“Our understanding of fulfillment must include suffering.” Ajith Fernando

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This week I had the privilege of being one of the Lausanne bloggers who got to interview and sit at the feet of Ajith Fernando. I first “met” Ajith at Urbana 87, as he was the keynote speaker. Of course I didn’t meet him. There were 18,000 students there, eager to learn about mission. What I loved then was his heart and his expert handling of the Scriptures. And when we interacted this week, I met an even more passionate man. This encourages me, as I would love to finish well, to always be growing, to become more and more fascinated by Jesus.

He recently wrote an article for Christianity Today that is well worth your time. It’s entitled, “To Serve is to Suffer.” I loved what he said about the call of Jesus sometimes meaning suffering. He writes, “The model of Christian leadership is that of the Good Shepherd dying for his sheep, not abandoning them when the situation gets dangerous (John 10:11-15). When God calls us to serve him, he calls us to come and die for the people we serve. We don’t discard people when they have problems and cannot do their job properly. We serve them and help them come out of their problems. We don’t tell people to find another place of service when they rebel against us. We labor with them until we either come to agreement or agree to disagree.”When he spoke to the Lausanne bloggers, he reiterated his point by saying what I have quoted as the title of this post. Part of our fulfillment as ministers and followers of Christ includes suffering. And just because we suffer doesn’t mean that God has taken His hand from us, or that He is saying we shouldn’t persevere. That encouraged me. We tend to think of ministry in terms of success here in the West–something we can measure with numbers and conversions and building size. But what if God calls us to smaller things? Or failure? Or persecution?

He said that every church reflects its culture without realizing it. We in America are a productive culture, so we measure our church success in light of that. To remedy that, he encouraged us to dig into the Scriptures, to see what God has to say about success and the true measurement of biblical fruit.

He also commented on the stress we have in this world. He said, “Some suffering is unnecessary.” Meaning, as followers of Christ, we shouldn’t overschedule and overwork ourselves, then suffer from the effects of that. Instead, we should embrace sabbath living. “If people don’t take a sabbath,” he said. “they’re in disobedience to God.”

I asked him about families and children on the mission field. He said, “The church has often been unfair in this, believing God will look after the family if you do God’s work.” Instead, parents need to spend time with their kids, not sacrificing them on the altar of ministry. He spoke of his time as a family during the revolution in his country. The way he helped his kids through that time was to provide a happy home. “They must come back from a terrible situation to a happy home,” he said. “My biggest ambition was to give them a happy place. I didn’t expose them to the problems of the ministry.”

That squares so beautifully with what Patrick and I believe about creating a haven-like home. When our kids suffered in French schools, we made sure that they came home to joy, peace, and safety. Our home was a place to be real, to fall apart, to be loved. Of course we didn’t parent perfectly, but I like to think we were purposeful about sheltering them once they returned from the big, bad world.

Hearing Ajith’s voice and heart blessed me. Listening to his words challenged me. I pray his heart and words challenge you, too.

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