I was 21 when I started working in a children’s home as a relief houseparent. It wasn’t nearly as noble as it sounds. I was desperate for a job, room and board were provided, and the pay was decent. What I quickly learned is ministry isn’t for the faint of heart, and one will eventually come to the end of themselves and what they can do. They’ll either quit because it’s too hard and burnout, or they’ll change and experience God’s grace and power in ways they never thought possible.
I’ve seen kids covered in lice, malnourished and emaciated. I’ve been awakened by a phone call at 2:00 in the morning by DSS asking if we can please take a teenager who was just raped by her mother’s boyfriend. I’ve held a child night after night because night terrors made him relive the horror of being tortured. I’ve worked with kids who’ve been trafficked and heard stories that make you want to cover your ears and shout, “No more!” I’ve encountered incest, a 7-year-old drug runner, and a teen who watched her mother murdered while she hid behind a dumpster.
I’ve seen more anger, terror, and dysfunction than I could ever list. I’ve been cussed at, yelled at, almost punched, and seen furniture thrown. I’ve witnessed hopelessness and sat with kids in such despair it almost took my breath away. I have sat in people’s brokenness and I became broken.
But that is ministry, and it’s why so many well-meaning people eventually call it quits. We’re taught to serve God, do our best, honor Him, and it will all be okay. Yet at the heart of all this, it’s us. It’s based on what we can do. It’s praying for God to bless our efforts as we strive in our abilities and strength, and as a result, we eventually run out of steam.
Yet for the few who don’t quit, something beautiful happens. We see God! We learn it was never supposed to be about us and what we can do but about God and what He wants to do. And that is where the fun begins! Is life still hard? Absolutely! But we see God heal, breakthrough strongholds, and deliver people who thought they would always have to live under the condemnation of their past.
I’ve seen kids learn to speak, write, and read. I’ve seen children who didn’t know how to be a kid, learn to play and laugh. I’ve seen children who thought they were unlovable be adopted and thrive. I’ve seen kids fall in love with Jesus, overcome fears, and do things they thought were impossible. I’ve seen kids grow into adults, start thriving businesses, get married to emotionally healthy people and have children of their own. I’ve seen generational cycles broken by kids who’ve said, “Not me; I won’t go down that path.” I’ve seen the impossible become reality. I’ve seen God!
And it all started when I finally surrendered and said, “God, I can’t do this! But, I’m here and willing. I’ll step into the dark and hold the flashlight, but You have to turn on the light. I’m willing to sit in the garbage dump of people’s lives, but the only way I won’t start to smell like garbage is if You protect me. I want to see Your glory, and I want others to see You through me. Tell me what to say and do because I’m at a loss. I don’t know what’s needed, but You do. I’m willing, Lord, to be used by You and for You, however You see fit.”
That is ministry. It’s hard, heartbreaking, exhausting, and often lonely. It’s also exhilarating, rewarding, and amazing. Ministry is a calling God places on our lives, but it’s done through His strength, power, and grace working through us. It is from Him, to Him, and through Him, for His glory (Romans 11:36). And it is worth it!
“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” ~ C.T. Studd (missionary to Africa, China, and India)
Erin and her service dog, Lucy, while working with a resident.
(Main image – Emerald Lake in Alaska, courtesy of Erin)