From The Wilderness
It was our very first visit to the jungle as we were preparing to move in among the Kuna people as tribal missionaries. The hour-and-a-half flight took us into some of the deepest parts of the Darien Gap, a dense tropical rainforest that covers large portions of Panama and Colombia. We were finally moving to the village after years of prayer and preparation. Our hearts were pounding as we stepped down out of the Cessna 185 “bush plane.” We were now in our new home, the Paya-Kuna tribal village of Pucuro!
Would the people welcome us? Would they be friendly to our family? Would their hearts be open to our message of new life in Jesus Christ? The first words we heard from the Kuna people were not what we expected.
“Kill Brian! Kill Brian!”
First it started with one man, then an entire crowd gathered at the jungle airstrip. They were shouting something strange: “Kill Brian! Kill Brian!” My first thought was, That’s a weird welcome. I hope it’s not too late to get back into the airplane!
As they saw the look of fear on our faces, they began to laugh! Just then, one of the men in the village quickly stepped forward and said to me in Spanish, “We’re calling you ‘uncle.’”
That was my first language lesson that day. I learned that the words Kill Brian meant Uncle Brian in the Kuna language! They were celebrating our arrival with cries of “Uncle Brian! Uncle Brian is here!” And so our adventure began. What would these days hold for us and our three small children as we would live in this forgotten jungle village? What challenges were waiting for us, and what dangers would lurk in the days to come? It was like a scene from Survivor!
Our life in the jungle was filled with many self-emptying opportunities to surrender our lives of convenience. Everything was out of our comfort zone: the heat, the language, the food, the outhouse – everything! We lived as the people lived, ate what they ate, and lived among them. Our wilderness exposed our weaknesses. It always does; that’s the nature of every wilderness experience.
Consider this: as a servant of Christ, you will one day enter a season of helplessness where you no longer call the shots and know what to do. It will seem as if you don’t have what it takes to survive – finding yourself in a place and a season where only Christ will be your strength.
The One whose name is Living Water is within you. This wonderful Jesus brings you a life-giving stream, fulfilling every need no matter how difficult the many surprises of life can be. He is within you as a well of water “springing up into everlasting life!” (John 4:14)
This “springing well” begins to flow inside until praise rises up out of you again. Before you know it, the springs are watering everything around you – and every dry place within you. You will see things differently, you will feel differently about the people around you, and you will see things you didn’t even notice before. When Jesus shows up in the wilderness, it disappears. It becomes a garden.
The Lord will always show you where to go and what to do, filling you with refreshment when you are dry and in a difficult place. He will continually restore strength to you. You will flourish like a well-watered garden, and be like an ever-flowing, trustworthy spring of blessing. (Isaiah 58:11)
We learn in our difficult season that even though we may be in a wilderness, our hearts don’t have to be a barren wasteland. Our wilderness starts growing flowers when Jesus flows from within us. His presence satisfies the deep thirst that dries up the soul and places us in a weary land or a weary season. Whoever heard of roses blooming in a desert?
Even the desert will bloom like a rose. Every dry and barren place will blossom abundantly, singing joyously of the new day! (Isaiah 35:1-2)
Your wilderness (your life with its surprises and setbacks) will blossom with a rose; and that rose is Christ! Jesus, the Rose, will be found in your desert days, bringing a new fragrance and a new song. What you thought was an impossible climate for overcoming will become the canvas for a rose.
Miracles are waiting to be found in your wilderness. Even in a wilderness, God can work in power. He doesn’t need perfection to pull off a miracle. He’s done it before with nothing but chaos all around. It was called creation! There is no shortage of power with God. He can make lame ones leap and broken ones sing.
Most of us have an attitude that translates the word, wilderness, into “something terrible.” In fact, the Bible teaches that the wilderness is the place where miracles are born, the place where we hear God speak, and the place where he truly reveals himself to us. We have found our greatest difficulties in life to be the incubator of miracles!
What about you? Are you finding yourself in a wilderness? A difficult place where pressures surround you? Have you found the only way out is to lean on your beloved?
Meeting God In The Wilderness
For nearly eight years, we lived in an actual wilderness. It was the jungle region of Central America known as Darien Gap. It had no road; it was so abandoned and obscure that the only way to get there was to take a dangerous river trip in a dug-out canoe or a flight in a small airplane that was designed to land on a short, grassy airstrip. And we had very few conveniences. No electricity, no running water, no internet, no iPhone or Facebook. Thankfully our years of missionary training prepared us for what we faced, or at least for some of it! With our three children, we served as tribal missionaries with New Tribes Mission, reaching the forgotten Paya-Kuna people with the good news of Christ’s love. It was a wilderness in more ways than one!
We faced various trials and tribulations during our time in the jungle. It seemed like every demon came out of the jungle to fight against us, starting with demonic powers that came when one of our daughters was bitten by a deadly snake and miraculously survived. And early in our ministry, we were targeted by the enemy when our narrow dug-out canoe overturned in a flooding river. We lost all the supplies meant to sustain us for months, and we nearly lost our lives.
These situations were major wake-up calls for us. We realized we needed to readjust the focus on our spiritual lens. Yet in the midst of our wilderness, we met the God of the Bible. God answered our prayers, and as a result he converted dozens as we asked him to speak to the hearts of the people. God displayed miracles, dreams, and powerful signs and wonder on our behalf. Our family can testify that even a wilderness can blossom like a rose when we allow God to be everything to us.
God will even lead you there, into your very own personal wilderness. That’s right. Just like the Hebrews, between you and your Promised Land lies a wilderness of discovery and, at times, disappointment. Yet in the wilderness we find that the surprises of life yield the most beautiful fruit. The supernatural power of God is more often displayed in a wilderness than in a church service. God will use your wilderness to release the virtues of Christ growing within!
I know about your hard times. I’m moved deeply by that which troubles you – in your home, at work, with your family, with your health. I have never yet failed to help you when you have turned to me. I have seen your hunger for more, and I have prepared a place for you at my table. Satisfying grace will be your portion. Mercy that sustains you even when you stumble – that will be the gift I bring to you. Even in your hard times, you have chosen to never leave me. So I say to you, my beloved, I will never leave you.