first things first

A blog about whatever crosses my mind, ordered by importance.

Sometimes It's Tough

I’ve posted a lot about the good times recently on this blog, but I thought with this post I’d let y’all in on the tough parts. Like any job it’s got ups and downs. Sometimes you work real hard for what seems like minimal gain. Sometimes you have all these cool plans and they get interrupted by something out of your control. Especially when your job is people.

This past week was tough for me. It started out good, I had a couple good coffees and we planned our social meeting on Wednesday. Tuesday evening we had a bible study, and that was enjoyable. I’m feeling some progress on Albanian, but it’s still tough to understand native speakers. Wednesday we had our social meeting, and we had a bunch of people come, but the two people I specifically invited did not come. So that was a bit disappointing.

Then on Thursday I got sick. I had hoped to have another Albanian lesson Thursday, and then have coffee with a couple guys. But I had to cancel all that and stay home. I was hoping on Friday to go to the mosque with a muslim friend of mine, but when I woke up I knew that was impossible. Then Saturday morning I wanted to go to a prayer meeting, & network with some of the other committed believers who are not a part of our movement. I’m hoping this prayer meeting can be a place where multiple movements can get together and coordinate well with eachother. But I woke up on Saturday and didn’t feel well enough to go.

There have been some other weeks like this, but not to this degree. Weeks where I feel like I’m not pulling enough weight, not doing enough ministry. One thing they don’t prepare you for is how to go from a 9-to-5 job to a flexible schedule ministry job. Sometimes I feel like I’m not putting in 40 hours in a week, and I put stress on myself to do some more work in those times.

Language learning has also been tough. My brain turns to mush after every lesson. I need to force myself to review my flash cards and read my Albanian books. And after 5 months of lessons, it still feels like the language is a mountain in front of me. I know that I’ll need to put in this level of effort for a long time yet until I gain a good grasp of the language. And without a good grasp of the language, I’m cut off from having serious biblical conversations with a lot of people.

They told me that January through March would probably be the toughest times in the ministry year. Most STINTers at this time really feel a longing to go back home. In truth I’ve felt like that several times over the year so far. The first time was when all my friends were posting pictures of the Texas State Fair. It’s not that I particularly love the state fair, but in late October when it’s rainy and cold here, I definitely felt a longing for the wide open skies & beautiful colors of fall in Texas. This past week I felt that same way when several of my friends began posting pictures of a ski trip in Colorado. Fair warning, next year you may see me posting ski trip pictures in Montenegro, to make y’all jealous instead.

I don’t mean to write this post to get sympathy. One thing that I know is there’s tough times in Dallas just as much as there’s tough times in Albania. I know, having lived there, that Texas is not really heaven on earth (though it’s pretty close). And there’s been a lot of great times too. I’ve posted about several of them. I’ve seen young professionals taking leadership roles. I’ve had opportunities to share the Gospel. One of our key volunteers just applied and was accepted to be a missionary in another country. We’ve got a consistent church small group now, with young professionals who are committed to following Christ.

An unexpected crowd at our dating seminar!

The point is that it’s not glamorous or rosy or fun all the time. In the in-between, the day to day, it’s difficult and challenging and tiring. You don’t come to a new place, even in your home culture, and start being impactful right away. It takes effort and patience. I admire the teammates I have, who have been doing this for years on end. Some of them in tough soil where they haven’t seen much fruit at all. But nothing worthwhile ever comes without effort. I never expected this to be easy.

One of the people at the stint conference said (and I’m paraphrasing), “God does less in 1 year than you hope, but more in 5 years than you can imagine.” I think that quote will ring true for a lot of people in ministry. I’ve been told that for foreign missionaries, ministry doesn’t really take off until your 2nd year, when you have a better command of the language & better understanding of the culture. I’m trusting God that next year I’ll read this blog post again, and think about how worthwhile all this investment is.

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21