Have you ever wanted to be two places at the same time? What about wanting to spent time with different groups of people but it's just impossible to do it? Paul felt that way and I think that everyone who lives a cross cultural life (whether missionary, businessman, or simply you and your spouse are from different countries) deal with that. The other day I was reading through the book of Romans and something jumped out to me.
If you've studied the background of the book of Romans you probably noticed that Paul hadn't actually met the church there yet. In 1:13, he says this:
Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.
His desire to minister and to impart to them a spiritual gift births the epistle, which helps us understand with amazing depth the results of what God did through Christ. But why hadn't Paul been there before and taught them these things in person? Was it Satan himself that hindered him? Some other spiritual power? How about lack of money? Persecution? Sickness?
Actually, it was none of those things. Maybe in other situations those things might have played a part but as I kept reading through Romans I seen where he tells us why he hadn't been there.
Romans 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient- in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, but as it is written:
“To whom He was not announced, they shall see;
And those who have not heard shall understand.”
For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while.
What was his reason? He had such a strong sense of calling to take the Gospel to the unreached that he just simply couldn't pull away from that and go to Rome. After he felt like he could leave that ministry he planned on going see them.
Here are a few things that come to mind.
1. Paul had a strong vision of what God called him to do. It wasn't so specific that he couldn't adapt (Think of Acts 16 where Paul was going to Asia but the Spirit moved him to Macedonia). But at the same time it wasn't so broad that he was just looking for any kind of spiritual busy work he could find. That takes maturity and a sense of where you fit into the body of Christ. Paul's drive is an encouragement and conviction to all of us.
2. It's hard to not be with all the people you long to be with. In chapter one Paul mentions how he always prays for them. He thought of them often and wanted to be there but because of God's specific call and Paul's growing desire to preach Christ he hadn't been to Rome. We don't want to compare ourselves to Paul but we, as a family, do feel that. We feel the call and leading to be in Ecuador serving amongst them and that means we can't be here. Our hearts are spread around to several parts of the world to those we love but we know it would be nearly impossible to have all of them in one place. In the very least we hope to be an encouragement to all those who God has put in our path, both near and far. We also know that when Christ comes, we'll all be gathered together- forever.
3. Paul made an effort to show those he wasn't around that he did care for them and that he did pray for them often. This is something we need to work on. We might not be able to spend lots of time with each person, family, and church who have embraced the vision of the work in southern Ecuador and are walking alongside of us but we do think of you all often, pray for you, and you are close to our hearts. And we can also say, like Paul, we do long to be with you and impart to you some spiritual gift. One thing that we trust is that the eternal reward and satisfaction in knowing that Christ is being glorified through our partnership together is greater than the any one moment we might be able to see each other face to face.
May the day come that the work is done, Christ has come, and together we're around his throne!