My boss called her Mother Teresa. While other compassion workers burned out after three or four years, she survived through 12 and hasn’t quit yet. It was my first missionary interview of my internship, and my boss wanted me to find out her secret to perseverance.
We scheduled to talk over lunch, walking down together to the conference center’s dining hall. The line extended out the front door. Just returned from Africa, the missionary wrapped her arms around herself as she shivered from the cold mountain air. Inside there was a cacophony of voices and clattering utensils. I had to raise my voice with each question and hoped that my recorder could catch the missionary’s answers. Over hot dogs and tater tots, she explained her diagnosis of compassion organizations’ cause of death.
From studying the book of Luke, she realized Jesus knew his mission and wouldn’t allow anything to sidetrack him from seeing it to the end. Her own organization, focused on education for poor children, was tempted by distractions and almost drowned under them. Providing medical care proved to be outside of its capabilities. One student’s treatment for tetanus racked up $20,000. With hundreds of children in its care, the organization could easily fold under such financial strain.
“It comes down to: ‘Do I trust God with the life of the students?'” she told me. “We can’t provide everything.”
The organization’s limitations have forced her to learn to say no. When a child she has watched grow up falls ill, she cannot take the organization’s resources to save that child’s life. A single mother from outside the organization’s service area pleads for her children to be helped, and the missionary can only listen to the mother’s story, recommend other ministries that may serve her neighborhood, and pray for God’s grace. She knows to help one child might endanger the rest.
“These needs are so pressing, and my heart is so full of compassion for those who are in that situation,” she said. “It’s just breaking for them. I will take what I have and go do that for them. That’s why organizations fail.”
They collapse under the burden God alone can carry. So the missionary turns instead to prayer and struggles with God. She asks the hard questions that may never be answered.
Confronted by intense injustice and suffering, she said, “I found myself more and more driven to prayer than I had ever been before, even while a part of me was saying, ‘It doesn’t work. Why bother?’ And yet what God was teaching me was that my relationship with him was more important than the answers to the questions. But that wouldn’t have come without the struggle.”
She is limited, but she continues to follow her calling to bring hope to hurting children, doing what she can and trusting God to do the rest.