God is where we go before we get there, and he will stay after we leave.
Miguel and Anna live in a small village tucked away in the mountains of southern Mexico. They are a couple in their 80s who speak both Spanish and Zapotec, their indigenous language. My teammate and I met them on a chance encounter a few weeks after we first arrived in Mexico. After our first conversation with them, we walked away with an invitation to return a few weeks later to study the Bible with them. We shared Bible stories using the Creation to Christ (C2C) model.
We met every Wednesday for months and this little Bible study started incorporating worship songs. It began to look increasingly like a church. Miguel and Anna received Christ and soon after, their daughter joined the study and became a Christian as well. Though they have received pushback from their community, this family is still following Jesus.
In another village around the same time, my teammate and I were introduced to Maria and Juan through a mutual friend. Similar to Miguel and Anna, they invited us to return for lunch. After that first meal, we were invited to birthday parties, elementary school graduations, market visits and sunrise breakfasts. We accepted every invitation. Every time we shared a meal, we shared a Bible story.
A year later, Miguel and Anna accepted Christ. They hosted friends and family who came to visit, and fed the short-term mission teams from my church. They even began inviting their family and neighbors to join our Bible study so that they could hear the stories as well. This was four years ago, and I have since learned that Miguel and Anna are no longer following Christ.
A WORTHY ENDEAVOR
Moving to the area of Mexico with the highest concentration of indigenous groups meant moving to one of the least-reached areas of the country. The village where I spent the majority of my time for two years had no church or believers, so my team desired to plant a church there one day. It seemed like an impossible task, but I trusted in God’s guidance in this village ministry. I knew that faith comes by hearing the gospel and they hadn’t yet heard the good news (Rom. 10:17).
My teammate and I approached ministry the same way with both the families mentioned above, yet their current situations are so different. The first example brought joy and wonder while the second example left me heartbroken and confused. Choosing to go relationally and spiritually deep inevitably resulted in sweet friendships and unexpected joys, but it also brought tough disappointments, burnout and estranged relationships.
With all the ups and downs of missionary work, continuing to invest in others grew my understanding of my Ephesians 3:20 God. I saw firsthand that he was truly doing more than I could have ever asked or imagined. I have learned that there is freedom to invest well for two main reasons: because the work continues when I am gone, and because the results are up to God.
INCLUDING LOCAL BELIEVERS
The New Testament shows us that God accomplishes his mission through the local church. I was blessed to partner with a local Mexican church in the city to do ministry out in the villages. Every community project we hosted, every Bible study and every kids club involved Mexican believers from my church. Our pastor happened to be a dentist, so together we mobilized our church to host dental clinics for the villages. A few students from the youth group helped facilitate the kids clubs. Several women joined us to teach a sewing class in the local community center. When families in the community invited me and my teammate to meals, we would invite one of our friends from church to come along.
My Mexican brothers and sisters were co-laborers in the task to reach their own people. I have been back in the United States for three years, but seeds are still being planted in those village communities because local believers caught the vision to make disciples among their own people. They are living out their identity as sent ones. Because I was there for a temporary two years, it was freeing to know that, by God’s grace, the projects I worked on and the people I invested in would not be left hanging or abruptly end. In order to do sustainable mission work, I needed the local church.
TRUSTING IN GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
As believers we are commanded to make disciples and teach them to obey God’s Word. Ultimately, though, we cannot control someone else’s response. Unfortunately, I took it personally when certain friends I loved and cared for rejected the gospel. This tempted me to give up and move on, instead of persevering to love them and continue to share truth.
Over time, however, God showed me that I do not have to be afraid to deeply invest my heart, emotions and time into those villages. As sorrowful as it is to know that Maria and Juan ended up rejecting Jesus, God is in control of their responses, not me, and he holds my heart too. God does not need me to do a great work in them or in their village. I cannot convince someone to change their mind about God, but I trust that he can. I am able to live in the freedom of being a simple messenger because it is God who changes hearts.
As I wrapped up my time in Mexico and said goodbye to dear friends, I had two options. I could be fearful for the souls of every person who did not know Christ. Many understood the gospel and loved hearing God’s word, but for various reasons were not ready to make the commitment to follow Christ.
Or, I could rest in the promise that God is among them. God was working in that village long before I arrived and is still at work today. God continues to use local believers to be a light in the darkness. He is the one who will soften hearts. The harvest will come in his perfect time. When we leave, he will stay.
This article originally appeared on TheUpstreamCollective.org and is reposted here by permission.