We have so many expectations when we set out to serve God on the mission field. We can’t wait to find His blessings along the way, and we expect great growth and service for Him. But what happens when we are met with pain along the way? A cancer diagnosis? A miscarriage? A falling out with a teammate? Or the death of a family member or key person in our ministry? What happens when instead of blessing, we encounter tragedy?
We go into a tailspin and the questions begin to fire off in our minds…God, why? How? What are you doing? Don’t you know how hard it is here…do you even care? How could you allow this? Where are you?
We stop in our tracks and we are devastated. We expected trouble learning the language, and that maybe our kids would struggle. We knew that bearing fruit in our ministry could take years, and we expected culture shock and homesickness…but this? God, this is just too much.
There was a great man of God that we can read about in I Kings 17 that probably had many of the same questions. That man was Elijah and he was called into a ridiculously hard ministry. He was a prophet of God sent to bring bad news to King Ahab and his “charming” wife Jezebel. He had to share the news that God would stop sending rain to Israel. Famine and thirst would fill the land. He was literally run out of town and forced to rely only on God in a true survival experience. He moved far from friends, family, and anything familiar into a little ravine. There he stayed and drank up the blessings of God in the form of meat delivered by ravens, and a little brook that ran through his ravine.
Then, tragedy struck. I Kings 17:7 tells us, “the brook dried up.” All support and blessing seemed to come to a grinding halt. The severe dry spell had finally reached Elijah’s little place of safety and he was left with a raging thirst and questions for God.
The truth is that God could have provided water for Elijah. God is God, couldn’t He have prevented this from happening? It seems almost cruel. Elijah gave up everything for God, and risked his life in ministry, and God allowed this to happen? Why does God do this? Why does He allow the pain and suffering into our lives and ministry when we have risked so much for Him? It seems so hard, and it hurts so much.
I first came across this passage during a time of great personal struggle on the mission field. I was battling health issues, grieving a loss, and my kids were really having a hard time in their school. It seemed unjust to me, it seemed cruel that God was allowing me to walk through so much pain. I felt a connection to Elijah, because I felt like my brook had dried up.
But Elijah moved on from that place. He had to…the brook was dry. He was in the desert and the brook was dry. What could he do but follow the next steps that God had for him? Ultimately Elijah had the opportunity to change the life of a starving widow and her son. God used Elijah to intervene. God did miraculous things, and God did not abandon Elijah. God provided for Elijah, and God provided for others through Elijah.
If the brook wasn’t dry, Elijah would have stayed in his comfort zone, hiding out while the world suffered around him. But God had bigger plans that included using Elijah’s suffering to move him forward to serve the world. I don’t understand why God lets our brooks run dry…but maybe He’s preparing us, calling us, or moving us on to other things…things that will change us and change the countries where we serve.
Our lives as missionaries are dedicated to following God and helping others to follow Him too. The truth is that dedicating our lives to Him doesn’t mean that we will always have smooth sailing on free-flowing rivers. There is great blessing, but there is also great pain. I still struggle to understand why God allows the hard things, the painful things, and the deep suffering to come into our lives. But God is teaching me that trusting Him means trusting that He is still God, and that He is still good…even when the brook is dry. I hope that when you are in a dry place, you can know that too.