For years my wife, Gloria, and I prayed for the opportunity to plant a church in the Middle East. We even had a map with a square drawn around the downtown area of what was (at the time) one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. A pastor in a nearby region told us there was a need for a gospel-centered church in the heart of the city; we were compelled to pray that the need be filled.
After years of preparation, the time finally came. On August 23, 2008, we landed with our toddler on a steamy summer night. We were ready to change the world for Jesus.
After only a month in Arabia, however, everything fell apart.
One day I was driving around the parking lot of a local mall, and as I made a left turn I felt a painful sensation in both my elbows. Soon after, boil-like wounds developed on my fingertips, and I lost use of much of my arms. I was unable to write, open a door, shake a hand, or get dressed. This pain wasn’t altogether new; I’d had surgery on both my arms before we moved overseas to relieve a nerve disorder.
But we thought I was healed. To see the painful disability return was a crushing blow.
And that was only the beginning of a dark season. Soon, depression would unleash its fury on my soul. I quit language school and sat on the couch all day, every day. It felt like God brought me to the desert to destroy me. I dreamed about having healthy arms and played an endless “if only” game: If only my arms were healthy, then I’d be happy.
But good health never came. Instead, the refrain in my head became, I wish I was dead, I wish I was dead.
No Fairy-Tale Ending
Fast-forward 10 years. I wish I had a fairy-tale ending to share, but I’m still disabled. I’m unable to do normal, everyday things: play ball with my kids, drive our car, open the car door or put my seatbelt on by myself. I can’t even pick up a glass of water or hold a book. I’m in pain 100 percent of the time. Joy is a daily, often hourly, fight.
I’ve tried a dozen procedures, four major surgeries, countless hours in therapy, a cocktail of medicines, and a variety of herbal remedies—all to no avail. I’m still weak and broken. My condition may remain until glory.
I’m still weak and broken. My condition may remain until glory.
And yet, despite all of this, God is building his church. By his grace, Redeemer Church of Dubai was planted in February 2010—and people came. Several hundred, in fact, from dozens of nationalities.
We had an incredible partner church who sacrificially sent people and funding. We had bold evangelists who brought newcomers. We had a brilliant location in the heart of the city. We’ve seen countless people come to faith and get discipled.
Since our inception, God has enabled us to plant more churches around the country. We’ve been involved in church planting work in faraway lands, like the Philippines and Lebanon. We’ve started a theological training center and seen leaders trained and sent out.
Through it all, here’s the most important lesson we’ve learned: God is the one building his church.
Weakness Is Always the Way
The apostle Paul knew what it was to be weak. He begged God no less than three times to remove a thorn from his flesh. But it remained. Perhaps Paul wondered what his ministry could have been—how much he could have achieved—had he not had that thorn.
But here’s the reality: God didn’t work in Paul’s life despite the thorn but through it (2 Cor. 12:9). Weakness is part of God’s plan. Moses led God’s people out of mighty Egypt. David defeated the behemoth Goliath. Joshua and the Israelites defeated Canaan when their impenetrable walls crumbled. As J. I. Packer has said, weakness is always the way so that God always gets the glory.
Weakness is part of God’s plan.
I once read about an ancient Japanese art form called Kintsugi. It’s a fitting picture of how God uses us in ministry. Kintsugi, which literally means “golden patchwork,” involves joining together broken pottery pieces with gold or another precious metal.
The artist takes the broken pieces of pottery—cups, bowls, or plates—and puts them together again to form the original items. Rather than hiding the flaws of the pottery, he or she highlights the cracks by sealing them with gold. The bowl’s brokenness becomes its beauty.
Kintsugi is found in museums throughout Japan because the “broken” art is seen as more beautiful than an unbroken cup or bowl.
God’s ways are not our ways. We naturally think he needs us to be strong. But his ways are more like Kintsugi. In his perfect plan, God has always picked broken people to do extraordinary things. He has planned to use pain for our good and his glory in ways we could never imagine.
God Chose the Weak
I spent years as a seminary student, did several internships, and took part in a church-planting residency. I went to language- and cultural-acquisition trainings. Gloria and I raised funding, built a team, and were ready to go.
God wanted it to be crystal clear to us—and those watching—that the spotlight would be on his Son. Church planting is about Christ’s renown.
And yet, God wanted to make it abundantly clear that he was building his church. I moved to the Middle East to change the world, but it soon became clear God was changing me. He was stripping my pride and redirecting my heart. God wanted it to be crystal clear to us—and those watching—that the spotlight would be on his Son. Church planting is about Christ’s renown.
Weak and broken leaders, go plant churches. Hurting church planters, don’t give up. The sick and suffering have often been turned down for ministry, but heaven’s calculus is different. Since the Lord will use the weak (1 Cor. 1:27), let us press on, in our weakness, to plant healthy churches.