My heart for what happens in the coming ten years can be expressed in the following phrases taken from the apostle Paul and are what I hope to be able to say after ten years of living here. 

These phrases are Paul’s own statements after being in Thessalonica for some time. When I was last in the mountains, I read these verses again and again as I lay on a hut floor with a headlamp at night or sat on the steps of a hut in the morning or on a hard bench at a makeshift table. 

We got back from spending a week in the bush a couple of weeks ago. We spent a lot of time with a lot of people and now we are trying to figure out where we are going to spend the next ten years of our life, which people we are going to live with, who we are going to—Lord-willing—bring God’s Word to. 

Early on in our trip, the weight of this decision was difficult for me, so I went to 1 Thessalonians to be encouraged. Since quite a bit of time was spent on our own, I was able to spend a lot of my time in this passage.

I was encouraged by Paul’s words to this church to which he preached the gospel as I read them. I so desperately want to be able to say these phrases myself someday. 

Here we are, looking forward to beginning the work in a tribe, and here are some things I hope to say in ten years when it is time to look back on them.

I know something like this is dangerous. 

A lot could change in the next 10 years and I may be torn from Papua New Guinea before that time. But if I’m not, here are some things I hope to be able to say.

To the church in a tribe in Papua New Guinea:

“we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5)

Oh how sweet it would be to look back after 10 years and say to a church in a tribe, “Look, I know you guys are chosen because when we preached the Gospel to you, it didn’t just come in word only.  That is, you didn’t just sit there and hear it, and then nothing happened and you went back to your gardens, and back to your huts with nothing different — no — but you were convicted, the Holy Spirit changed Your hearts, and by the power of God you were saved and your lives were changed!  The power, the Holy Spirit, and the conviction are things that God provides, but we long to provide the bringing of the Gospel and pray God does the rest.

To the church in a tribe in Papua New Guinea:

“For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain” (1 Thess 2:1)

I want to be able to look back in 10 years and be able to say to these people that it wasn’t a waste of time that we came to them.  And that they know this.  I pray that this tribe we go to would recognize and know that our coming to them was not a waste — because they heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ — believed it — repented — and now know the one true God.

To the church in a tribe in Papua New Guinea: “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. “ (1 Thess 2:8)

We go to bring a message, but we go also to share our own selves with these people.  After only a few days, my heart already cares for these people whom I barely know.  But I hope after 10 years I can say this; that I can say I shared my own soul with you, members of this tribe, because you became beloved to us.  That I wasn’t just a man with a message, but I was your friend, your brother, your uncle, your helper.  That you could say that I loved you, and I shared my own soul with you.

To the church in a tribe in Papua New Guinea:

“For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:9)

Paul worked at a job or something both night and day so that he could support himself and not be a financial burden to the Thessalonians.  He worked hard — so that he could preach the gospel.  While we won’t be working to make funds to support ourselves because we have people back home who lovingly and generously support us to do the work –we will be working to preach the gospel.  I hope that we can say to this tribe in 10 years, remember how hard we worked to preach the gospel to you?  We built houses so that we might live with you, we learned your language and customs, and spoke the gospel to you in your mother tongue!

To the church in a tribe in Papua New Guinea:   

“You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess 2:10-12)

I want to be able to look back after 10 years and say to this church — remember my character.  If I came and got the message right, but my character was completely wrong, that wouldn’t be right.  Not in a boasting way, but in a way where they would know that my intentions were sincere.  I’m a sinner, and I’ll make mistakes, but I want to for these people to see that something is different.

To the church in a tribe in Papua New Guinea: 

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess 2:13)

Really here, we are back to the first one. 

We come bringing a message of God’s mercy toward sinful men—that God saves sinners through Jesus Christ.  We are sinful and deserving of God’s eternal wrath in hell, and yet God, being merciful, made a way for sinful man to be righteous, holy, and clean before the One True God. 

This is the good news. 

Sinful man can be saved!  I’ve seen people hear God’s word and hear it like it’s the “word of men” and I’ve seen people hear God’s word and listen to as the Word of God.  I hope to look back to this tribe and say this — you received the Word of God for what it is — the Word of God — which is working in you believers!

On one of our days hiking through the jungle, drenched with sweat, muscles burning, knee hurting, leg in pain, slipping in the mud — I thought — why am I doing this?  Why am I out here putting myself through all this pain? 

And I remembered these reasons why we are out here. 

To preach the Gospel. 

To share our lives with people that will be loved by us.

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