There once was a missionary who was traveling with his apprentice through the highlands of South America preaching the good news and encouraging the people. One evening, at day’s end, the two were far from any town and without lodging. They saw a small house on the edge of the ridge and, thinking it was abandoned, went to seek shelter. The structure was barely standing, but the duo was surprised to see it was inhabited by a large family. The head of the household invited them in. He explained that they were very poor, having only one dairy cow to provide food. The family lived off of the cheese they made from the very small amount of milk the cow gave. They didn’t have much, but they were more than willing to share with the missionary and his disciple. Before the meal, they asked the missionary to pray for them. He did so generously, asking for the Lord’s blessing and provision for the family and their future. The cheese was divided into portions so meager that each one continued in hunger after the meal. Having nothing else to satisfy their stomachs, they all went to bed.
As midnight drew near, the missionary’s disciple, deeply troubled, asked the missionary what could be done to help this good, poor family. The missionary, too, was deep in thought and prayer and after a while responded, “Take the cow up to the highest cliff and throw it off the mountain.”
This only disturbed the poor disciple more. “Throw it off? And kill the only source of food this family has?”
“Yes, do it now.”
The disciple had spent many years with his missionary and respected his word and wisdom. Reluctantly, he obeyed the missionary’s command, and the two left the house in secret.
Years later, the disciple found himself passing through the same highlands and thought he’d go see whatever became of the poor family. As he approached their home, his heart sank. The crumbling structure had been repaired and repainted. An addition had been built and the barren ground was now a thriving field. The family had probably starved long ago and a new rich family had moved in. When he got to the door, he was greeted by the same man as before, only different. It was the same man, the same family, but well-dressed, well-fed, and somehow happier. They were more than excited to see the disciple and quickly ushered him to their sturdier and over-flowing dining room table.
“We never thought we’d have the opportunity to thank you for praying for our household! As you can see, God heard our cries and has greatly blessed us.”
Stunned, and still thinking about the cow, the disciple could only say, “Tell me what happened.”
“Well, you won’t believe it, but on the same night that you visited us, our cow ran away and fell off the mountain! We were crushed. We didn’t know how we were going to survive. Days passed and our cheese was running out. Then we found some old seeds in a drawer. We didn’t know what else to do, so we planted them behind the house. We didn’t know anything about farming, and we almost died that first winter, but we kept praying and trusting in God. Miraculously, the soil was good. The seeds grew, and that year we had enough to eat and had more seeds to plant. The following year, we had enough to eat and some extra to sell. Each year, we worked hard and discovered that we had a gift for nurturing and harvesting great crops. Eventually we were able to buy the tools we needed, and each year we grew more and more prosperous. We can never thank God enough for His faithfulness and His response to your blessing!”
This is a story Pastor always loved to tell when we were first starting our work in Córdoba. Sometimes the one thing we are holding onto the tightest is the one thing that is holding us back from success. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the past couple months; not so much in the farmers, but in the cow.
The cow provided for the family in the only way she knew how. She literally poured herself out so that the family could live. She gave everything for them. She loved them perfectly, self-sacrificially. Maybe at some point, she had been enough. She had provided enough for them to make the cheese they needed. But as time went by, and the family grew, her milk was not enough. Not only that, but the family’s dependence and trust in her milk was actually poisoning them. It was keeping them from discovering their own gifts and talents and purpose.
And so it is with missionaries.
We give everything we have and everything we are for love of the lost. We pour ourselves out in prayer and discipling so that those who need God will find Him. But eventually, we are not what the church needs and the dependency of the church on foreign missionaries will ultimately kill it.
Praise God that this story has a good ending. Even for the cow who must die, the ultimate prosperity of the family is a good ending. In the two weeks since we left Córdoba, I’ve heard nothing but good news about our leaders. Marcelo preached in both services on Sunday. One year ago, he was an atheist. In the last Encounter retreat, he felt God tell him to start preparing to be sent with his wife to the mission field in Africa, a calling she received many years ago. Enzo and Pastora Jaci are dreaming of forming a second worship team to lead in the morning service. Cristian completely disassembled the broken keyboard, cleaned it, put it back together so it is good as new. Ashley started teaching herself to play the drums. Yolanda and Erica preached over an hour in their house of prayer (too long, we know, but they love the word!) The main prayer request from that group is growth and revival in their house of prayer and the church. Six women met on Sunday to plan the next women’s ministry event. Fifteen leaders met with the pastors to map out ten evangelistic and discipleship events they want to host in 2017.
The cows in our lives, in our ministries, the cows that we become are not overbearing or hostile. They are giving and loving. We always pushed our leaders to make the church their own, but as long as Juan is around to preach, as long as Rachel is available to sing in the first service, the keyboard is Brooke’s, the house of prayer is Dani’s, it’s hard to break through and try something new. Often, it is only when the “cows” are dead and gone, when we are desperate to survive, that we discover the abilities and wisdom God has put in us.
I have put off writing this article for days that have turned into weeks because I know once this is published I’m going to have to live up to my word. I’m going to have to die to Puerta Abierta Córdoba. I must let go of my accomplishments and forgive myself for the things I’d like to make up for and let God move as He will in those I love.
Puerta Abierta Córdoba was difficult to start and difficult to maintain, but it was even more difficult to leave. It is not the strongest church Extreme Nazarene has planted by any measure, but it has courage, faith, and obedience. It is now starting its most harrowing chapter-the lean years of struggling without the cow they have always known. However, these are the years in which it will find its feet planted on the Word of God, held firm by God’s grace, and guided by the Holy Spirit. God still has much work to do in Córdoba, Argentina, and He will do it through the Córdobese people.