The crowd raises to its feet around the auditorium, a representation of a myriad of countries. Former missionaries who served in Brazil, Mali and Russia stand to sing. An elderly man, his hair so white it looks like snow sits stooped in a wheel-chair. His wife is gone now. I wonder if it still hurts to think of the child they buried long ago in dusty African soil. I see another man once held hostage by rebels in Colombia and a woman who taught children in a underdeveloped town in Ecuador. I scan the room where stories of sacrifice tumble over each other in my mind, lives lived with purpose.
In unison they sing of a compassionate God.
These are seasoned flesh and blood saints. The type that have lived with hardship. Like elite members of a club, they tell stories of insects, snakes in toilets, bats in houses and giant spiders. They recall meals of grubs, monkey and iguana. They remember hurt and mistreatment, tears and triumph.
Because they experienced the need, they know the faithfulness of His compassion.
Strains of Great is Thy Faithfulness fill the room. The words are woven into the DNA of this crowd. They sing by memory while the black words scroll against the big white screen at the front. It is a song they have sung hundreds of times, a declaration of strength in weakness, or perhaps a bulwark against pain. Today its sweetness fills the room with the faithfulness of abundant praise. It is a litany of years past, of foreign lands and experienced truth.
The words taken from a prophet’s lament for Jerusalem, chronicles the sorrow and joy of God’s people then and now.
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (KJV).
In so many ways the words parallel the missionary experience. Anguish over God’s judgement, hope for His salvation and assurance of His faithfulness meld together into the Great Commission.
Scripture records unsung heroes, names obscure, yet recorded in the pages of God’s Word for eternity. Women like Shiphrah and Puah, midwives who defied the king’s decree to kill Hebrew babies, showed greater fear for God than man. (Ex. 1:15-22). Or Benaiah, David’s bodyguard, a valiant man, renowned for his bravery. Bezaleel, Tychicus, Aristarchus, and Nympha, and a host of others are chronicled.
In Hebrews 11 a list of names connects people with faith and lives with hope. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are noted. Gideon, Barak and Samson are mentioned. The chapter picks and chooses significant events and matches well-known names to encourage us to press on and trust what we cannot yet see.
But my favorite part is where the chapter reflects on the “Others.”
“Others… wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy…” (Heb. 11:35-38; NKJV).
They are nameless, without fame, but noted by God. He has seen them. He knows them.
I feel acquainted with some of them.
“…His compassions fail not…”
An elderly couple in their eighties stand in the big hall with their backs toward me. They are singing the testimony of their experience. She leans against her husband’s side. He is her caregiver, her familiar strength in a bewildering world. Many years in the jungle with its physical work and emotional toil have faded from her memory but are still sharp in her husband’s. His left arm encircles her waist while his right hand catches her hand at his back. He holds it there and presses it against him. The words above their heads on the screen is like a backdrop.
“…They are new every morning…”
When physical strength fails, when I can no longer remember the mate by my side or the children I’ve born, will He still remember me?
“…great is thy faithfulness.”
Perhaps the biggest tests of faith don’t play out in the darkest of circumstances but in the constancy of trust, in obedience, and a steadfast walk with Christ. Compassion is best known in the supporting arm of One who has loved long and well.
Because faithfulness is birthed through relationship with a faithful God.
Three generations are grouped around that table. A daughter and son-in-law flank the elderly couple to their right. They also are proclaimers of Christ overseas. Their daughter, granddaughter of the older man and his wife, stands to the left. They too are in full-time ministry.
“Others…— of whom the world was not worthy…”
It strikes me, this nameless, unknown and unseen work of God. It’s like a thick rope connecting us to the list of people of faith in Hebrews 11, an assurance that the race, no matter how arduous, can be run. It ties me back to the compassion of a Savior for a lost world.
And the praise soars so much higher, to the very throne of God.