My husband and I just returned from a ten day trip to Eastern Europe. We spent time in three nations, four hotels, and seven airplanes. An exhausting, but glorious adventure. Exhausting because we're getting older and felt the intense schedule a little more than we used to. Glorious because we spent those ten days encouraging church leaders who are quietly doing the work of the Kingdom day in and day out, in nations where they are not only few in number, but often persecuted.
I was humbled to sit across table after table, drinking coffee after coffee, listening to their stories.
The band of brothers who met Jesus from reading a Bible after communism fell, with no one to help them in their new-found faith. They are now four churches strong, each a vibrant fellowship.
The seaman who drove us to the airport who found the Lord when an elderly man asked him what he was looking for in life, and then proceeded to share with him life's greatest treasure.
The smiling pastor and his brilliant wife who have launched the only Bible school in their nation, pioneered three churches, and built a pre-school to minister to gypsy cast-offs. They have now once again handed their work over to someone who will take it with care, and are starting over from scratch in yet another un-reached area.
The shoe maker who drove us over the mountains who has shared his faith at great personal cost, introducing everyone he meets to the love of his Jesus, even if that person happens to be an influential mafia leader.
The teenage girl who still loves Jesus, despite being often mocked as the only Christian in her entire high school.
The earnest church leader who prays with his teenage sons every morning for three hours for God to open up Heaven and rain down grace on his city.
The young woman who just married a pastor, whose face glowed as she told me they will travel to a new region to lead the only church in the city as they begin their lives together. She is absorbing every teaching she can sit under and asking every question she can think of, just to be ready to love people and love them well.
The person after person who told us how they first heard of the name of Jesus, most of them late in life, a testament to how rarely His truth has been proclaimed there since the grip of communism first clenched the life out of their countries.
I was humbled because these people are heroes, living out their faith in a reality I have never had to walk in.
I was humbled because they do so with joy and hope that what they are doing will make a difference in their nations.
And I was humbled the most because they thanked me for sharing myself with them.
And when I returned home and faced the problems I had left on my desk and the new ones that had accumulated while I was gone, they didn't seem as impossible as they might have before. In fact, they seemed quite possible.
So today, as I think of my new friends in the far-reaches of the earth, I pray Paul's thousands year old prayer,
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too." (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
May those who suffer for His name be filled with all measure of comfort and joy. May they never lose sight of the great reward of seeing the lost come to faith. And may I, when I face suffering, be as courageous as these. Amen.
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