brother and the other leaders of the conference held fast to what they know God had them do. I believe that their obedience will result in more people next year, because they have no intention of quitting. They will hold another conference.
All of this hit so close to home. I without a doubt acknowledge the Lords divine intervention in those moments. She may not have known it at first, but her recount of her conversation with the leaders of the conference was exactly what I needed to hear. I love how God moves through unexpected people to encourage me and speak truth into my life. I was so convinced by our conversation. That along with a conversation with our school leaders later that week, helped me see that however small the beginnings may seem, they are much more significant to God’s plan than I realize. He weaves everything together in just the right way. I didn't know it yet, but there were many incredible things I was going to see and experience on my outreach. I'm so glad he chose to teach me how important it is for me to give my all even when I am feeling discouraged. If I'm obeying him, I'm not disappointing him. Any disappointment I feel is because I am judging things based on my human interpretation of what is meaningful and successful. God's plan is so much more complex and perfect than that. My biggest goal is no longer to experience the the most radical things in the mission field, but to carry out with resolute obedience the things God asks me to do.