We moved to Thailand just over two years ago, and we hit the ground running. New country, new house, new job. We were excited about the prospect of ministering to missionary kids at a school in Chiang Mai. God amazed us by providing for our financial needs through his people—over and above what we needed to move.
Two years ago, the country looked beautiful, the food tasted exciting, and the Lord was our shepherd. As we waded through the challenges of new life, we prayed often. We had so much to learn! How do we get fresh water delivered? Can someone help us decipher this internet contract? How does one navigate the hospital system? This was not our first rodeo in a new country and we expected this. It will be tough; there will be times of exhaustion and sickness; there are tolls to be paid, but God will always be there with us and for us. Our fellow missionaries and our Thai neighbors offered timely help and support.
But the optimism gradually faded as ordeal after ordeal left us more and more exhausted and needy. Pneumonia, stomach problems, fever, fatigue, and accidents bred fear in our hearts. We found ourselves begging for deliverance from the Lord. Our strength was gone and we had to start each day with a more desperate prayer, a clinging prayer, a minute-by-minute prayer for strength and deliverance. “God, take this cup from us! Don’t you want us to be capable and awesome?! We’re embarrassed by our neediness, aren’t you?” In the movie Nacho Libre, Nacho prays in frustration, "Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?” We prayed much the same prayer.
Why would God call us to Thailand, and then allow circumstances to reduce us to “stinky warriors”? Didn’t he want us to shine like superstars for him? Wait! What?! In the midst of our darkest hour, we realized asking God to take our trials was wrong. A very normal human reaction to pain, yes, but this suffering was bringing us so close to God. It was purifying and reminded us who this is all about. We are not on this planet to be superstars—we are here to point to the Superstar. We are not here to look good in the eyes of the world, but to walk with God and trust him for what is best.
If I’d have known what lay ahead in Thailand, I would have chickened out, as most of us would if we could see the future. God knows better. “I see you’re putting a lot of faith in yourself right now, Tim, how’s that going for you?” Daily I am tricked into believing I am in control. Daily I must give up control and trust in the one who really knows.
We began to shift our eyes from the pain we were experiencing to him. We took heart in these words from Peter:
“Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.” I Peter 4:1-2 The Message
We all experience suffering on a varying scale. Each of us is called to this experience—it is the norm—and frees us from selfish faith to experience something big and real.
Two years later, Thailand is still beautiful, the food is still good, and the Lord is still our shepherd. We realize his presence and his care more now than we ever did. In the fire of our anguish, he has proved himself trustworthy. His kingdom is going on right now and it is real. His will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.
-The Stewart Family