Strength in Weakness



A Missionary’s Testimony

Alliance Life (unpublished)

              God is able to give us strength in our weakness. As a new missionary, I have experienced this truth first hand. When my wife and I first arrived in Costa Rica in April 1990, we were as green as gringos could be. Instead of saying, Quisiera cononcerte, “I would like to get to know you,” I would say, Quisiera cocinarte, “I would like to cook you.” Some of my more hilarious Spanish blunders are not repeatable in an article such as this.

            When I began to learn the Spanish language, I was 33 years old. It was very difficult for me to sort out all of those strange Spanish sounds. To compensate for my lack of natural talent, I had to study hour upon hour upon hour.

            On the other hand, my wife didn't have to study at all, and she spoke just like the people. It wasn't uncommon for us to be in a social gathering of Costa Rican people, and for someone to come up to me and say, Joel, how come your wife speaks so much better than you! What a way to build the self-confidence.

            In those days, I learned to live in weakness and dependence upon God to strengthen me. I also became dependent upon the Costa Rican people to teach me their language and their culture.

            After one year of language study, we finally arrived in Ecuador, the land of our vision and dreams. I was placed upon a pastoral team at the El Batán church. The El Batán Church was reaching the middle, upper class people of Quito--an unreached people group. It was the goal of C&MA in Ecuador to concentrate missionaries in that church in order to strengthen the church so that it could give birth to a dynamic daughter church.

            In those days, I so desired to be used by God. I longed to have an impact on that pastoral team. Instead, I was continually confronted with my own inadequacies and sense of weakness. I really didn't know the culture very well and I fumbled with the language. I remember leaving those pastoral team meetings week after week feeling like the low man on the totem pole--like my words didn't carry any real weight. The culmination of this sense of weakness came to a head when the team leader was seriously thinking of replacing me with a more experienced missionary who was coming back from home assignment.

            There I was a first term missionary, face to face with failure. Had I prepared so hard, had I prayed so much, only to come to this?

            But God is the One who strengthens the weak, who lifts up those who are cast down, and who gives hope to those who are discouraged. Because it was in my state of weakness that God began to point me in the direction of the fruitful ministry that He was going to give me. He began to show me that what the El Batán Church needed was a cell group ministry. The church was seeing many people receive Christ, but the back door of the church was as wide as the front door. People would receive Christ, but they wouldn't stay in the church.  God placed a burden upon my heart that I couldn't shake. I knew that it was of Him. I shared that burden and vision with the pastoral team and they gave my wife and me the green light to pursue it.

            We were already working with the University students so we organized them into five groups that focused on evangelism and discipleship. Those groups began to grow. Soon the young married couples wanted us to organize small groups among them. Those groups began to multiply and bear fruit. We went from those initial five groups in 1992 to fifty-one groups in 1994. The most exciting result was that some 400 people were added to the El Batán Church. These were mostly new converts who began to attend the Sunday morning services. God deserves all the glory. We were simply dependent upon Him in our weakness to give us strength, and He came through.  It was especially clear that this was a work of God because in Ecuador only  3.5% of the population know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. God is the One who gives strength to those who are weak and lifts up those who are cast down.

            The height of God's blessing on our lives was when we started the new daughter church. We had the privilege of participating on that initial pastoral team, along with Bill and Ann Mangham and another national couple. We took 150 people from the El Batan Church along with 10 cell groups and on July 3, 1994 we began the new church, called the Republic Church. Like a sprinter racing from the blocks, that church has never looked back.

            From the initial 150 people in 1994, in less than one year, there were 350 people attending the two morning worship services. The cells multiplied from 10 to 20 in that first year. Today, there are 700 people attending the worship services and more than 500 attending the 75 cell groups. The mother church, El Batan, has well over 1000 people worshiping every Sunday morning. God deserves all the glory for what He has done. He is a great God.

            In 1996 the C&MA celebrated 100 years of missionary service in Ecuador. It has always been the goal of the Alliance in Ecuador to reach unreached peoples. Missionaries  have fanned out across the jungle and rural areas of Ecuador reach people who had never heard the gospel. Today,  there is a strong national church among those indigenous Indian people. The church is growing among them. However, today, the unreached people of Ecuador are those who live in the concrete jungles of Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Quito.

            The new strategy of the C&MA in Ecuador is to establish a dynamic church planting model among those who live in the urban centers of Ecuador. This is the reason for concentrating on the El Batán Church and the Republic Church. We are now preparing the Republic Church to give birth to a daughter church and that the process of church planting might continue.

            But the harvest that we are now experiencing in Ecuador would not have been possible had it not been for those missionaries who went before us--those missionaries who allowed God to strengthen them in their weakness and pressed on in the face of incredible obstacles. They are the real heroes of Ecuador.

            I think of Emmanuel Prentice, who in 1933 preached the gospel in an Ecuadorian city called Cuenca. The people were so incensed that an Evangelical missionary had come to preach the gospel that they stoned him until he was black and blue. The only reason they left him was because they thought he was dead. However, such horrible treatment didn’t deter Emmanuel Prentice. He went back and back again until a C&MA church was established in Cuenca.

            Then I think of Ethel Fetterling, another Alliance missionary who in 1945 was the first Evangelical missionary to enter the southern province of Ecuador called Loja. The crowd this time gathered around her and soaked her with gasoline. They were ready to light her on fire, when the authorities came finally came and rescued her. Commenting on that event later on, she simply quoted the lines of a hymn,

                        Stir me, o stir me, Lord, I care not how

                        but stir my heart in passion for the world

            It was this type of passion that gave birth to the great harvest that we are experiencing today in Ecuador. It was because of their passion and the seed that they sowed that God is doing such marvelous things in Ecuador today.

            Just a short time ago, I had the privilege of visiting a small beach deep in Ecuador's rain forest. Many of you have heard of that beach. It is called Palm Beach. It was there in 1956 that five missionaries sacrificed their very blood  to reach an unreached tribe called the Aucas. As we stood there on that beach, we were moved with the same passion that motivated Ethel Fetterling, Jim Elliot, and Emmanuel Prentice, and we asked God to fill us with a vision to reach the lost and dying around us. We couldn't help but fall to our knees that afternoon, as we rededicated ourselves to a cause that is greater than our own--the cause of reaching unreached people for Jesus Christ.

            From that beach, I picked up a stone. It's the stone that I’ve kept with me for a long time now. This stone helps remind me of the words of Jim Elliot: HE IS NO FOOL WHO GIVES UP WHAT HE CANNOT KEEP TO GAIN THAT WHICH HE CANNOT LOSE.

            I count it a privilege to be an Alliance missionary. To be just one link in a long chain of missionaries who have gone before me. Missionaries who have sacrificed their lives so that unreached people would now be around the throne of God for eternity.

            I challenge you to rededicate yourselves to a cause that is great than your own--the cause of reaching the lost for Jesus Christ. That you would be encouraged to pick up your cross afresh and to follow Jesus Christ with renewed vigor and passion.

            That your weaknesses and apparent failures would not deter you, but that you might attempt great things for God and expect great things from God. That He might fill you with His strength, knowing that we have this treasure in jars of clay so that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of us.

            May God fill us with a new passion to reach the lost. That we might remember the very passion that gave birth to the C&MA movement, the passion to win unreached people to Jesus Christ. That His last command might be our first concern. And that we might not be consumed by lesser concerns that would seek to cloud our vision as we race into the twentieth century.

            That we might hear their cry--the cry of those who have never heard the gospel, and that their cry might guide us into the next century, or until Jesus Christ comes again, or we die doing it.