Thursday, September 08, 2011

Suffering and Sacrifice Series: On Humility and Hope (Joanna Stewart)

Joanna Stewart is a missionary with World Harvest Mission. She has served in many places (you will hear some of that story below), doing many things, and is now headed to the UK to work alongside some of the most marginalized fringe groups around. She blogs over at the Knitting Evangelist ( She is married to Mark and has two children. I consider her and her husband dear friends and love them much!

It has taken nine years on the mission field and lots of loss, grief, conflict, and defeat to realize not so much of anything is up to me.

Even so, I still think very highly of myself.


I went to Africa to save the world. It was always my intention. It is why I studied to be a teacher…to change the world “one child at a time.”

It sounds beautiful, idyllic, optimistic. I thought so.

My favorite song in my early years as a believer was the old worship song,

“O let all who thirst, let them come to the water.
Let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord.
Without money, without price, why should you pay the price?
Except for the Lord, for the Lord.”

I have deep concern for the poor, the outcast, the “heavy-laden.” On a good day we call that compassion. (On a regular, self-centric day we call that co-dependency.) I went to East Africa to bring water to the thirsty. To teach, to heal, to equip, to give. I offered my water of life every day. I taught the gospel [of Joanna] and I trained young people to be more like Christ [and more like me.]

One dry, dusty day about two years in to our term in Bundibugyo, Uganda, I came to the end of myself. (Of course I came to the end of myself many times while living in this rural highland tropical rainforest, but this time I really came to the end.) And I saw my favorite verses in Isaiah with new eyes. I have nothing to give. I am the one who is thirsty. I am the needy and the oppressed. What do I have to offer? Nothing but the one who has sent me. Come to the water…you who are thirsty…who? Me? Come you who have who labor without rest…come and rest.

It was a small paradigm shift that had mammoth implications. I wasn’t brought to Africa to teach, to heal, to equip, to give. To Save. I was brought to Africa to receive. To BE taught, to BE healed, to BE equipped, to BE saved. If I would just eat this slice of humble pie, and be in a posture to receive, then the One who saves could overflow out of me. Though I came to save the world one child at a time, the saving wasn’t really up to me. In fact, there isn’t much of anything that is truly up to me.


As my family transitioned from life in rural Uganda, to the post-modern, post-communist, post-christian ministry in Central Europe, we often said, “we don’t have much to offer, but we can offer Hope.” Hope. Scarce and under-valued in Europe. The pearl of great price.

But we didn’t really take in account what Hope would cost us.

Let’s recall the verse that defines the origins of hope:

“Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom. 3:3-4)

Well, that’s fine. We’ve suffered plenty. Wasn’t three years in Bundibugyo suffering enough? We have certainly stored up lots of hope for years to come!

Unfortunately, our Savior, the Lover of my Soul, doesn’t work on borrowed Grace. If I am to have hope TODAY, it MUST come from suffering, perseverance, and character TODAY.

After three years of personal loss, grief, conflict, and defeat in Czech Republic, I still have to remember everyday the cost of Hope. We lost a baby, we lost a friend in a sudden tragedy, and eventually we lost our team, our home, our jobs. Maybe Hope doesn’t look the way I expected it to. Maybe it doesn’t come in trite comforts and warm welcomes. Maybe it is not a tidy and happy ending to a good movie. Maybe it comes in a much more sage, seasoned, weathered form. Maybe it requires a genuine-ness, an authenticity that only polishes through time and duress. I have had another paradigm-shift.

I think of the process of building Hope like a fever. Fever is not a disease. It is a sign that my body is fighting a very good fight, and will ultimately win over whatever pathogen it senses within. Suffering, too, is not a disease, or a symptom, (or a punishment) – it is a good sign that my spirit is duking it out against “principalities and powers” in that age-old battle to build hope into my soul. So the One who saves can overflow out of me.

As my family prepares to transition to another new city (London), I anticipate what form hope-building may take in the years to come. Today I welcome the suffering, perseverance, character, hope with open arms. I’m sure tomorrow I will need another lesson in humility, posture correcting, and hopefulness in order to welcome it again. But this God, who loves me so well, is faithful to pour out Grace, to pour out Hope, and to continue to remind me it’s not all about me, to turn my heart and mind outward to serve others, the way he does.


DrsMyhre said...

Joanna and Grant--this verse has really been on our hearts too, Caleb has been writing about it, which has brought it to the front for me (the Rom 5 passage). What a great analogy between suffering and a fever. Perfect. I will have to use that in my next medical lecture. I'll credit you Joanna!! Thanks for this blog.

Larisochka said...

Loved this Joanna - thanks for passing it on, Grant. A good reminder, too, that suffering is not a scourge, but a gold-smelting furnace. Blessings as you transition.