Christians were never meant to be comfortable.
And one sure way to judge our hearts and the progress of our faith is to look and see if we are living a tension-free life, filled with comforts, or a tension-filled life, filled with sacrifice, and actions of self-denial for the glory of God and the joy of the people around us.
One great lesson that I have been learning this past year is simply this: God grows us in the tensions of life, and conforms our hearts, minds and life to Christ the more we embrace and exist in these tensions, instead of running away from them.
The street we stay in happens to have a brothel. A well-oiled machine with some allege sex-traffickers. Dudes who pimp out girls for sex, so that they could have money. They typically have the girls addicted to some drugs (which they supply) and hence they have a "fix" which the addicted girls have to go back to them for. It's crazy.
Now, anyone who knows my wife knows she is so passionate about women in such situations. She has done some really really cool stuff before to reach out to women in bars in Asia together with her group of friends. One of her prayers since the brothel popped up in our street is for God to give her (together with some of her friends in our community) wisdom on what to do. Mind you, our street is filled with these girls all day long. Some young, some much older, and most look like they haven't showered for days and are somewhat high.
After some months of praying, a door opened for my wife.
One day while I was outside our gate trying to get to the office, one of the girls was passing by and exclaimed to me, "You are Bruce, right? I haven't seen you lately. Is Brittany at home?" Firstly, I was confused by where she knew us from. But I quickly remembered my wife telling me that she had had a brief encounter with one of the girls. I assumed this was her, and it sure was.
"She is in the house. Just knock on the gate to get her attention", I said, as I was heading to the office. A couple of moments later, Brittany popped by the office and quickly told me she was going to grab some lunch with our sister Karina, and her newly found friend, a girl who sells her body for a living.
I was stunned.
But encouraged. I knew this is what my wife had been praying for. But at the same time, I was a little scared because I know the pimps which these girls work with are very dangerous. I was caught up in a tension in the moment.
When I got back feedback later in the day of how things went, all seemed positive. The first contact with these ladies that we have been praying for was a moment to be celebrated. My wife had a couple of more encounters with the lady. At least two or three times. And most of the times, she wanted food or money. And on one time she just wanted to hang out with her and I found them sitting together watching a TV show. She had expressed to my wife many times that she wanted out of the lifestyle and wanted to go home.
But my wife also began to quickly feel the same tension. Does this girl only want money/food, or does she actually need real help? Was this dangerous? Could we really help this lady? She continued to pray for her. We continued to talk about it. We were well aware of Christ's words in Matthew 25:42-45:
"For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’" ESV
One of the coolest things about my wife is that she really has a genuine heart and care that I certainly know I do not possess, yet I know I need to. I have seen her start to cry when we talk about these girls (whisper: Americans do not play around, guys. They cry more than we Bantu people. Ha!) And so in seeing how she cared for this girl in the few times they could be together, and did her best to love on her, to talk to her about her faith, I was super encouraged.
But there was a twist.
Most of the times she encountered this girl, she was usually high. And it got to a point where she, at least twice, popped into our house and just entered without knocking. These were some of reasons why the tension began to grow all the more.
On one end, we want to be the light and the salt in this girl's life, and on the other, we want to be safe, and help her in a real and none superficially or temporary way. We had a conversation with my wife and I was clear about this tension in my own heart. On one end, I was glad she was making a friend - a real answer to prayer, right? Yet, in the same vein, how could we help and not my wife get into trouble with the pimps down the road. She acknowledged she felt the same. And with great tears I watched her express great concern for that one particular girl and we decided that we should both sit down with her and talk to her and see how really we could help in effective means.
So, we waited for a time when she could come back. She didn't for a couple of days, if my memory serves me right.
Finally, on a Saturday, my wife was going to attend a wedding with some friends of hers, and I had to preach the following Sunday morning so I was at home just doing some light reading. A couple of minutes after my wife left, she sent me a text and said: "Hey love. I met our friend and told her we wanted to talk to her. That you wanted to talk to her. So she might come there and want to see you. Look out."
I thought we were going to talk to her together. A lot of things began rushing through my mind instantly. I wasn't really prepared to talk to this lady "alone", in our home. I remember thinking: "I am going to have to record the whole encounter in case something pops up later and I am accused of something!" I was a little intimidated and wasn't sure what to expect.
About an hour later. I hear a knock on the door. I attended to it. And there she was, our friend in all her glory.
"Hey!" I said, "What's good?"
"Brittany said you wanted us to talk. So I have come."
"Oh yea, please come in."
She came in. I offered her a sit in our living room and I went straight to the point.
"So I would really like to let you know that Brittany cares for you deeply. And so do I. But we are wondering how best we can help you..."
"I really just want to get out of this. I want to go home," she interjected.
"Okay, I know. I have heard, and we want to help with that. Above all, we want to point you to Someone who is way better than us and can do greater that we can do, who can really change your life [We wanted to be clear what our hope for her spiritually was right from the onset]. But we have to establish some parameters. We have to work together. You have to respect our home and not just pop in without knocking. You have to know we want more for you than just a meal although we can gladly do that. Brittany wants an actual friendship with you, but I also want it to be pointed and especially safe for her," I said.
She was listening intently.
"Thank you, Bruce. I hear you. I do want to get out. I do want to go back to my mom."
"We want to help. Will you promise to come back next week, ready to talk more and map a plan out? Maybe, say, Wednesday?"
"Yes. I will for sure. I am so done with this place. It's just not good. I am only 29."
Our conversation didnt last long, and soon she was out of the house. We were on the same page, I thought. I was sure then as I am now that I was protecting my wife (which is my responsibility) and I was also wanting us to be missional, but also responsible.
Wednesday came, and our friend never pitched up. In fact, she became a little scarce. My wife was a little worried, and rightly so.
A couple of weeks later, Brittany asked me a question:
"Did your talking to her maybe chase her away? What are we even supposed to do in such a situation. We want to help. But help responsibly."
I didn't have a great answer then, but when it came up again later, I had composed myself and let what I know from the Scriptures to bear on my soul: true Christianity, on mission is filled with tension, and it is in that tension that not only is our faith grown, but our being is changed.
And as I have thought about it more and more, I see it very clearly. As believers, our lives have realities that seemingly pull at each other and yet are not in contradiction. And I would even further argue that these tension must be present if we are truly living life on mission.
Think about men and women who have been disowned by their families because they have chosen to walk the way of Christ and not the African traditional religion, or the Islam of their families etc? Isn't that a crazy tension?
I know of a lot of men who have this tension in their lives where they want to work hard to provide for their families, yet also want to spend time with them in meaningful ways - because Jesus calls them to both. It's a tension. And it's existence is to be embraced.
What about the young man who wants to do well in his new career and climb the corporate ladder, yet not make his work an idol. Is that not a hard tension? The day that tension is lost, he will dive deep into the abyss of idolatry if his work, which will be detrimental to his day to day enjoyment of God.
The true Christian experience seems to be one that is not void of these tensions:
We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21), but we are citizens of actual countries on this earth. The tension that must exist is not only where our treasure should lie, but were our ultimate allegiance is. Tension.
We are saved from the power and penalty sin (Romans 8:2, 1 Peter 2:24), but we haven't been saved from the presence of sin yet. Tension.
How about marriage? Two unique, different individuals trying to become one - not just theoretically, but also, functionally. I have been in it for 6 months now, and it is glorious tension between how I think things should be done, and what my wife thinks, and then what we eventually decide to do as a team. The tension brings us closer. Helps us learn about each other more. And grows our relationship. I want her to be herself, and I will be myself, and we are both trying to be one. Tension much? You bet.
Do any tensions exist in your heart and in your life?
Jesus calls his followers to abandon everything in order to follow him. That is why tensions will follow us in our day to day lived experiences as missionaries wherever God has called us. The tensions point to something greater - we are not of this world. What we have to do to glorify God, and our natural proclivities can seem at odds. And thats the human experience for a believer in Christ. This is not home. We are on a pilgrimage. We are just passing through. We live here now, with the view of eternity. And sometimes all this can feel complicated.
Is the mission God has called you seemingly cost-less? No discomfort? No tension? Maybe you are doing it wrong somehow.
Grace and peace.