“I may be a missionary but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to discouragement.”
Before Steve Hagemeyer and his family even arrived in Africa for their first term as missionaries, troubles arose.
At the time the Ebola outbreak of 2014 was at its peak, driving most foreigners out, they were arriving in country.
“We weren’t in danger of getting Ebola,” Steve says, “but there was a constant tension. In the village we had planned to live in, they were attacking Red Cross workers because they thought the foreigners were coming to give them Ebola.”
Then the family who was going to be their missionary partner was forced to leave the field because of sickness.
“We’d always envisioned doing this as a team,” says Steve. “It was like losing a family member.”
From the beginning, Steve had some health issues in Africa, but they attributed it to stress and adapting to the conditions. Early in their second term, he began to feel worse.
“I was in this downward spiral. I was losing weight and had intense abdominal pain. The local clinic couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had lost so much weight I was down to 130 pounds, which at 6’ 4” isn’t good.”
They returned to the States early, where doctors came up with a diagnosis and prescribed medicine.
“Once I got on the medicine, I felt better than I had in years. So our plan was to take the medicine with us back to Africa.”
The medicine made a difference, but not enough. Steve was still struggling to piece together enough healthy days and hours to be productive.
As the problems have piled up, so has discouragement.
In the following thoughts, Steve shares from his experiences what he’s learning about how a suffering servant can continue to faithfully endure.
In Africa, everyday life is suffering.
People are sleeping on a dirt floor. They don’t have electricity, or if they do, it’s with a small solar panel—if they have the means. But most people can’t afford it. They don’t have clean water. There’s a lot of sickness, but they don’t have money to buy medicine. It’s hot, but they don’t have a fan or air conditioning.
The way we live there is 10 times better than the average person in the village. I have more than one solar panel. I’ve got fans and a mosquito net. It’s never been a question of can I afford the malaria medicine. We left the United States and a certain standard of living to go where it’s hard, and yes, it’s very difficult. But we look around us and people are getting by with next to nothing.
Inspired by Others
On the days that I’m down, my wife is an encouragement to me. She’s committed to God and faithful in prayer. She keeps the vision in front of me of what God has called us to do.
I’m also inspired by our national translator, his tenacity and his desire for God’s Word for his people day after day. Every time we faced hardship and people back home asked, ‘Are you going to go back?’ I thought, Yes, of course I’m going back. Because I think of what he’s gone through and his joy in continuing to do it.
Even though nothing has happened like we thought it would, a lot of good has happened. When we first got there, we couldn’t even write the language. Now all of Luke is drafted; we’re halfway through Acts. We’ve drafted a primer series. People are wanting to read. There’s been a tremendous amount of progress. There’s been a lot of hardship.
If God just wanted to use me for a part, then it’s been an honor. I’ve come to the point to realize it’s not my project, not my translation. It’s God’s.
Steadfast in Prayer
The heaviest thing on my heart is the question of how this is all going to play out. No matter what, I want to see these people have a translation in their own language. But how is that going to work? How can I help that continue?
I’m not in that place any more, but there was a period when I asked God, “Why would you call us to this work and then pull the rug out from under me?” We ran into a brick wall here, fought through that, and prayed through that. And we went through the next thing and fought through that and prayed through that.
I see the angry discourse in Scripture. It’s there in the Psalms, and I can relate to it. That’s why it’s there.
The key, though, is to not stay there. You have to get it off your chest through prayer and work through it. Sometimes you can work through it because you get an answer. But other times you come to accept that God’s got a plan that’s bigger than you and he’s going to do what he’s going to do. And it will work out for good because that’s the truth of his Word. I’ve tested enough of his promises that I don’t doubt his Word. I do want to know why sometimes.
Rooted in Scripture
I preached a sermon several years ago from James 1:2-8 about suffering. I saw the truth in Scripture, but I hadn’t really suffered. Those lessons I learned back then have come back to me. I’ve thought about what God is doing in us.
First Peter 1:3-9 talks about the refiner’s fire that proves your faith genuine. First Peter 4:12-19 adds “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” The idea is consistent throughout Scripture that you’re going to have trouble in this world. If you’re serving God, you can be guaranteed it’s coming. From a western perspective you underestimate the spiritual oppression that comes your way when you’re serving as a Christian. If you’re not experiencing some level of difficulty in your service, then maybe it’s not really service.
Ministering in Weakness
In 2 Corinthians 12:5-10, Paul boasts about his weakness, because when he’s weak that’s when Christ’s strength takes over. I’ve been trying to learn how to minister in weakness. It’s a lot easier to minister in full health. It’s hard to do joyful ministry when you don’t feel good, when you don’t have a lot of energy.
So how do you do that? You’ve got to tap into something a little deeper. You can’t rely on yourself. I’ve gained a realization of how much I’ve relied on myself over years of ministry.
When I got sick there were people who said, “Why are you still sick? You’re a missionary, you shouldn’t get sick.”
God has allowed it for a reason and he wants it to change me for the better. There are things I’ve needed to learn. Unless God heals me, I have a permanent weakness that affects how I do ministry in Africa and possibly even if I can continue to do it in Africa.
The idea that I might not be able to continue is in the back of my mind. That’s still unresolved.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Missouri.