We’ve been in South Africa now for 17 months. It is difficult to explain what that is like; sometimes it feels as though we have just arrived, and other days as though we have been here much longer. One thing that remains true regardless of what “day” it is…I have much to learn!
Its true that much of our learning comes from experience; simply tightening up your boot laces, jumping in the grind, and getting your hands dirty. However, during my time so far in South Africa, more often than not, I’ve remembered all the opportunities I had to learn from other’s mistakes and successes. I’ve remembered not taking some of those opportunities seriously enough.
Just before deploying to Iraq in 2006, I recall a dear friend and mentor of mine, then SSG Joe Bannon trying to persuade me to go on runs with him. He said, “Underwood, this is for your benefit, it’s to prepare you.” When we finally arrived in Ft Hood, Texas for our premobilization training and had to perform our first PT test, I remember wishing that I’d spent more time running with SSG Bannon. (I also remember him saying, “I tried to tell you bro!”)
Since arriving on the field and jumping into ministry, there have been many instances that I thought back to missed opportunities to grow and learn that I should have taken better care to nurture. I am so thankful for the training that I received from my pastor, Tony Howeth, from Pastor Gardner, and Pastor Cofield over the years; but I have often wondered if I’d just listened more carefully, would I have the right answer to deal with “this current situation.” I’ve also experienced great gratitude for the practical ministry training and lessons that I did learn that helped to prepare me for the mission field! I can’t express how important it is to have proper, biblical training for the ministry!
Something else that I have experienced in my own life, as well as witnessed in other’s is; if we are not careful, we will make a mountain out of a mole hill! Everything is much “bigger” on the mission field. Inconveniences become “sacrifices.” Little problems become “tragedies.” If we allow our imagination to run wild, it will control how we respond to even simple daily aggravations. It is extremely important to view our circumstances and situations in the light of God’s word.
This is especially true in South Africa! To be 100% honest, there is very little that we cannot have here, that we could in the United States. It’s just that here, the inconvenience is heightened because of our geographical location.
Seeing problems in the correct light will also affect how we deal with people! An example of this is and experience I had with one of the young men at Soweto Baptist; Sibusiso. (I’m telling this story with his permission.)
A few weeks ago, we had a Youth Led Service on a Thursday service. Sibusiso led the music and did a wonderful job! However, one of his friends laughed at him and it embarrassed him. He was upset with me and said, “if you ever make me do that again, I won’t come back.” This was a small problem, a minor set back, but at the time it ticked me off. I told him, “Skere (his nickname) you did a great job and I don’t care what you say, you’re using that talent for the Lord whether you like it or not! Well, later that week I had to track him down because he skipped the net two services! I certainly could have and should have handled that differently. By the way, he is at my house as I type this and is still very vital to the ministry at Soweto Baptist Church.
The lesson is, did my reaction to him being upset turn a mole hill into a mountain?
I share these two valuable lessons that God has taught and continues to teach me on a daily basis in hopes that it will help others that might be going through similar circumstances. In perspective to how the New Testament church suffered true persecution for the sake of the gospel, not finding my favorite “American cereal” at the very modern grocery stores are just not that big of a sacrifice for Jesus! The only way we combat this way of thinking is by remembering to view our circumstance in the light of God’s word, guard our thoughts, and respond instead of react!
Thoughts and lessons from:
Missionary to South Africa
Nathan Camp says
You are doing awesome Stephen! Very impressive. Keep up the good work for the gospel.
Stephen Underwood says
Thank you brother! God sure has been good to me!