“I hate you. You should never have brought us here!” Paul stood inches from his father’s face as he spewed out a torrent of pent-up frustration and vitriol.
John felt the boy’s spittle hit his cheek and he struggled against the impulse to strike out. In his heart he understood that his son didn’t really mean any of it: he was simply giving vent to months of exasperation.
“I don’t know why we had to come to this God-forsaken place.” Paul snapped these final words and turned away, his anger momentarily abated.
“That’s the very reason,” replied John, seizing an opportunity to get a word in. “The Lord called us here because it seems so God-forsaken. The people are religious but their traditional practices have left them cowering in spiritual darkness, prey to every passing demon and mischievous spirit. We have a real opportunity to make a difference.”
“You mean you have an opportunity. I don’t recall anyone asking me!”
“That’s not fair. When we went round our supporting churches, we were careful to involve you and your sister in everything that happened.”
“Yeah, sure. Helen and I stood there in our Sunday best while every mother’s aunt pinched our cheeks and cackled to one another about how cute we looked.”
“Come on, Paul, it’s only been five months. Why don’t we give it a year? After that, if you’re still feeling the same way, we can review our commitment here.”
“Yeah, sure. Like you’ll decide to send me to some far-away boarding school so that I’m out of your hair. Thanks for nothing.”
The door slammed, signalling the abrupt conclusion to their tête-à-tête. John slumped back in his chair and looked heavenwards in vague hope of inspiration. He didn’t feel affronted by Paul’s outburst. He would much rather deal with a temper tantrum than have his son bottle up all his resentment. John had seen too many people go down that route – invariably they ended up as spoiled goods.
The uncomfortable truth was that John felt much the same himself. Missionary service sounded so glamorous, so heroic, while sitting in an air-conditioned auditorium. But the past five months had been little short of hell for the entire family. The local believers could lay on a rapturous celebration that impressed the overseas visitors. But that did little to disguise the immaturity that lay at the heart of church life. Corruption was rife: John had heard of one pastor who received 20 sacks of rice for a feeding scheme and then proceeded to sell them at a market in the next town.
So many of the Christians seemed adept at concocting elaborate tales of woe that tugged the heartstrings – doubtless some were true and deserving, but their purpose was invariably to persuade some missionary to part with yet more of his ‘inexhaustible’ supply of cash. Paul had struck up a friendship with two teenagers in the church, only to be left looking like a complete fool when they failed to return the music CDs he had loaned them.
Of course not everyone was like that. There were plenty of good people around, honest souls with a genuine love for the Lord Jesus. It was just that it took time working out whom you could trust and whom you certainly couldn’t.
“Father, give me wisdom!” John dropped to his knees and confessed his own hurts and irritations. “Grant grace to my son,” he prayed. “Help him to love these people as you yourself love them. It was our choice to come here, not his. Please do something to ease his distress.”
John heard the door open but he didn’t look up. He sensed someone falling to his knees beside him and he felt a familiar hand grasp his own.
“Father God, I’m sorry for being so grumpy and selfish. I want to thank you for my Dad. He’s a patient man and a great Christian and I bless you for him.”
John heard the tears start to fall but he said nothing. He gripped Paul’s hand all the tighter and prayed silently. Father and son suddenly became intensely aware of the tangible presence of God in the room.
“This is what it’s about, isn’t it?” snuffled Paul.
“You better believe it, son. I tell you, it breaks my heart to see you in such pain. But we’re here for Jesus’ sake, not our own.”
“Amen!” agreed Paul. “I think I’m ready to give it another go.”
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