Life is ultimately about Christ and trusting Him to use us
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Corinthians 4:5
At its core, ministry is really about our participation in God’s Kingdom, not about our own greatness or impact. Jesus is the Savior; we are His disciples and ambassadors. While we know this cognitively, it is easy to get wrapped up in ourselves as we devote our time and hearts to a particular ministry. Without realizing it, our “service” becomes about how we’re going to save the world. At least it can be that way for me.
Last semester, I taught at an international boarding school in South India. This fulfilled my TESOL practicum requirements and gave me more hands-on experience in teaching, ministering to students, and living cross culturally than I’d had in my first three years of college combined. I went over with anticipation and an open heart, eager to be used by God in the lives of those I would be teaching.
Within the first week of classes, I had already grown to care deeply for the elementary and middle school students I worked with. Representing around ten different countries, these students were diverse and engaging. Behind each expression – whether it was sweet, suspecting, mischievous, or lonely – I knew there was a unique story and precious heart. I couldn’t wait to get to know them better.
As the semester went on, I struggled to find my place as both a teacher and a friend. I needed to maintain authority in the classroom, yet I also wanted my students to know that I cared about them as people, beyond simply their grades and behavior in class. How could I best communicate my love – Christ’s love through me – in my role as a teacher? There was a distance created by my title of “Miss” and the little bow of respect my Thai and Korean students would give me in greeting. I wanted nothing more than for the gap to be bridged and for my students to open up to me.
It wasn’t long before this desire and prayer was answered. I guess after a while, the students realized I really cared and decided to trust me. Little by little, they shared more of themselves with me. This was what I had been praying for! Time to bring out the gospel and change some lives, right?
But before I knew it, I was wishing I could retract those prayers for honesty and insight into my students’ lives. I was completely unprepared for the depth of hurt contained in the young hearts of these boys and girls.
I was not ready to hear of physical abuse, horrific family splits, spirit possession, destroyed homes, and thoughts of suicide. My heart broke with each story as I saw pain in my students’ eyes and heard it betrayed in their voices.
Even more overwhelming than the pain was my feeling of utter helplessness. The more I tried to love and help – the more I tried to minister – the more I realized how little I could actually do.
According to the school counselor, there was no effective action to be taken against the abusive parent. All I could do was encourage and love the wounded daughter. I prayed daily for spiritual freedom for my students, but they still kept their spirits’ names and charms. I could do nothing to stop the floods from destroying the homes of my Thai students. And no matter how much encouragement, affirmation, or love I gave one of the girls struggling with depression, I could not turn her thoughts from suicide. I shared the gospel often in different ways and prayed earnestly, but I saw no results.
And then I had to leave.
The five months that had seemed like an eternity in July now felt in December like a breath. I was convinced that the students desperately needed consistent adults who would love them while they were living and studying away from their parents. Now I was the one breaking the relationship and making the change. I couldn’t help asking myself whether or not I had really made a difference in any of the students’ lives. I believed I had been a good teacher and hopefully a caring friend, but I was by no means a savior for the students. Their pain was still very present, and there was no promise their problems wouldn’t get worse in the future. What was the point of my love, prayers, and words of truth and encouragement?
Here, I must come back to Scripture.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:5-7
I could seriously write out, underline, and bold most of 2 Corinthians 2-5 for this. The point is that we ourselves do not change or save anyone. On our own, we are simply broken jars of clay. God gives us His light and Spirit to minister His truth to a blind world. We are made ministers of reconciliation, but He is the One who reconciles and saves. His love for the lost is greater than we can ever know.
I loved my students incredibly. I wanted so badly for them to experience a saving relationship with God and let Him redeem the broken and painful parts of their lives. Yet I know and trust that God loves them exponentially more than I do. I pray that He somehow used me as a small part in His perusal of these kids and that He will continue to use broken jars of clay like myself to reveal His light and love in their lives. Thank the Lord that His work is far beyond me.
–Sarah Jones is a senior TESOL major.