“Just act like you’re enjoying yourself.” I stood in the sultry streets of Bangkok’s red light district, neon signs flashing around me, and repeated to myself what our team had been told before we left the States. “It’s important that you act normal. Smile, look like you’re having fun.” Fun? I felt sick to my stomach.
Missions is messy, dirty, heartbreaking work. It makes you feel small and helpless, wondering if you’re really making a difference. You encounter problems that you cannot fix. Hurts that you cannot mend. Lives that you cannot save. Maybe that’s not what you’d expect to hear. But it’s true. Missions wrecks you. It takes your Western views of God, the world, despair, and joy and crashes them to pieces at your feet, leaving you with a need for answers to questions you never knew you had.
Questions about pain and evil and suffering. About privilege. About why them and not me. And about what my life should look like in light of all these questions. I’ve sat on rooftop balconies on the other side of the equator and hotel beds on the other side of the world and wrestled with these questions. I’ll be honest; I don’t feel like I’ve gotten very far in way of getting answers. But I can say without a doubt that I know God more.
I went to Thailand last month as part of a media missions team. Our purpose in Bangkok was to document what happens in the Red Light District in an attempt to prevent it from happening in the future. For the girls that sit outside the clubs now, there was nothing we could do, except bear witness to their pain. On my way home from Thailand, I was reminded of the story of Job. Unmerited suffering. Devastating loss. Sickness. In the face of all this, Job questions God. Job asks God why didn’t he die at birth and why the righteous suffer alongside the wicked. He asks God hard questions about life. And does God reply? Yes. But not in the way Job was expecting. God doesn’t answer all his questions, or even give Job a peek into the greater picture of what was being accomplished through the suffering. God answers Job by revealing more of Himself. God reminds Job that He is the One who commands the waves and was present when the stars sang out. At the end of God’s response, Job once again speaks to God: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.”
Before Job had heard of God. Through suffering and questions he saw Him. I can say the same thing. God has become real to me on mission trips. He has shown me that when my heart breaks over girls being abused, that His heart breaks even more. When I weep over orphaned kids, I am crying His tears. He is allowing me to feel to a small degree what He feels when He sees the hurts of the world. And that is a painful, but beautiful thing.
I still don’t have answers to all my questions. I still lie awake some nights asking why. But I am learning to let it be enough that God has shown me He is a God who loves redemption. Who loves creating beauty from ashes. Who takes even the darkest threads and weaves them into a masterpiece.
Whether it’s trees budding after a long, cold winter, or a life transformed, Meagan Wanschura believes that the world is bursting with stories of redemption. One of her favorite things to do is document those stories. She currently serves as the communications director and curriculum developer for Global Encounters.