One of my good friends, Josh, went to Malaysia for a short-term mission trip. I asked him to write some of the things that he has learned during that stay. Here’s what he had to say!
Over the past 6 months, I served as a short-term missionary in Malaysia at a refugee school. The school provides elementary education for the refugees because they don’t have access to public education. The refugees at the school are primarily from Afghanistan and Myanmar. With the exception of a few families, all of the refugees identify as Muslims.
I learned many lessons throughout my trip in Malaysia, big and small, old and new.
- Every gift is from God and used to glorify Him.
This lesson was probably the reoccurring theme throughout my stay in Malaysia.
Meet Enoch, the missionary who built the refugee school 10 years ago. God gave him a vision for the school and he saw the refugees’ need for basic education. He was never an academic and failed many of his courses. But he had his handyman skills. Thanks to his skill set, what started as a simple two-story house became a renovated school with additional buildings for classrooms and storage. Now he goes around house to house fixing anything and everything for the refugees. He told me that most of the time he actually doesn’t know how to fix the problem, but God honors his willingness to try and enables him to find a way. God has blessed Enoch with this incredible skillset to bless others.
Meet Joseph, another missionary who came and saw the needs of the homeless people in Malaysia. Without any prior experience, he took classes on baking and learned how to bake. He now has his own bakery business that supports him financially and provides bread for the homeless. Every week, bread is distributed to the homeless for free.
Meet a tourist company that has been avidly marketing and promoting their tours, not primarily for financial gain, but for encouraging believers and evangelizing non-believers. There is so much rich Christian history in Malacca, a beach city in Malaysia. For example, the first Chinese Bible was printed in Malacca. As the tourist company shares stories about pioneer missionaries who came to Malacca, and their landmarks, they hope to encourage believers by showing God’s faithfulness and to capture the interest of nonbelievers.
One started with a company, another with handyman skills, and another with no experience at all, but all three sought to use their gifts to bless people and glorify God.
- Worship is not about me and never was.
This is a fairly “simple” lesson that I thought I knew but clearly didn’t, and one that I am still learning.
I attended a conference for pastors and missionaries where they were encouraging one another, and sharing testimonies about their ministries and the people they were evangelizing. I figured that the conference was a time for me to rest and enjoy other people’s sharing, but God had bigger plans for me. There were two occurrences during this trip where I had to really analyze my heart.
The first occurrence was when I walked in late to one of the services and I was welcomed with a voice saying, “Now that Joshua has arrived, he’ll share the testimony of the refugee school.” I was shocked to say the least: I was not expecting to be called and had no time to prepare. I went up reluctantly, and slightly annoyed (maybe “slightly” isn’t the most accurate term), since I do not enjoy public speaking too much, and when I do share I prefer to write something out beforehand. In any case, I talked about the school and testified to the fruits we had begun to see in certain families. As I shared, my reluctance was replaced with joy and, as I took my seat, I asked myself why I felt negative emotions in the first place. Honest replies to my question included fear of speaking ineloquently, not being received by the people, and being pulled out of my comfort zone. All of it revolved around me.
The second was when they saw me dabbling with the guitar and asked me to lead praise because there was no one else to do it. I answered back with an awkward laugh and said something along the lines of, “Oh no no no, it’s okay. I’m really more of a drummer, I’ve never led praise before, I’m not comfortable with singing, what you just heard me play was ‘She was Mine’ the one song every guy at our church learned – I don’t even know what chords I just played.” I ended up leading praise and it was a great experience, but my response beforehand once again revolved around my insecurities, my worries, and my fears.
When worship was pointed towards me, it was all about getting my needs met, it was about receiving a lesson that blessed me, and making sure I’m comfortable. But when worship was pointed towards God and giving Him glory, I experienced worship to its fullest measure. As I worshiped God, I saw the encouragement it gave to other believers, I experienced joy in my heart, and I was humbled that God knew what I needed better than I did – displaying his infinite wisdom in my life.
- Good works are not enough.
I met some of the kindest people in my life during the trip. The hospitality that the refugees extended to me was amazing. Despite living in poor conditions and struggling to find employment, they would not hesitate for a second to invite me into their homes to eat, drink, and be merry. Nine times out of ten, my visit to a refugees’ home was not planned but was the result of spontaneous hospitality. If they made eye contact with me, they would come up to me and ask if I could come over to their house. A simple walk from the school to my apartment could potentially lead to three different invitations. I quickly learned secret routes to get home. In addition to welcoming me into their homes, they would cook for me. The meals they prepared were not what they normally ate on a day-to-day basis. They would take out the meat, vegetables, and spices that they only used on special occasions. If they didn’t have any naan, one of their children biked to the market and bought some.
Experiencing all this genuine love and kindness, I came to ask myself a very difficult question one day. I sat down at a sitting area in the middle of a mall and wrote down in my notebook something along these lines:
As I sit here in this mall with hundreds of other people sitting, eating, and shopping, I may possibly be the only Christian in the building. Can I honestly say that I have it right? That the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God? ‘Cause if so, that means every single person in this mall has got it wrong. I have met people here who are more loving than I am, more hospitable than I am, just overall uphold a better character than I do. Is this not enough? Their good works far exceed mine, yet am I the one with assurance of salvation?
This was a tough question and a reality check. In many cases, these refugees have done a far better job of loving others than I have. Is this not enough? The cold, brutal truth is no, it is not enough. It will never be enough. If good works was the measure of my righteousness, I have become my own savior. This is not to say that the people I met had a secret agenda behind their loving actions. In fact, I am convinced that they did it out of a genuine heart.
The lesson God taught me, and continues to teach me, is that I often measure my holiness according to my good works – producing a twisted and adulterated love that is focused on self. By relying on my good works, subconsciously or consciously, I am “loving” others in order that I may satisfy my own standard. However, I defy the very nature of the word savior, when I claim to be my own – for it is through this claim that keeps me from being saved. I will never measure up to the righteousness that God calls me to hold, because am I sinner by nature not by nurture. It is only through Christ’s sacrificial love that God’s wrath and anger, that was once directed towards me, was dealt upon him. This is love, “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Love then is experienced to its fullest measure when it is set apart from myself, and set upon my Savior, Christ Jesus. Therefore, it is only through the response of His love for me, that I may share selfless love to others.