The Front Lines
We global workers we like to talk about all the “good stuff” that goes on overseas. And, our home churches want to hear that, too. But I want us to deal with what happens behind the scene; what happens in the “before” picture, instead of this glowing “after” picture. I want to talk about the instruments God uses to get His work done. Those instruments are “Human Beings.” When a person goes somewhere to live the Gospel among another people-group, that person is the instrument God uses to get His work done. And most of these “instruments” go out in a “family.”
I’d like to talk about the Global Working Family.
One day, while in Paraná, a small city in Argentina, I was thinking about the “Global Working Family.” We were there with a group from one of our supporting churches. During devotions, my thoughts strayed from the text and I found myself thinking about my husband, our four children and myself. What in the world were we doing? Who did we think we were? It dawned on me that we were soldiers in God’s army and that His spiritual army was the only army that sent women and children to the frontlines. I want to talk about being prepared as women to fight on the frontlines where we have been called.
I’d also like to share with you a little bit of my sojourn as a soldier in God’s army. I’d also like to direct us to God’s Word in Nehemiah 4 as we go along.
After several years in ministry in the States, my husband and I felt called by God to serve overseas. What choice did we have? We wanted to be obedient, so we said yes. We would go.
Our first stop was in Costa Rica to begin learning Spanish. Now, I was in my 30’s and Don was in his early 40’s. We had four children between the ages of four and eleven. To begin to learn a new language at this stage of life required prayer and a sense of humor! We experienced both in Costa Rica.
We left Costa Rica and walked into hyperinflation when we landed in Argentina. When I would go to the store, I would go hyper as well! I would take, and this is no exaggeration, a million Australes, the currency used in Argentina at this time, and I would pray to God that it would stretch to cover the grocery bill for the week. This is how the system worked: you entered and got in line to grab the next available cart. Police were posted everywhere to discourage theft. When you got your cart, you began trotting down the aisles, grabbing food items and hoping you’re grabbing the right things because you wanted to get through as fast as possible. Why? Because someone sat up in the booth overlooking everything, listening to a radio for price changes. (When you live with 1,800% inflation a year the prices literally change moment to moment.) When the prices did change he notified runners who ran down to change the prices that were posted on little blackboards. As you were running through the store, you prayed that your million Australes would be enough to feed your family for another week.
Our children were put directly into the Spanish school system. We thought they knew enough Spanish to adjust but we were wrong. When our son entered the school, the first thing said to him was “Queres jugar al fútbol?” He didn’t understand them so he said, “Huh?” He had been asked, “Do you want to play soccer?” In Latin countries, soccer is a highly esteemed sport. The question was a, “Are you a man or not?” type of question. He did not understand the question, so his response was misunderstood. He was judged as inept and was consequently blackballed from the guys at school and didn’t even know why.
Later, our son had an emergency appendectomy. He woke up one day with a high fever and pain in his stomach. We took the hour and a half bus ride downtown because we didn’t have a car. In Argentina, the family has to stay with the patient around the clock for the duration of the patient’s stay. So my husband and I took turns caring for him. It was an hour and a half bus ride one way, walking to the bus, taking the train, then the subway, walking some more, than another bus ride. We were exhausted trying to both care for our son and for the rest of the family as well. Tension and stress began taking its toll on our relationship.
For a year and a half, the six of us took the bus and taxies wherever we had to go. At first, it was fun, but after about three weeks, it wasn’t fun anymore. We had to make a very difficult decision. We had been saving, a little at a time, toward a college fund for our children. Don came to me one day and said, “Ele, we need to pull that money out of the kid’s college fund. We need to get a car for our family. We thought it was for college but God had planned it for a car.” He had the right perspective. He accepted that as from the Lord, but this soldier had trouble with that. And the tension between my husband and I mounted.
Soon after we arrived in Argentina, a few families on our team had gone back to the States. In the midst of that, we received a call from one of our major supporting churches. I was so glad to hear from someone at home, until I heard the message: “We just want you to know that due to budget cuts we are reducing your support by fifty percent.” That hurt. That hurt not only in the pocket book, but that hurt my heart. I really grieved over that and I held on to it for too long. I was a soldier but I was not prepared for friendly fire.
Between more families leaving for the States and receiving terrible news from home about broken marriages, I think I hit the lowest point I think I have had in my life. I felt totally alone. I thought God had tricked me. It wasn’t fair of him to ask me to leave my home, to go somewhere I didn’t want to be, to be among a people that were hard and arrogant and then to take away my sister’s marriage. I was so angry with God and He was so silent.
Nehemiah chapter four says “The strength of the laborers is giving out. There is so much rubble that we can not rebuild the wall.” That’s exactly how I felt. I looked around me and said, “God, look at my life. There is so much rubble, my strength is giving out. I don’t think I can rebuild it.”
I went to Don, my husband, for help. His ministry, praise the Lord, was going fine. But, I didn’t appreciate any of it because I was jealous of Don and his ministry.
I went to my pastor in my local Argentine church, because everything is done through pastors there. Now, remember, I’m blond, a woman, and North American. Ever heard the saying, “Three strikes and you’re out?” Well, I was “out” and I didn’t even know it. I went to the pastor and I said, “Pastor, I’m here to serve. These are a few of the things I’ve done in the past”, and I enumerated what I had done. “I want to help anyway I can. How can you use me?”
“Well,” he said, “sit over there for six months and do nothing.” Boy, did I have some things to say to that man! But I thought, “God, teach me through this…use me.” And I sat there for six months and did nothing.
At the end of the six months I went back to the pastor and asked again. He looked at me, rubbed his chin and replied, “Well, you know, the bathrooms are dirty…” So I cleaned them.
I began learning what it means to be a soldier; what it means to take orders, to be part of the army of God. Have you been there? Have you ever been at a low point in your life? Of course you have. The real question is, “How did you respond?” The enemy was saying to me, “You are mine. I can take you any time I want.” The circumstances and those around me were saying, “He’s right, Ele. He can take you whenever he feels like it. You’ve had it here.”
The Billy Graham crusade was coming to Buenos Aires, and they asked me to help with the Children’s Evangelism during the crusade. I was thrilled! I thought, “Finally! Thank you God!” I was meeting with people, forming work teams to put together materials. One busy morning, I went to one of my daughter’s rooms, opened the door and turned on the light to wake her for the day. I heard her scream out, “Mommie, turn off the light. My eyes, my eyes!” I saw my daughter, lying in a fetal position and thought, “My God, what is going on?” That began six weeks of intensive check-ups to find out what was happening in the life and body of this beautiful little girl. She was withering away before our very eyes. Soon, we found ourselves in the most sophisticated hospital in the city, one of the few with a cat scan. After a negative diagnosis on a brain tumor, we realized we still had a problem to deal with: what was going on in the heart and life of our little girl. My husband sat her down and said, “Lanna, there is nothing wrong with you physically, praise God, but there is something wrong. What is it?” She broke down outside of the hospital and weeping, sobbed out, “I miss my grandma.” We all cried together as we knew the heartache she was experiencing.
Nehemiah says it this way, “Our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work’.” (vs.11) “[They] told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack’.” (vs.12)
You’ve been there too, right? You know the pain as well. Nehemiah goes on to say, “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places…” (vs.13) I was exposed. Seeing my precious, innocent daughter so hurt exposed many raw points in my life. Seeing other team members leave exposed low points. Having my extended family fall apart, a supporting church fail us, and experiencing personal pain and failure was very exposing and painful. I had a choice at the time. We had a choice, as a family. We could leave as well. But, God had not given us official leave to go.
Another option we had was to shut down emotionally; to be there physically, but nothing more. Shutdown emotionally, shutdown spiritually; put in our time and then split. And we thought about those choices. We considered them as options, believe me. But, praise God for His Word! I can tell you He does give answers; He does listen, because He has been there Himself! And if you are at that point in your life where you want to run away, you listen to what He says to you, for His Word is for you as well! In Nehemiah 4:9 we read, “Pray to God and post a guard day and night to meet the threat.”
I see four qualifiers in this verse. “Pray to God.” Communicate with Him, talk it out, but talk it out to God. Tell Him the truth. He already knows how you feel. I would go into the shower and I would ball my head off, thinking my kids would think my face was all red and puffy from the steam. Silly, isn’t it? But I would have it out with God. I’m not proud of everything I said to Him, but, praise God, He loves me enough to meet me in the shower!
“Post a guard.” That means have a consistent presence. Be consistent in your time in the Word. Be prayerful…always. My kids would find me muttering to myself in the kitchen. They knew I was talking with God. Don and I began praying together every morning, praying protection for our kids, praying unity for us, and being consistent.
“…day and night…” In other words, continually, twenty-four hours a day…continually.
Communication, Consistency, Continually. Why? “To meet the threat!” What threatens you right now? I know what was threatening me then. The enemy wanted to take my family. I wasn’t going to let him. But I had to pray to God, and I had to post a guard day and night to meet my threat. Don and I had always prayed. That was nothing new to us. But we started really praying, because Nehemiah goes on to say, “station the people behind the lowest point and at the exposed places…” (4:13) Listen to this, “posting them by families.” The lowest point in my life was when I received that call about my sister’s broken marriage. The most exposed place in my life was when the health of one of my children was threatened. God was asking me to put my family in the lowest, most exposed place.
“But God,” I argued, “wait a minute. In the army, that’s not really good strategy, putting women and children in the lowest, most exposed point. That’s a very vulnerable place to be! Isn’t that where the big tanks should be? Isn’t that where, spiritually speaking, the evangelists or pastors should be? In the lowest points? Let them take the heat! But kids? Women?
Nehemiah wasn’t finished. He also gave the following order. “Put your family in the lowest places, expose them, but…don’t be afraid of the enemy.” (4:14) Why? What does fear do? It drains you of your strength. By doing so the enemy has already won! “But,” Nehemiah goes on to say, “instead of being afraid, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” (4: 14) This will empower you! And, oh how I love what Nehemiah says next! “…and then fight! Fight with all your might for your brothers and sisters. Fight for your sons! Fight for your daughters! Fight for your husbands! Fight for your wives! Fight for your home.” Good word.
I needed that so much. I know some of you need to hear that today. You’re standing in your battle. Don’t be afraid. Fight! Don’t fight each other! Fight for one another, in God’s power.
Like I already mentioned, Don and I began to pray. We began to pray consistently. We woke up in the morning and prayed, asking protection over our children, by name. We prayed for our marriage, because it was under extreme strain at that time. We prayed for our ministry. We would gather our family together and instead of rushing through a quick breakfast we would sit down and my husband would “feed” the kids a bit of the Scriptures to see them through their day. At dinner, around the table as a family, we would read. We would read good stuff that godly men and women had written for children. We needed to do that as a family. We needed to post a guard day and night and we needed to fight the threat as a family unit.
Why did Nehemiah give this strategy to fight the enemy? This is what he says, “Because when the enemy hears that you are aware of his plot and that God has frustrated it, you can return to your work.” (4:15.) Isn’t that what we want to do? Sometimes we get so overwhelmed, we can’t do our work! Here is the key: the enemy has to know that you are aware of his plot and that God has frustrated it so you can go back to work. But there is a condition: “but go equipped with spears and shields and bows and arrows.” (4:16) Remember you are a soldier! In other words, put your armor on! Be prepared! Give a show of strength and the enemy will flee. That concept was so freeing to me. The enemy knew he was foiled and he knew God had won the victory. And I could get back to my work.
Who’s in God’s army? It’s not so different today as it was in Nehemiah’s time. The only qualifier was to be godly. How are we doing? Do we qualify to be in God’s army? It’s not just enough to wear the uniform; we have to earn the stripes.
And, now, let’s get to some of that “after” picture we talked about earlier.
The college fund my husband and I spent on purchasing a car was the car we used the entire time we were in Argentina. Our oldest daughter was getting ready to graduate from high school and go on to college. There was not a penny in her college account. So, what did we do? We went to God and posted a guard night and day to meet the threat! We prayed for our daughter and her continued schooling. One day we received a phone call in Argentina from an acquaintance of Don’s from years before. He was on the Board of Trustees at a Christian college. He said, “The Lord put in on my heart to help provide for your daughter’s higher education. I’ll personally make sure that her education is paid for!” There was rejoicing in Buenos Aires that day! And it wasn’t just a mom and dad rejoicing, but a mom and dad and four kids! The six of us had become soldiers.
Our daughter who was struggling so much with living in Argentina that she had developed eye problems: She graduated from Middle School to go on to High School. She was voted by her Argentine classmates as most loved, most respected and earned the highest class grades! She gave the glory to her Lord. She told me the other day, “Mom, I’m an Argentine.” That girl identifies so strongly with the same people she once despised. The Lord worked in her heart to the point that she has become one with them! She is a soldier for the people of Argentine. And not only that! This year she is the Student Body President for her high school! God has won His victory!
Our son who was laughed at and mocked for not understanding Spanish or the game of soccer: When he came home that day from school, he related to us what had happened. His father and I said, “Well, son, looks like you have a challenge ahead of you. What are you going to do about it?” And that young nine year old went to the library, checked out a video on soccer, and sat down to watch it. Sitting there in front of the t.v., he learned how to play soccer technically. When he was finally allowed to play, he learned the game emotionally. Three years later that same group of boys that had blackballed him, voted him captain of the team! And, upon graduating from high school was voted MVP of his soccer team! That young man learned a lot more than how to keep a ball in the air! Praise God! He’s a soldier!
During those first years of stress and testing Don and I did not quit. We endured. And I’m so glad we did. I’m here able to tell you of the goodness of our God. When Don and I were asked to amplify our vision from Argentina to the entire Latin World, two Argentine churches stood up and said, “We would like to be a part of your new ministry. We want to commission you and send you out from here as well, representing us to the rest of Latin America!” I can’t express to you how precious that is to me, because the same pastor who said, “Ele, sit over there; Ele clean that bathroom,” was the pastor who commissioned my husband and my family to go out as representatives for them! That’s the kind of God we have! That’s why we can stand before you, sharing not only the “before” picture, but the “after” picture as well.
Be a prayerful woman. Be an aware woman. Be a woman sensitive to the Spirit of God. We are all on the battlefront. We are in a war. We need to read the Scriptures. We need to let it nourish us, challenge us, exhort us, pierce us…heal us. We need to pray. And then we need to fight.