The retired missionary had tears in his eyes when he said to me, “Just remember one thing, son—love your fellow missionaries. They are your family.”
My much younger self thought, “Piece of cake; I love my siblings and parents.” A year and a half after arriving on the field I realized that the old man meant the Manson family. We are a quirky, stubborn lot and not always easy to live with.
A short time later, I strolled out to the jungle and fell to the ground with the weight of my conflict on me. I cried out to God about how difficult my fellow missionaries were making my life. I know, I was a drama queen and fairly stupid because there could have been snakes or warthogs out there (actual snakes, not my co-workers).
I would never do such a thing again. Partly because of my arthritic hip, but mostly because I now know that God has His eye and hand on those of us who are called. I am not proud of my embellished show of emotion, but it was my first lesson in answering God’s call on my life.
When I answered the call to go overseas to minister I was prepared to battle all kinds of opposition… religious fanatics, militants and Satan himself. I was wearing the full armor of God and armed with God’s word that I had gleaned from Sunday school and seminary. Despite all those “weapons” I was ready to turn away from God’s calling because of minor disagreements.
I had not counted on my fellow missionaries being as petty and small minded as I am. Conflict within the “family” is the collective elephant in the room. It is a wounded, rogue elephant not the comical, domesticated one at the circus.
Several years after my jungle experience, I had to face down the elephant and found a hideous version of myself that I often regret meeting.
A dear friend and coworker looked me in the eye and asked me to forgive him. Not aware of any problems between us, I casually said, “Of course.”
Then came the confession, “Ever since I met you I have done and said things to destroy your reputation, your ministry and your family.”
My mind was reeling and I was dumbstruck. I asked why, knowing that no answer from my friend would bring sincere forgiveness from me. I left that meeting scouring my mind for what I had done to my friend. I found nothing.
I trusted him and in turn was wronged. In the months that followed I ignored love and comfort and craved revenge. The betrayal was a wound that I further infected with contempt and self-pity. I withdrew from my missionary family and trusted no one. My joy evaporated. I was left with the unsatisfying knowledge that I had done nothing wrong—I was right.
Another friend who knew what had happened asked me, “What has this done to your relationship with God?” I flippantly answered, “My relationship with God is fine… my relationship with God’s people has taken a serious hit.”
I had lied to my friend because I was estranged from God and occupied a space away from my own family. The event and my subsequent unforgiving spirit took its toll on me both spiritually and physically. Eventually, I simply became a carrier of the poison, distrust. It became walled away inside of me like a dormant disease.
I didn’t like anything those days, least of all, myself. One day, I realized that I completely missed the lesson because I was too self-absorbed. God had protected me through it all. I was clueless about what was happening, but God wasn’t and He was looking out for me.
I took stock of my life and found that I had a lot to be grateful for, especially a loving, protective God who graciously allows me to serve Him overseas.
Being right is a cheap substitute for doing the right thing and I finally and genuinely forgave my friend. It wasn’t that cut and dried because the whole experience was like radical surgery to my spirit. I truly love him, but companionship was amputated in the process.
These days I embrace my friend with one arm. Meanwhile, God unconditionally embraces both of us with His strong, loving arms.