Tony and I have been Canadian missionaries in South Africa. We have learned through our African friends in different countries how to slow down and be relational. This is something all of us in fast-paced countries need to learn. So come along with me and we’ll learn together on the adventures of Growing in God.
My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we are living in Toronto, Canada.
During our last article, we learned about growing in God through a different kind of pause: that of an oasis rest between seasons. Transition usually is a difficult period of adjustment. We had an unexpected month at the end of our season in South Africa. On the day of our flight we were found to be Covid-19 positive, without a planned place to stay still in South Africa. We had sold or given away most of our belongings (that weren’t accompanying us). Thankfully, the very kind friend who was to take us to the airport instead took us to his home, until our third attempt to leave the country (the first was at the beginning of all the lockdowns). We had a quiet place to rest, recover and by the time we were taken to the airport (Covid-free this time!), we were given the grace and favour to travel. We both ordered wheel chair assistance at three airports, were picked up by my cousins at the airport, and taken to our second quarantine stay – a Residence airport hotel on the same street as our future Toronto church (Catch the Fire Toronto).
Again we had a little oasis for fourteen nights, which allowed us to acclimatize to winter in the northern hemisphere (we had come from southern summer), and we purchased phone plans with new Toronto phone numbers. We couldn’t do anything without them – whether ordering food, groceries or update our IDs with Service Ontario. But we managed, apart from a fault on L-A’s phone with sending texts.
We knew that we would be in for a challenging season between the care of my frail dad, who turned 93 recently, and care for Tony. I did some research on the asbestos.com website and discovered that naval personnel were exposed to asbestos on their ships. This could explain Tony’s diagnosis of potential mesothelioma. Thankfully, when we discovered this in October 2021, I researched if there was anyone I could reach out to for help. I discovered that Toronto General Hospital is a world leader in mesothelioma care. There wasn’t any answer, but a day after we arrived back in Canada, we received an email from the secretary of the thoracic surgeon I had emailed. So we were noticed! It took three months, but we found out later that it takes three months to respond to family doctors referring patients. We waited that time in South Africa, so that worked out. Tony went through a series of tests, and after two months, he saw his specialist. It wasn’t time to diagnose him yet – he needed a special biopsy where the thoracic team would cut a one centimetre hole in his side, so they could insert a little camera and the biopsy equipment.
Again, we need to stop, wait and trust. This time, while we wait for the final results of Tony’s biopsy (pleuroscopy), and then the treatment plan, we are learning perseverance. We also are learning that virtue while caring for my dad, who keeps getting TIAs (mini-strokes) that take a little more of him each time. The first one that we observed (there were many before we arrived), had him lose his balance and he could not get up off the floor. At that time, his legs were weak like jello. My sister called 911 to get the firemen to pick him up and let him be comfortable on a couch. He was also looked at by paramedics. He did not want to go to the hospital or a care home. He recovered after an hour, and seemed stronger. This TIA was unusual. In the ones afterwards, he has usually just had a meal, and then goes off into dream land, or half asleep in a kitchen chair. One time Tony could not move him, and he strapped him in with a luggage strap. It kept him from falling. Since then, my dad knows the drill. When we see him acting strangely, we get him sitting or lying down in a safe place where he cannot fall. Are we trained for this? No, but we have learned. Otherwise, either Tony or I constantly cook and have snacks for dad as he makes his rounds through the house, looking for things to graze on, and sights to see. He has a PSW to come give him a daily shower or sponge bath, which he needs since he deals with incontinence. Well, he is 93. Tony in particular is kind but firm in our care of dad. In some ways it’s like he is like a child, being inquisitive. Yet with each TIA, he remembers less. So we turn on music that will stimulate the stories and thoughts, when he has little awakenings.
We have no idea how long our season with my dad will be, as well as the time for Tony’s treatment. Yet we know we are to be here. My dad is our assignment. That is good. God has us in the right place, before we eventually return to our Ottawa condo. Because I seldom leave the house, the only time I get to go out is when we go to church. My sister comes most weekends and sees our dad, and with her daughter spends family time with him. One Sunday, one of the church’s leaders asked the congregation to ask the Holy Spirit for a personal word for this season. I was indeed given a word that was whispered with love into my heart. The word was perseverance. I’ve written about perseverance before, but it was in a different context. At that time, I just had trouble waiting to get to the next season. Now, I’m wading through just a difficult time that we must pass through one hurdle at a time. I’m not the only one who is going through or has gone through this journey. The families we served in Avian Park developed SOME perseverance in the form of coping, but then their desperation also made them shut down in sadness. At this time, I choose not to go that route, but to instead TRUST in God. He will give his grace that will be sufficient in this season. 2 Corinthians 12:9 gives this promise, when the Apostle Paul shares of his struggle with something he could not shake. Holy Spirit told him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
What IS perseverance? Is it coping? Resilience? Or is it not quitting out of pure stubbornness? I believe that it is in choosing not to quit, with a goal in mind. Tony tells me that when he was in training for the navy, he was taught the skill of “dead-reckoning.” If a ship or an aircraft loses communications and is unable to find land or hazards, they will look back on their chart for the last accurate position recorded, and calculate the direction they should have taken from there, and then follow that compass bearing, with an awareness of the uncertainty since that position was recorded. They then steam on (or fly on) using the calculated bearing, and hoping that eventually they will recognize a feature of the land. This takes perseverance, because their sense of direction will suggest a myriad of alternatives.
This is similar to when Pastor Shawn Gabie prophesied over me before we went to Mozambique for our Harvest Missions School in 2016. He told me that I must “keep my focus forward on what the Father has for me that season.” This goal orientation meant a laser focus on the promises that were to come. This word was a reminder to me to allow the refining and uncomfortable difficulties to purify me, without my giving up. Proverbs 4: 25-26 confirms Shawn’s message, which is to “let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure.” Sometimes there are difficulties in life, and especially when you are in ministry. Unfortunately, the average time that a full-time missionary stays in the field is a year. Many give up before that. We lasted four years in our South African assignment, throughout my cancer journey. Mind you, Covid stopped travel for some time, and it was difficult to get back to Canada. Getting back required not giving up and returning at the right time. We did try multiple times, to the chagrin of those well-meaning advisors, who insisted that we return even earlier.
I am coming to believe that perseverance involves actively pushing towards a goal. Sometimes you push hard together with others, other times, you stand alone – standing in the place where you must be to ‘hold the line.’ Holding the line is exactly what we are doing in caring for my 93 year old father. It’s a daily process of continual care. At times when you are corporately persevering together, there is even more strength, because you can encourage each other, or change roles for a time. It’s like the birds when they migrate south or north, depending on the season. One bird will be the head bird leading the pack in their V-formation towards warm climes. After that head bird gets tired, they retreat to another position, and another bird takes over for a while. I’m thankful for the human equivalent, of leadership in teams, where there is a shared burden. And in life, I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit, who gives me life and strength, and for my husband Tony. Yet at the same time, God gives you little “kindnesses from God” as like a breadcrumb trail of blessing. If you are moaning and complaining about the difficulties, you miss the little (and sometimes big) blessings he sends you along the journey. It IS a journey. You aren’t stuck in a little valley, surrounded by rain clouds or tornadoes. And even if you do encounter severe storms, such as those that hit Ontario in the spring and summer, you can withstand the strength of a (spiritual) tornado far more than the fences of my sister and cousins that blew over in a recent derecho storm. Those fences could not persevere. But, if we don’t give up, we CAN.
How can we persevere? Perseverance is something that we develop during the difficult times, whether it is illness (like our cancer journeys), financial stress, war (like the Ukrainian conflict), transition difficulties, domestic violence, gang issues or being in the middle of various chaos. Through those storms, Jesus brings peace. He can bring the peace that passes all understanding, so that it feels like you are in the eye of the storm. It will not harm you, as long as you stay connected with Jesus. Romans 5:3-5 reminds us that our suffering isn’t wasted, especially when we choose to trust God and not become bitter. The Apostle Paul said that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Suffering produces perseverance when we trust God that he is at work in our lives, in our ministry, and in situations that are way beyond our control. When we stand alone in perseverance or push in community together in perseverance, we are refined and become better people. Then we have renewed hope. It’s a refining fire, where what is against us, becomes a pruning force to make us better.
Perseverance in the faith: We grow stronger through engaging with scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us that “all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” We are encouraged by scripture being a “consistent anchor” that helps us to avoid traps of discouragement and apathy. It encourages us to stay away from becoming prideful. It gives us direction and insight. In ministry, scripture (along with Holy Spirit’s insight”) becomes the toolkit to live a life of outreach, as well as helping in our personal lives. https://www.fh.org/blog/gods-story-persevere-life-is-hard/ Holy Spirit helps us with the next step of persevering. We gain strength to persevere by praying (communicating with God) and thinking on his revelation. This is contemplation. The Apostle Paul encourages us in Ephesians 6:18 to: “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” “Throughout the Bible, God’s people are called to pray at all times, regularly, genuinely and in faith. Moreover, prayer is a conversation with God, in which we cultivate deepening intimacy with him.” https://www.fh.org/blog/gods-story-persevere-life-is-hard/
When we pray, God often answers right then, before we know it. Other times, he answers those prayers gradually. Sometimes, the full answers come a lot later. But in hindsight, they end up being answered at just the right time. In overseas ministry, we encountered insurmountable difficulties in the townships. The emergencies and calamities that had been happening with the girls we mentored happened nearly continually. Tony would constantly say to me that “they always seem to be living on the edge.” In the first world, we can’t imagine those difficulties, although we have the hidden poor among us in cities and in rural areas. We just don’t see them (but the need exists). In South Africa, they aren’t hidden; the real poverty is confirmed with our eyes. In less developed countries, roads can be washed out in cyclones (even British Columbia had that issue in Abbotsford). People in hidden communities had no access to the outside world for help. In that circumstance, medical emergencies can happen with no access to a doctor. Or in the case of northern Mozambique, there are terrorist insurgencies that disrupt peaceful villages, where they persecute and kill Christians. Corrupt government or police can stall aid workers and missionaries from making a difference in a practical way. How do we move forward? No matter what, God is ready to listen and make a way forward. Prayer and contemplation gives us the inner strength to do what God would have us do. Jesus is always with us. We are not alone. As we depend on God, our trust and intimacy with him grows.
We persevere better when we actively participate in a local church. It is there that we ‘plug in’ to the Body of Christ. Pastor Murray Smith encouraged us at Catch the Fire Toronto (May 22nd, 2022 11:15 am sermon) that we do need small groups in order to grow and develop relationship. But in the setting of a larger church service, there is a corporate anointing, where the Holy Spirit isn’t just in us and around us, but then he works among us. Something special happens. We go to honour God, give him sacrifice and offer ourselves to him. Yet, as a tribe or multi-coloured family, we grow both individually and as a group. We are strengthened organically in a deep spiritual way. It is like Hudson Taylor’s secret of abiding in the Lord, which is shown in John 15: 5-7. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” You are pruned – yet you produce fruit by remaining. This is what happens when you truly follow Jesus. When we sat with young township kids, their mothers, and the local widows, and the inmates, we felt like we heard the heartbeat of Jesus. It was like we were deeply in his presence. They were the least of these, and Jesus was strongly with them. Wendy McMahon at Food for the Hungry describes the dynamic for which I just can’t find the words. She says, “we know that the poor are very close to the heart of God, and Jesus loved to spend time with them when He was on earth. By seeking to closely follow Jesus each day, we invite Him to make us more like Him.” https://www.fh.org/blog/gods-story-persevere-life-is-hard/
The writer of Hebrews also encourages us to not give up on being a part of church in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on, towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day (of Jesus’ return) approaching.” God reveals himself in a different, collective way – where different strands of his revelation and encouragement bless others. He weaves us together like a beautiful tapestry, similar to an impression I had in South Africa. In the vision, I saw God changing the South African rainbows (aka the Rainbow Nation) into a Rainbow tapestry. The tapestry is much stronger than the rainbow, even though it’s inspirational. The bands of colour are stronger and more useful when they are woven together with the other fibres. It is in the local church that we are encouraged in our own calling, and are cheered on not to give up.
So when we are to persevere, we know that we are not meant to be alone. Perseverance is meant to be a continual lifestyle, whether it’s to achieve the end of a big project, an entire life’s accomplishment, or something that is inter-generational (like building a cathedral). My Iris and Harvest Family Network mentor is one who encourages, and cheers alongside those running the race in ministry and assignments. He is mentoring me even in a season of hidden family care giving. It matters just as much to God as our four year missionary season in South Africa. Brian shared on his Facebook page in April 2022, this important message. He said, “most people today, especially in our western culture, want to achieve great things very quickly. But most great achievements happen through years of hard work, dedication and perseverance. So most, when things get hard or time is required, will quit. I know so many who were called and made for great things, who simply gave up over the years, as they faced resistance or things didn’t look like what they planned. I have found that there is always resistance and things seldom look the way that I planned. Hold on to the promises of God, move forward with Him daily, pray, listen and trust Him! You WILL see victory, and what He has shown you in the secret place, shall come to pass. I believe in you! You have been created for a purpose. You have an anointing that abides within you! He will never leave you or forsake you! Expect to win! (Brian Britton, Facebook page, April 12, 2022) What a rich heritage this gem of wisdom is! Again, Brian encourages us to trust in God throughout the journey. He is the one who will carry you though the journey as we grow close to Him. He even carries us through senior issues! Isaiah 46:4 says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you,’ I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” This encourages Tony and me as we care for my dad, but also in Tony’s physical issues as a senior. Trusting in God isn’t just a “senior thing.” Sure there are a lot of ‘gray hairs’ in the church, but challenges and growing through them is an intergenerational journey.
There is nothing in life that is wasted as we continue on. Absolutely nothing. If we stand still, it’s only to rest and regroup. It’s never in running away or quitting. The Psalmists often exhort the people to trust in God. Psalm 71:5-6 shares, “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned (trusted) from my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” The prophet Jeremiah was encouraged at his young age to trust God as he picked up his calling and assignment as a prophet to Judah. He was given strength, fortitude and extreme perseverance. Such endurance shines as an example that only God can give. It is beyond super-hero!
So do not give up, choose to grow in the journey. Grow in your assignment with the Lord, whether in a difficult task, ministry, job or being in a situation where you are called to make a stand for righteousness (like Jeremiah). Let us remember the Apostle Paul’s encouragement in Philippians 3: 14-15: “Brothers (and sisters), I do not consider that I have made it on my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” So as the writer of Hebrews shares in verse 10:23: “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
Perseverance is actively tied to hope and trust in God while in the midst of staying IN the battle. The battle is the Lord’s. But we are IN it.
Lord, thank you that you are there for us and with us while we persevere in your assignments for us. Sometimes it’s a time to learn and grow. Other times it’s to rest and be healed. Then it’s times where we minister, whether in hidden places, or public. You are always with us. We choose to stay in our assignments, whether they are difficult or seemingly easy. We choose the path of going “low and slow” (as we say in Iris): in humility and patience; in trust and compassion, in illness and difficulty, and in all the things you experienced in your life on earth, Jesus. We choose you, and we choose to persevere. We choose to be rooted in you during the storms, and choose to pick up with you in transition. Thank you that you are faithful. We choose to walk with you on the water, as we look into your eyes. Carry us Lord, despite everything, and draw us deeper into you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on coppleswesterncape.ca. Mouse over the “Listen” drop-down menu, or click here: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html and scroll down to #77!
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Updates: For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer-free as of February 2021, and as of May 2022, I am currently having ultrasounds, mammograms and an upcoming biopsy of a lump on my remaining breast. I expect it to be benign, but it’s worth checking. Tony is in care at Toronto General Hospital for malignant mesothelioma in his left lung lining. He had a pleuroscopy and we are waiting to hear an analysis of the chemical components of the tumour. I remember this process when I had breast cancer. In Tony’s case, he hasn’t met his oncologist yet (that’s to come in early June). Everything seems to be in slow motion, despite multiple scans and reports that don’t look good. However, the reports (and the doctor’s diagnosis) isn’t the whole story. We will see what God will do, especially as Tony is one of my dad’s caregivers, an essential team member. Tony is having major eye surgery a week from now to complete retinal reattachment that was started a year ago. We ask you to give thanks for the skills of his surgeons, and that in the case of the cancer the tumour responds and spurs into an accelerated healing like mine did. Thanks for coming alongside in encouragement and prayer. If you feel led to contribute towards medications and hospital parking expenses, this would be most welcome. Not everything is covered under his senior drug plan and OHIP, but don’t feel obligated. All my teachings are online for free to bless you, with no pressure. Here is our Paypal for any of you who feel led to contribute: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod
Laurie-Ann’s Colouring Books: If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at LeRoux and Fourie wine shop on R60 beside Cape Lime. This is west of Robertson. Or you can have your own copies printed for you through Print on Demand through Takealot.com.
Link for Colouring with Jesus 1: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424
Link for Colouring with Jesus 2: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus-2/PLID72991486
We plan to republish the updated books in North American format (and in English only) in the future (after taking care of family). Colouring sheets are available to children’s ministries for free, please just let us know. Bless you, and thank you for your support!