By Aimee Tucker, Community Life Pastor Vineyard Church of Hyde Park, Chicago, IL
When our church joined the Vineyard Mission partnership for a particular nation (closed country), I looked forward to the time I would be able to travel and see God’s work in and through the church there, because I knew some things would be different from the first time I traveled to that country.
I first traveled to this place as a hope-filled young woman in the summer of 1999, eager to serve God and have my eyes opened to the sights and experiences of a new land. The two months I spent there were a rich experience of growing in understanding God’s heart for the world. God regularly overwhelmed me--in a good way--by allowing me to see salvations. I would meet with other young people, introduce them to Jesus, and they would begin to follow him; it was amazing to see and experience! As the summer stretched on, however, the excitement of a new culture and new friends beginning their life in Jesus began to be overshadowed by the context of my circumstances. It became more and more clear that the leader of the organization I was working with was using manipulation and fear to seek to control those around him. This became increasingly problematic for me as the summer wore on, since I was so far away from my family and support systems back home.
Then it was time to come home. The experience weighed heavily on me for some time after that trip. I grieved that I had not been able to help connect my new believing friends to churches that could support their growing faith because of our team leader’s unhealthy and sinful ways. I felt very troubled by this man’s actions toward me and others. As time passed, God worked in me through prayer and the care of others to heal me from the difficult experiences of that summer and bring me to a place of peace.
In 2017, it was time to return. I knew as soon as the opportunity presented itself that a return to this nation of my heart, under much different circumstances, would be a significant experience for me.
When our team arrived in the heat of summer, we traveled to our first city to join a conference with 100 intercessors gathered from the whole region. Those who were gathered there pray faithfully and passionately for God’s work in their country. So as we entered into one of our first exercises of listening to the Lord with them, I asked God to speak to me about my first trip 18 years earlier.
As my heart was quieted and I sat in a room surrounded by so many faithful followers of Jesus, God spoke two things to me very clearly. God said first, “______ [The man who had led my team in 1999] was disobedient to me, but I was with you in _____ [the country].” This was something that I had known in my head, but there was something definitive in the way God spoke it to my heart in that moment that brought closure to me from that prior painful season in a whole new way. My first trip had been really difficult, but God reminded me that he was faithful to me in his presence there with me through the difficulties all those years before, and ever since.
The second thing that God spoke to me was: “The fruit of that time was more than you expected.” This came as a surprise to hear. I had been grateful that first summer that I had been able to sit in tea shops, parks, and university campuses and introduce many people to Jesus for the first time and see them begin personal relationships with Him. Because of the difficult circumstances on our team, however, I hadn’t been able to connect those people with churches who would help to nurture their young faith or really help to connect them with any other believers. Since this was before social media, I lost touch with all of them, and my hope had wavered over those 18 years regarding whether they had been able to develop a lasting and sustaining relationship with Jesus.
So when God spoke to me last summer that “the fruit of that time was more than you expected,” I was reminded once again of God’s faithfulness. I sat there in a room of prayerful intercessors who were faithfully praying for God’s work in their nation, and God gave my heart fresh hope that some of the seeds of His love that He had allowed me to plant 18 years prior had indeed grown up into fruit beyond what I expected.
Many of us experience similar challenges in difficult relationships. Maybe you have poured your heart into something and then wondered if it has really made any difference. Maybe it has been hard to trust God’s faithfulness as you’ve journeyed through a difficult season. For me, my second trip was the culmination to 18 years of waiting for God to bring full closure to the painful pieces of my first visit there. By returning to this place, God revealed to me again just how faithful he is both to His work in the world and to His work in my life.