Struck Down, but Not Destroyed

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

Today I come to you with a wounded, yet hopeful heart. I had left a crying daughter with the nanny as my husband and I left for language school early in the morning.  I participated in a four hour language class, longing to be at home with my daughters, yet driven to learn by the despair of the people I am living among and can’t fully communicate with yet. During class, the Lord opened a door to speak about His goodness, and I walked through it.  I had already shared parts of my testimony with my Muslim teacher in the past couple of weeks about how my parents have both died tragically and how God has given me joy and a new hope through Jesus Christ.  This day though, I was able to share about the premature birth of our oldest child and how the Lord had answered my prayers and saved his fragile life. I left class and walked to meet my husband and a couple of friends for lunch.  After lunch, we walked by a tiny yet intriguing antique shop and I rushed ahead to peak inside. As I stepped over the threshold, I was instantly captivated by the stacks of treasures all around me and hanging from the ceiling.  There was no rhyme or reason to how the store was set up and I led the group as we turned sideways and started to shimmy through the narrow aisle in single file.  The store was dimly lit and dusty, and my imagination ran wild thinking about the history behind each piece of someone’s past. Along the back of the wall I noticed what looked like over a hundred antique cameras.  As I carefully stepped a little closer to the most unique camera collection I have ever seen, the elderly man who ran the shop started verbally attacking me.

I froze in terror and turned around slowly to see what in the world the commotion was over.  My husband and our two friends were on the other side of the store, equally shocked I’m sure. I was so panicked by the rage in his voice and the way he flailed his arms that I couldn’t even gather my thoughts to try and make sense of what he was yelling at me.  All I could do was slip into survival mode and repeat over and over in his language “excuse me, pardon, excuse me, pardon…”  I walked straight for the door and that’s when he stood right in front of it.  I continued to apologize as his hateful rampage escalated. He then took it a step further and started mocking me by imitating me and making fun of how I was speaking his language.

He mocked my effort. Does he even realize what I have been through in order to move here and study his language? Of course he doesn’t, but that’s all I could think.

Yes, that moment right there.  That single moment where all the emotional difficulties of living here collided with his insults and shaming, completely broke me.  I was crushed and scared and abused and the hope that I cherish and hold fast to started to slip from my fingertips.

As he stepped aside and motioned for me to get out of his store, I quickly left and my husband and friends followed closely behind.  I immediately started crying and could not stop.  As my shattered heart was reeling from the moment, I realized that the same friend who was upset and threatening to go give the shop owner a piece of her mind was the same agnostic atheist who I had just shared the gospel with only a day prior. The Lord gave me keen insight into the importance of that moment – this girl who does not believe in Jesus or accept that there is a God was watching me suffer.  She was witnessing the darkness react to the Light within me.  She was watching the angry heart in a lost person being contrasted by the tender heart in me. We were only a few feet away from the store when I remembered sharing how Jesus had given me joy after only knowing despair.  She had commented on how she could never imagine me not happy. And there in that moment, she saw that I am human and that my heart can be broken.  She saw that I still suffer but that I do not react like the world does.  And I pray that in the conversations she and I have had in the days that have followed this incident, that she has seen a joy that is separate from my circumstances.

This hateful shop owner – this man who gives no evidence of understanding love – has challenged all that I believe in. It’s with tears streaming down my cheeks in the days following the incident that I have wrestled to make sense of what happened. I’ve had moments of thankfulness that my atheist friend witnessed the sustaining power of Christ in the midst of abuse. I’ve had moments where I doubted God’s love for me.  I’ve prayed fervently for the Lord to help me in my unbelief. I’ve had moments where fear of a repeat situation has gripped me, and I’ve had moments where I’ve been able to take off fear and put on Esther-like courage. I’ve had moments of complete sorrow, that I am still trying to wrap my head around, where I look into the eyes of these people and I realize that almost 100% of the people I see every single day are headed straight for hell. For hell – I mean, can you even stomach that reality?  I’ve had moments of sweet joy as sisters in Christ from back in America have sent me scripture, reminding me of the victory that belongs to Christ and of the gift that it is to fellowship with Him in our sufferings.

The battle that I am in is fierce and it is challenging.  My love of the Word runs deep and even on broken days, I find myself abiding there out of necessity, for the Word is where Life is found.  As my heart has been trying to recuperate, I’ve found the struggle to hate back very real.  If I allow selfishness to be my guide, I will find myself saying things like…”I have given up everything to come love these people…and this is how they repay me?” Yes, that.  Right there – that pure ugly that shows how desperately I need Jesus.  As the Spirit convicts in these moments, all I hear is….

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”

While I was still a sinner, Jesus gave up His life for me. While I was rebellious, hateful, ungrateful, and angry, Jesus chose me, and even in these culture shock days where hate and bitterness are tempting, Jesus still chooses to never let me go.  Jesus left everything to come to earth.  He didn’t wait until I was faithful and loving and patient – He knew I was incapable of bearing the fruit that comes from the Spirit apart from being His. I have received God’s mercy so how could I not extend it? While the pain is still very real and the discipline to go one hoping on days when I do not feel hopeful is challenging, I know deep down that these days of living among the lost, on the front-lines of the battle for souls, are precious.

As Easter approaches, I have found myself understanding the joyful sorrow of exactly what happened on the cross on an entirely new level….

“But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.” ~Isaiah 53:5

As I have prayed and cried and endured, my hope has lived on. I may feel wounded, but through Jesus, I am whole.  I may have been verbally abused, but God calls me His. I may have been shamed, but those who look to Him are radiant and their faces are never covered in shame.  I may feel broken, but when we are broken by this world, the treasure of the gospel spills out and God’s strength is glorified in our weakness. He endured horrific abuse so that I may be healed. Oh Father, may I live a life of selfless love as a way to share Your Love with the lost.

May He be glorified as I live the Truth of this scripture everyday of my time overseas…

“The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless”
~Psalm 146:9

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” ~2 Corinthians 4:7-9