By Stephanie McAdams
Praise the Lord, our team arrived back to San Diego safely just a few weeks ago! Though it was my fifth time participating in the missions trip to Argentina, it was my first time as a full-time mom (the last time I went, I was pregnant).
Someone asked me a few days ago if our family would have done it all again if we knew that our daughter Charis would get so ill. (She caught some nasty stomach flu, possibly on the plane traveling to Argentina which wiped her out for the majority of our time in Argentina. Ryan and I both got sick towards the end of the trip too.) So I stood there, still feeling weak from the bug I had, thinking for a while how to respond. And as tears started to fill my eyes, the only reply that was truthful was… “Of course”. Their response was a look of surprise, because I had just described how scared I was, trying to take care of a constantly vomiting baby for a few days who looked like she was going to pass out from dehydration (in a foreign country, mind you). But, honestly, Ryan and I would have done it all again. Why? Because we love the Iglesia Biblica Misionera (IBM) church family in Tucuman, Argentina as if they were our own family. We desire to encourage them to love Christ and live for Him more and more, whatever the cost. We recognize the great need IBM has for fellowship and encouragement from other like-minded churches, which is rare in Argentina.
Though I was out of commission for a good chunk of the trip to take care of Charis, which is my main responsibility (and joy) no matter where I am, God provided some conversations and pockets of time to spend with some of the church ladies of all ages and stages of life. In particular, I was looking forward to encouraging the youth and single gals of the church through one-on-one conversations and a time of teaching on various topics like beauty in God’s eyes, finding identity and security in Christ (and not Prince Charming), and God’s design for marriage and the role of a wife. By God’s grace, He provided opportunities to chat with a few gals and teach the youth and single ladies as a group one of the evening sessions when Charis was not throwing up. Though it was difficult for me personally to battle feelings of discouragement and being so distracted with concern for Charis’ health, God used one conversation in particular with an older mom of the church at the beginning of the trip to, in a sense, prepare me for the unforeseen challenges.
For the past seven years, God has given me a special relationship with a particular mother at the church. From my first conversation with her in 2007, she poured out her life to me. Raising three children as a single mom, working long hours to provide financially, and trying to serve at church as well (though never as much as she wanted to). She longed for various family members, who wanted nothing to do with God and His gospel, to see the beauty of Christ. I would listen and weep silently with her as she would share about her daughter, around my age, who year after year indulged in a life full of sin and pleasures of this world. I remember receiving a letter from her last year, with nothing more than a plea to keep praying for her family, especially her daughter.
When I saw her at the beginning of this trip, she pulled me aside as I was rocking Charis to sleep, and her countenance had changed… There was light in her eyes and an indescribable joy and peace. With tears streaming down her face, she began to update me on her life. God answered years and years of unceasing prayers- her sister’s and daughter’s heart softening toward God, different work hours to be at home with her sons more, closer relationship with her younger son, godly growth in her older son. But the greatest change had happened in her heart and perspective. She learned to let go of her desire to control her family’s life and not get so discouraged at her perceived failures in her various roles. She learned to trust in God with humble dependence daily. She learned to delight in Christ, and let His love compel her to persevere as His servant in any circumstance.
As much as I had hoped to encourage her, she then proceeded to exhort me as a young mom. She knows me pretty well, having physically seen me at my various life stages. Perhaps she could sense my insecurities as a first time mom? It’s true, from time to time I have found myself struggling to balance my roles as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, etc., to point them all to Christ as much as I can, with joy and peace instead of discontentment and guilt.
Of all the things she could have told me, I’m so thankful that she reminded me to pray and trust God in all my God-given roles. She learned from years of experience that she can not control people nor circumstances, but instead humbly depend on God for help and trust He does all for our good and His glory. Funny thing was, these were truths my own parents have reminded me time and time again for as long as I can remember. They caution me against finding my worth and righteousness in my works, and instead to fear and worship Him, seeking to faithfully and humbly obey His commands out of love and gratefulness for the Cross. So, this mom jogged my memory of my own primary disciplers’ (my parents) wise counsels to me!
And she specifically encouraged me to invest in Charis with my time and to cover her in prayers, trusting that God has our children in His grasp. It was at this moment our conversation abruptly ended as Charis awoke, and just from looking into her eyes, I knew that something was not right. As I took her out of the stroller, she vomited all over me, and thus began the next few days of intense illness for Charis. I thanked God for His grace to provide this timely heart to heart with this dear sister, whose example to me of submitting to God’s will and being faithful to pray unceasingly for her family saved me from utter discouragement and despair in the days to come, especially when I feared for Charis’ life. Though I still struggled in my heart a lot as her condition got worse, God’s truths I gleaned from this small conversation stuck with me, and I begged God to help me believe them.
Some might say the trip was not worth it, for me and Charis to go, if I spent so much time taking care of Charis instead of with the church family. It’s true, I personally talked to fewer ladies this time than previous trips. But I really did desire to encourage them as much as possible. Proverbs 16:9 reminds me that “the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” As much as I tried to prepare Charis for weeks before leaving (practicing sleeping in a portable tent and a baby carrier, packing a lot of packaged baby foods) and keep her away from germs, she still didn’t sleep well and got sick. As much as I wanted to spend time talking to the IBM ladies, my daughter needed my care and attention.
In this season of my life, God has called me to be a wife and mom, leaning completely on Him for grace and strength. Realistically, ministry to others looks different now than the time before my daughter came. I am learning that this doesn’t mean I am less effective in ministering to others. Sure, on some days, I am home with Charis, making and feeding her meals, wiping her runny nose, singing and dancing, examining the details of a flower with her, reminding her to obey me, or holding her tightly after a fall. I pray that Charis, my life-long disciple, would see Christ in all these “little” things on these days.
But then other days, Charis and I are going for walks while chatting with college gals, reaching out to unsaved neighbors, meeting up with other mom-baby pairs, attending church events and meetings, or flying to Argentina. On these days, I pray that Charis would see my joy in sharing the gospel of Christ to the lost and building up those who truly know Him.
I pray others would be encouraged and challenged in their walks with God as they watch me love my family, but I need to trust even that to God and focus on having the right heart attitude. Psalm 51:17 reminds me that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
It was our family’s joy to go to Argentina this summer to minister to IBM church. We hope to go again for the sake of encouraging fellow believers and dear friends. But for now, I seek to live each day in humble trust and dependence on God, as I look to love Ryan and Charis and others.
Editor’s note: This is a continuation of a series of articles being provided by the 2013 Argentina short-term missions team announced here.