Plodding through Discouragement
April 20, 2021
…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV).
We had left Nigeria as career missionaries after very few years of service due to family health issues. I was struggling to find my place in God’s plan when Dr. Bill Johnson, a surgeon from California, tapped me on the shoulder at a CMDA National Convention, “I hear you want to do volunteer missions?” His team had received a request for an oncologist to come with them to Albania, and I jumped on board. I was excited about returning to international missions. God was going to use me again.
With a few months of preparation by cramming history and geography into my head, I found myself traveling with a dedicated team of healthcare professionals to Tirana. Albania had been the most rigid communist dictatorship outside of North Korea for a generation. Any religious practice had been punishable by imprisonment until 1991. Then the iron curtain fell, and a team of Christian doctors contacted the Albanian government to offer assistance. That was two years before I landed in a country where few people had a personal relationship with God, and all were suspicious of foreigners coming to tell them how to live. I was ready to introduce them to Christ and show them how to do oncology.
After introductions in the director’s office, I was escorted to the oncology hospital and met the Albanian doctors. They were disappointed. Oncology to them was a surgical specialty and I was a medical oncologist. They were polite, gave me a guided tour of the hospital, and then dismissed me into Albania with two weeks left to serve and nothing to do. All the plans, all that time wasted, another mission ended prematurely. Repeatedly, the words, “What are you doing, God?” pounded in my skull. I was young enough then to ask as a cry of failure.
When we as followers of Christ intentionally step onto a path where God has called, we may not discover the plan we imagined. Our own imaginations can romanticize God’s call into something that fits our personal preference, but God has an actual plan. If we are obedient, His plan will play out no matter what our imaginations, even though the path may not become the one we had envisioned. Many dedicated followers of Christ have accepted a mission from God only to be confronted with discouragement or disaster as they pursued that mission. I have no idea whether this is Satan trying to thwart the will of God or God allowing us to strengthen our faith through adversity, but I have seen it over and over. The truth for us is that we must plod on through the discouragements and complete the task to which God has called us, walking His path to His “kingdom come.”
I had failed in my past to complete a number of missions before I learned this lesson in Albania, where God let me grow my faith a bit. When I was rejected by the oncologists to whom I was sent, deeply discouraged, I plodded across the hospital compound to the Department of Hematology. There, again, I was rebuffed, this time by an angry chief who felt Americans had come to profit from Albanian difficulties. But God persisted. I told the chief, “Let me prove my sincerity. Give me a list of supplies you need, and I will do my best to return in the spring with all that I can.” That May I was able to return with $200,000 worth of donated supplies, everything on his list. The chief and I have now been friends and worked together for 27 years. A number of his associates are followers of Christ; a tremendous student movement for Christ has developed. God has done an amazing work in Albania, none of it because of me. But I was allowed to see His work unfold because I plodded through the discouragement and completed the task He had assigned.
Help me to be faithful and persevere when you have called.