From the Field

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Cracked Pots, Broken Pots

Frustration — so much of my time on the field is eaten up with non-core activities resulting in frustration. Many, many frustrations: large and significant, small and irritating, physical and material, spiritual and interpersonal. Year after year they keep recurring.

• Not being able to buy quality materials and tools
• Complying with Government requirements in a place where no one person seems to know what they are, and which constantly change
• Personal relationships and personnel relationships compounded by differences in culture, family background, ways of communicating, and generational change
• Communication — no telephones and slow mail to sporadic and limited internet connections
• Ministry goals — the tyranny of the urgent, opportunities limited by time constraints
• Interaction with people — being let down over and over again, breaking of trust…

How I often deal with them is by lashing out or complaining. Sometimes after soul-searching and contemplation, I realise it doesn’t help and so accept my lot and press on, determined to leave it in God’s hands — but a while later it all happens again.

Many times I have said “I find it easier working with materials than with people. People are unpredictable and you can never be sure what’s going to happen. Will they be around to continue on what has been begun? When you build a block wall the blocks stay where you put them. People have a mind of their own. They get up and walk away.”

That was until the destructive typhoon of Nov 8, 2013, when I got a very powerful lesson delivered to me as the storm took everything away that we had physically built over a couple of decades. What I thought was going to be there for the next fifty or more years was flattened overnight.

An annoying phrase I hear over and over again is “a missionary’s task is to do himself out of a job”. This is such a blithe, trite cliché. Sure we want to hand on the baton, we want to train up others, and we want to expand the ministry so that it doesn’t all depend on me and I have to micromanage it. “Hand it over to the locals” they say — but we are not creating our own little kingdom where we can stay and rule. The processes of passing on vision, cultivating or re-directing passion, and inspiring commitment all need time and modelling.

Who of you believes that you are unique and that only you can do what you can do? No one has your special set of skills.

For ten years we laboured with a few men seeking to build leadership. One couldn’t shake his Catholic roots and his betting habits; another couldn’t keep his wife; and another couldn’t make commitments until he ended up in a non-committed live-in relationship with a non-Christian girl. Yet another of our young leaders was accused of inappropriately touching one of the youth and fled to Manila before we could deal with the situation through mediation and resolution. Another got a married woman pregnant. Some of our promising young women have fallen pregnant or chosen badly in a lifetime partner. Those who had ‘get up and go’, got up and went.
It is only over the last ten years that we have seen young men come to the Lord in their mid to late teenage years and grow through discipleship. Even in this group there have been heartaches, disappointments and frustrations. We wonder whether we will ever be able to move on and let go.

One of the most difficult emotions I felt after this typhoon was frustration. My heart was in my boots. Interestingly enough, at the time for me it wasn’t a sense of surrender — “I give up” — but more like a gauntlet thrown down with a sense of resolve — “Okay, let’s just get back on with rebuilding, starting over.”

But the time immediately before and after this catastrophic event has been truly an act of God. Our young men have stepped up to the crease and hit some winning runs. They took on the pastoral care of the people. They gained vision for themselves, they extended themselves and were pushed beyond their abilities and faith.

“If it’s God’s work, it will survive” is another of those trite statements uttered by people often who can flit from one church to another because they have no vital input into the church they have been attending. Sure it is God’s work, and sure, if people are truly His, then they will hang in there — but you and I have a role
to play that no one else  can do, wherever we serve the Lord.

Paul said in 2 Cor 11:28 that on top of the physical trials he endured, he also faced the daily burden for the wellbeing of the churches. In no way would I seek to pretend that I am in the company of a man with the calibre of Paul, but I empathise with his feelings. You want things to go ahead, you want to see people grow and succeed in their spiritual life — but you get frustrated when they don’t follow your well-meaning advice and go and do the very thing that you have counselled them not to do.

After 24 years of being in the same place, and staying the course, we are now hearing of stories that have had a positive impact and seeing the fruit of so many activities that we did way 

back then. A recent enrolee at Grace Christian School is the grandchild of one of the former parents. Her comment to our Bursar was: “The church and school has been just like a family…Kuya Paul used to drop our children off at home, and Ate Gerrah used to have ‘pick-a-present’ from the birthday box.”

Other young people remember Sunday afternoons hanging out at home. Some of our original kids from Kids Club are now teachers at the national high school. Another young woman at youth camp this year shared with me several things I had said at various times since she was a student in Gerrah’s kinder class. “Inner beauty is more important than outward dolling up” and “give me a nice firm hand shake instead of one like a wet leaf”, plus several other gems. The impact of our whole family gave her hope for her own future. She is in her last year of Social Work study.

Marriage and raising kids is tough wherever you are, and without the mutual support of close friends that is often lacking in a pioneering situation, plus the spiritual attacks of the enemy, this area in particular takes a lot of hits. We feel like there are a lot more able people who should be teaching, guiding and providing a model for those we work with. And where our fallibility and lack is strikingly obvious to us, these young people want our counsel and our guidance, and they see us as a model to replicate.

Recently while back in Adelaide, I visited a third culture kids (TCK) program with our girls, and on this occasion the parents of TCKs (MKs) got to meet each other. One chap introduced himself by telling me that I had been his dorm leader at a CYC camp way back in 1976-77. I had had an impact on a young fellow who eventually became a missionary for over 10 years in Thailand. His daughter with her husband have just returned there this year. That blew me away.

Hanging in there, gritting your teeth and refusing to let go or give up is what will count in the end. Frustrations get to you. You cannot but help to let off steam, and many times in the most public ways. (If you really knew what I was like as a missionary you probably would think twice about commending or supporting me!) One visitor some years ago was truly offended by my commanding, abrupt and bossy ways. He sat on it for several years until he had the courage and conviction to write to me and open up his heart on how I had caused him offence. I had to examine my ways and make some changes.

One morning on my birthday about two years ago, a bunch of folk from church came around at 5 am in the morning to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ outside my bedroom window. After letting them in and feeding them breakfast, they had a sharing time. Almost everyone mentioned some time that I had been direct, frank and even offensive, but how each one had actually examined themselves and realised some element of truth in what they had been confronted with. Furthermore, they were thankful for those ‘faithful wounds of a friend’ (Prov 27:6). I try not to make excuses for my abruptness and my lack of grace and my demanding ways, but in the end God uses a cracked, imperfect pot to bring refreshing water to a thirsty and hurting world. Much of the content gets spilled along the way, but I am reminded of a parable I read many years ago:

The Cracked Pot

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water, at the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

And so God has seen fit to use us in some small way to bring His word to needy people. He uses imperfect people, that His glory might not be obscured
but enhanced.

Ed note: ‘No one has your special set of skills...’ Many of us have heard “You’re not indispensable.” It is true that God can use whomever He chooses, but those who need to be reminded of their finite use should be those who have ‘overstayed their welcome’, those who hang on desperately to their ministry positions, when for the good of all they should have passed on the baton years before. Too many people use the phrase, perhaps with false modesty and for whatever personal reason, as an excuse not to work wholeheartedly with what God has blessed them. God has placed us where we are, with our unique gifts and talents — including our dedication, commitment and resilience — to press on in service for Him. Let’s not take His blessings for granted, and let’s not miss the opportunities we have to serve our Lord.

by Paul Kulikovsky


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