Our team packed into a couple of small vehicles and made our way down the pothole filled streets where we would then turn off the paved roads and down the bumpy one-way dirt roads. We traveled these dusty roads until we came to a clearing, where mud huts and grass roofs were scattered around the villages in this West African country. As the people came out to see who was arriving in their village, they quickly began gathering members from the local Baptist church. Word had reached them that we were coming.
Once gathered, we would share Scripture with the church members, offer a word of greeting from the church in the US, and pray for the believers. We did this same routine repeatedly, spending only a short amount of time at each village. After many stops, I pulled Stevens aside. Stevens was a local pastor who worked with our team. Missionaries came to his village the day he was born, and his witchdoctor father named him after the missionaries that day.
“Stevens,” I wondered, “are we doing any good by traveling from village to village and staying only a short amount of time?” His slender 6’6” frame leaned down to me as he insisted with his English accent, “Oh, never underestimate what your encouragement does for our people! It’s huge!”
Light bulb moment! That’s exactly what Paul is getting at in Acts 14 and 15. Toward the end of his first missionary journey and the beginning of his second, Paul made it a practice to travel back to the churches previously planted and “strengthen the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22; 15:41). Why? Because we all need encouragement. Perhaps like never in recent years has the church needed encouragement in the faith.
Paul tells these early churches, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Today is no different. Life is hard. The fight against sin is hard. Living for Jesus is hard. Now throw in the mix challenges like viruses, political turmoil, escalated racial tensions, financial strains, mandated and self-regulated quarantines, and the tragedy of death. No wonder even the church is weary.
During it all, the church is still called to the Great Commission. The gospel moves forward even when the world is in a pandemic. Preachers still preach. Evangelists still share. Missionaries still cross cultures. The church continues to make disciples. But in times like this, it’s easy to become discouraged and weary.
Like Paul before us, what pastor might you encourage this week? What missionary can you contact and pray for that he or she might be “strengthened and encouraged”? What church can you lift in prayer and then make aware that you did just that? You and I might be surprised at what a simple word of encouragement and prayer will do for other believers seeking to make disciples of Jesus. As my friend Stevens says, “Oh, never underestimate what your encouragement does for our people! It’s huge!” Go and do likewise.