Having done several short-term mission trips before, I was excited to experience Ethiopia and encourage some of the Christian leaders there. My expectations were high and I thought I had a fairly good idea of what awaited us. But I was wrong. We were ambushed.
These beautiful people ambushed us with their joy. The pastors and evangelists we heard from blindsided us with their passion for Christ and captured us with their big smiles. The churches we worshiped with showed us how to approach God boldly in prayer. They inspired us with their lives of faithfulness and stories of resilience in the midst of opposition. We went to give them the gift of encouragement, but we returned far richer than we left.
Writing to the church in Rome, Paul describes the mutual encouragement that we experienced in Ethiopia, saying:
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Rom. 1:11–12)
One of my favorite moments in ministry to date happened on this trip, while I was preaching on the final night of the conference to around 2,000 pastors, evangelists, and leaders. I looked out on older pastors who had spent time in prison for their faith in Christ (while Ethiopia was still under a Communist regime) and many younger church planters and evangelists who face ongoing persecution as they advance the gospel deeper into unreached areas. Never have I met people with faces more singularly set toward Jesus and his mission. What could I possibly teach them?
C.S. Lewis, quoting Samuel Johnson, once wrote, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” I realized that Jesus didn’t want me to instruct these leaders as much as he wanted me to remind them of his presence and promise. My message was simple: “Bertu! Yesus kenante gar naw” (Take courage! Jesus is with you).
Next year I will be taking our very first team of high school students across the world to serve and encourage thousands of Ethiopian youth. There is not a doubt in my mind that Jesus is going to ambush them too.