The sun beat down on rocky barren mountains. That was all I could see out of that tinted van window. The man in the front passenger’s seat was talking, and I was only hearing half of the words he said… something about how when they built these roads, they followed donkey paths because donkeys seem to have a way of knowing the path of least resistance and in these mountains that mattered quite a bit. There was not even a speck of green outside- just gray dirt, rocks, and hills as far as the eye could see. It was my first day in the Middle East. I went brave and alone, but on this day I did not feel brave. I only felt alone.
There was a metaphorical file cabinet in the back of my brain labeled “Middle East” that had been collecting every story I had ever heard related to that region of the world. We drove through deserts that were no stranger to war. As we drove, the file cabinet latch broke open and flooded my mind with the headlines I had read of terrorists, extremists, and beheadings. I took a deep breath, latched it closed again, and looking up at the man in the passenger’s seat, asked him a another question about donkey trails.
I had grown up as a child and then a teenager and then a young adult in vibrant church community. On the street I grew up on there must have been thirty churches within five minutes of my house. My life is characterized by abundant blessing from God. I was accustomed to safety, and I was accustomed to an environment saturated with people who loved God.
Who knows how many hundreds of times I’ve heard the gospel in my life? I often forget what kind of privilege that is when there are still so many people who have never heard it at all. That truth, that there are people who have no idea who Jesus is, moved me. First, it moved me in prayer when I was sixteen, and then later when I decided to dedicate my career’s intention to World Missions as I chose a major in college, and then later still when I decided to board an airplane by myself to go to the Middle East. Like I said, I felt brave and full of faith. There goes Danielle, kicking fear to the wayside, going off into the great unknown to change the world.
I had read lots of books about the culture and talked to some people who had lived there for a while. I had thought I was prepared. But I had been wrong.
I felt a fierce kind of oppression in the weeks following my arrival. I felt afraid and alone, and yet most of my fear was fueled by my vivid imagination, not even reality. For example, I once stood frozen in my apartment hearing what seemed to be angry Arabic shouts outside my window, only to have someone tell me the voices were saying that tomatoes were on sale. “Tomatoes! I’m scared of a tomato salesman!” I felt like fear was unraveling me from the inside, but the worst part was that I felt like I didn’t have anyone there I could talk to about it.
My times of prayer during that season mostly consisted of me pathetically crying for help. I recall that the Lord really spoke to me in one little cheesy allegory I happened to read while I was there: There was a tiny sapling tree that had its home in a great giant forest. Surrounded by huge hardwoods, it felt protected and happy. But one day, so the story goes, a lumber company came in and took down all of the giant trees of the forest, and the sapling tree was left alone. For the first time in its life, the little tree experienced the fullest force of the sun, wind, and rain, and while it was thinking that it would definitely break under the pressure, what the little tree came to discover over time is that these conditions were exactly what was causing its wood to grow dense to withstand the pressure, causing its own roots to grow deep, and causing its own trunk to grow tall. And I realized in that moment that so also this is what the Lord does with us, asking us to persevere through difficulties that we otherwise may not have chosen for ourselves to make us “mature and complete” (James 1:4). He doesn’t choose to lead us along the “donkey trails” of our lives- the easiest paths of least resistance, but rather, He asks us to walk through the trials and along the challenging pathways to grow us and to make us more like Him.
I came home from that experience in the Middle East weary and wounded, but over time I realized that God had used it for my benefit. He did strengthen me like the little tree, but there was also a breakdown in the metaphor. We were never really meant to do alone the kind of work that I was trying to do. God may have used it for my benefit, and it’s certainly a pattern He has to turn all kinds of less-than-ideal situations into something to be used for our benefit. However, being alone is definitely no long-term way to do ministry. I learned that it is so important to do missions in community.
That’s why here at IHOP we have a missions expression called Finish the Task. We have bases all over the 10/40 window in some of the hardest and darkest places in the world to do ministry, and at our foundation, we believe so strongly that missionaries have more longevity and are stronger, happier, and more effective in healthy teams. Imagine, a rich community of friends who love each other, have fun with each other, bear each others’ burdens, and also go to do the work of ministry together. It seems to be a no-brainer to me. God is obvious in Scripture about His feelings towards community life and unity. So why hear this and then also decide to go work in the hardest places in the world alone? Sounds like a recipe for failure.
Because none of us are meant to do this alone.
For more information about Finish the Task visit our sister website: www.finishthetask.global We are always on the lookout for like-minded people to join our work at our international bases. If a career in missions in something you’d like to explore, please contact us!