One aspect of ministry in Sierra Leone is working with under 18s. It is both exhausting and refreshing. In any given week we are parent-figures, teachers, role-models, advocates, and facilitators-of-fun.
We are involved in evangelism and discipleship, run some social and educational activities, and also have opportunities for practical ministries – helping kids access medical care, assisting with educational needs, providing meals, etc. Sierra Leone is a country where it is not easy to be a kid, and so in our work here, we laugh a lot, play games, have fun, learn boundaries and good values and eat together. We seek to show that everyone is valuable, and so special to God. It is deeply rewarding to see children and young people do better in school, become healthier, grasp biblical truths for the first time, put their faith in Jesus, and grow in their relationship with God.
Praying through the discouragements
The opportunities are endless, the kids’ enthusiasm infectious, and yet the workers are few. We long to see believers from every tribe in Sierra Leone being raised up to work with children in their own churches, communities and cultures. We are thankful for the opportunities we have to train Sierra Leoneans to reach out to children, but we pray that the national churches would be more burdened and mobilised to send and support children’s and youth workers in every corner of this land.
Sometimes discouragement and frustration hit us like a brick wall, at and other times they creep up gradually. In our own ministry, we see it knocking at our door as a result of physical exhaustion, inconsistency in our own walk with God, and when we don’t take opportunities for physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment. We see it popping up in a difficult season or a particular situation, such as when some of our local children and young people are prevented from attending our programmes by the religious leaders in our area, when behavioural problems disrupt children’s clubs, or when needs seem too huge. We find it challenging when we don’t see the spiritual fruit we would like to see. A great team of supporters makes a tremendous difference during these times, knowing that others are standing with us and praying for us in the discouragements. We also benefit hugely from the nurturing of good friends and our church family in Sierra Leone.
An eternal perspective
Sometimes we look around at the wee faces we see regularly, and ponder where will they be in 10 years’ time, in 20 years’ time, and for eternity?
We don’t know who will be a doctor, an entrepreneur, a lawyer, a teacher, an office-worker, a cleaner, or the next President of Sierra Leone; but what an amazing privilege it is to have this formative time, seeking always to point them to Jesus, help them feel valued and loved, pray for them, and trust that God will work out his plans and purposes in their lives as they come to know, love and obey Him.
Nothing we do for Christ is in vain
We don’t always get to see the ‘results’ we would love to see, but Christopher Ash reminds us in his Zeal Without Burnout book that: ‘‘Jesus’ work ended – so it seemed – in failure. He was betrayed by a close friend. His other followers deserted him. Almost nobody believed in him. He failed: he was crucified in weakness. And yet ‘He will see of the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied’ (Isaiah 53:11). And we, too, may know that nothing we do in Christ, for his glory, for his gospel, will ultimately be in vain… In an Ecclesiastes world of frustration under the sun, in which stuff just goes wrong, people mess up, in Jesus Christ there is such a thing as lasting fruit. I may not see it, but I know it is there, and so I can say, ‘It is worth it.’ And yet you and I cannot plan this fruit, and we cannot measure it. We cannot even strategise for it. It is the gift of God.’’
We praise God for the encouragements and evidences of grace we do see, and continue to rest on the beautiful promise that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.