Waiting and Failing

My wife and I have served in ministry since the late 1970s. During this time, we’ve seen the Holy Spirit transform lives, we’ve experienced joys and sufferings that have drawn us closer to Jesus, and we’ve seen the care of God in communities around the world. 

An early experience in our journey helped me learn that waiting is often worthwhile and that failing often serves as the catalyst that moves us forward. 

It might sound counterintuitive in our always-on, hyper-speed cultural realities of 2022 but often the best, most fruitful disciple-making seasons happen after we learn to wait and fail well. In sharing this part of my story, I hope to encourage you to continue walking your own discipleship pathway with courage, stamina, and faith.

We felt called to international missions work in 1978. We badly want to move to the land of our dreams – the land of God’s calling. Our hearts were in Eastern Europe but our bodies and belongings seemed to be planted firmly in the United States. From 1978 to 1989, God set us on a journey to prepare us for a future of incredible blessing, revival, and spiritual awakening. We served in Cru’s U.S. Campus Ministry giving leadership to the Kansas-Missouri-Nebraska Area and on short-term mission projects to Poland, Romania, and Hungary during these years. 

During this season of waiting, it felt to us like the Great Commission and our calling to Eastern Europe was on a train moving quickly past us. We wanted to be on that train. But we felt like we were left standing on the platform. 

Waiting was really hard. 

Reflecting back, I can see now that God had us waiting for a reason. He wanted to use this time to reveal that we needed to be entirely yielded to his will for our lives and ministry. We had to learn to wait, pray, and prepare in order to be an effective part of the work that God had for us to do in Eastern Europe.

During one short-term summer mission to Poland, God graciously revealed through a failure how much I still needed to learn to wait well. I needed to learn to fail forward before I would be ready to move forward.

Karen was a champ that summer in Poland, as were the American and Polish teams we worked with. They were incredibly faithful, a joy to be around, and effective in ministry. We shared Christ, trained Christian volunteers, and showed the JESUS Film all summer long. 

But as for me, well… I complained. Every day. Oh, I did it cleverly. I hid how I really felt. Although I was my normal gregarious self, I laughed and taunted other Americans about one topic that represented my greatest temptation and desire – food. As I drank polluted water and ate fly contaminated sandwiches with lard all summer long, I’d say to the other Americans rather enthusiastically “Man this cheeseburger sure tastes good. And this Dr. Pepper … whoa!” We’d laugh. But deep down, I was complaining. I could not get food off my mind, 

We were there to share Jesus with the dear people around us. We were there as God’s ambassadors to allow him to entreat through us “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). Despite this high calling, despite this rare privilege, despite the fact that most people around us had never heard a clear presentation of the gospel, my mind would wander to food far too often. One day our translator Dorottya turned to me and said, “You Americans sure talk a lot about food.” 

This hurt. I wept about that one sentence so many times. I came all the way to Poland to talk about Jesus, yet my selfish heart was preoccupied with food. That is what stood out to Dorottya. 

God used the seasons of waiting and failing. He graciously burdened my heart beyond the barbed wire of the communist Iron Curtain. He went straight to the bars of iron in my own heart, rebuking me, working through my stubbornness, and breaking open new discoveries as I examined the areas of my life that still needed work. 

I needed these corrections. This season caused me to spend more time with God, learning to confess my sins and walk in the Holy Spirit. I now know he used these experiences to build my character so that I would be ready to serve in the lands to which he would eventually call Karen and me. 

If you’re in a season of waiting or failing as you seek to share the gospel and reach the lost, I encourage you to embrace a posture of acceptance. Urgency should never be allowed to take the place of preparation and arrogance should never replace humble appreciation for God’s correction.

Content adapted with permission from The Outrageous Promise: A Story of God’s Love Behind the Iron Curtain by David M. Robinson and Gábor Grész.

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