Wait for It
This Christmas season, I have found myself resonating more and more with the concept of Advent. I have always loved Christmas: the joy, the fun, the festivity, the coziness, the traditions. But as the years go by and times of sorrow, doubt, and apathy are mixed into life, it is not always as easy to connect with the unfettered joy and energetic excitement of Christmas. It is in these times I have been encouraged by the reminder that the euphoria of that first Christmas was not an incident devoid of context, but rather the culmination of centuries – even millennia – of waiting. It is the years of waiting with a mixture of hope, faith – and certainly at times disappointment or confusion – that bring depth of meaning to the fulfillment that is Christmas.
These are people who are familiar with waiting.
These musings on the Advent season have certainly been impacted by the fact that for me, advent this year came immediately following my participation in the trip to Myanmar with Cedar Park. As such, my perceptions of waiting, of patience, and of perseverance were strongly impacted by the incredible people we met there. On our visit to Lighthouse Farm, we were not only accompanied by Dave and Louise, but by six of their local network of church planters and leaders. These people came from all over the country where they live and work and are leaders in their own communities to support us and the work that is being done on the farm. They are incredibly generous with their time and resources, hardworking, friendly, and talented people. But what struck me the most about each and every local leader that we had the privilege of knowing and working alongside was the way that they live out an attitude of faithful expectation in their daily lives. These are people who are familiar with waiting. Many of them work in areas in which they are unwelcomed and opposed, simply because of the faith with which they have aligned themselves. It might be years before their acts of love and of service and of investing in their communities bear any fruit. Yet without fail, I saw each of them turn to the word of God and to prayer on a daily basis. Not only that, but they spoke with such confidence in God’s ability to answer prayer and carried themselves with great joy and peace… despite what could very well be interpreted as silence from God. How do you hold on to faith and have a sense of peace when your own family or community turn their back on you as Pastor Isaiah’s had done? How do you keep up hope when, like Than Naing, you have spent three years, much of that time alone, living in a community which is not your home among people who risk being beaten just for associating with you? How does Moe Aung exhibit such joy when his work often takes him away from his wife and children, who themselves are home caring for almost twenty other children at a youth hostel near the city? Instead of responding to these situations with despair, each one of them lived with a hope, peace, and joy that seemed supernatural. They were “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I have no doubt that each one of them could strongly resonate with God’s people in the years leading up to Jesus’ birth: holding on to a promise from God that seems at times unlikely to be fulfilled. I think of how quickly I can become discouraged when I do not see God at work or feel his presence the way that I once did, and am challenged by these people and reminded of James’ admonition to “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
In some ways, on this trip I felt like the shepherds who followed the star to Jesus’ birthplace that night. I felt blessed to have been placed at just the right place and just the right time to see the fruition of the labour of many who had been striving and waiting. On this trip, I got to skip the hard work of waiting and jump right to the results. Our second day in Myanmar, we were invited to a baptism. There were four local new believers who expressed an intention to be baptized. After teasing Pastor Isaiah for his comments that he was “praying for five”, Louise admitted that in preparation for the day she had bought six towels. We saw five people be baptized that day.
Likewise, on our travels to the farm we were brought up to speed on the animosity that was present in much of the surrounding areas. Yet when we arrived we saw Isaiah sitting with a few men we did not recognize, but later learned were representatives from a nearby village who had been sent to extend an invitation to their village – one which had previously closed their doors to anyone associated with Christianity or the farm.
It is easier to have faith when examples of answered prayer are fresh in our minds. It is my prayer for myself and for all our community that we would have similar examples of God’s faithfulness to strengthen our faith. More importantly though, it is my prayer that we ourselves would hold on to hope even in the periods of waiting, even when it seems that God has been silent for too long, and remember that God is at work even when we cannot see it… and that his plans are always worth waiting for.
Dave, Louise, Tom, Lisa, Cayla, Janelle, Andrew, Paul, Kathryn