The call of a new missionary usually goes like this: give up almost everything safe in your life. Pound the pavement for months — if not years — to raise funds. Board an international flight still soaked with tears from an emotional send-off and the blessings of your closest friends and family. Log 18 months in language school. Change the world.
But what if it all comes crashing to a halt before that last part, the happy ending, ever comes? You don’t have to look far for stories of a missionary call cut short by illness, a death in the family, burnout, a funding drought, or circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
In Nepal, a TEAM partner hospital was recently — and suddenly — taken over by the national government. The red tape of the process left TEAM medical missionaries and other Nepalese Christian staff without jobs, almost overnight. The reasons for the transition were complex, but they boil down to matters of paperwork and politics.
This hospital is a big deal. It treats more than 30,000 patients a year. With just over 45 beds, it serves a population roughly the size of Dallas and was one of the primary sources of gospel exposure in the entire region. So for those involved, it all feels like the death of a dream.
We have a hard enough time dealing with disappointment. Even more so in our era — with increased emphasis on measurable outcomes in the nonprofit and missions sectors — we are adverse to anything that appears on the surface as failure. But inevitably, even the best-conceived projects and ministries sometimes just don’t work out the way we had hoped.
In such times, it’s good to mourn. But it’s also essential — for missionaries, donors and administrators — to cling to the long view that God is fiercely committed to redeeming all things, even when they seem beyond hope in the short run. God does not fail.
Nancy Sturrock, a TEAM worker who has been involved with the Nepalese hospital for over three decades, is trying to see God’s redemptive hand in the situation.
She remembers when the hospital, started by TEAM missionaries in the 1960s as a rustic outpost clinic for leprosy patients, expanded to a brand-new facility in 1989 that the government encouraged TEAM to build. It was expected that the government would take over its operation just a few years after construction, according to Sturrock. But the government never did — at least, until now.
“When we built the place to start with, we built it thinking we were going to be giving it to the government,” Sturrock said. “So looking at it from the big, broad, most objective picture, I say we’ve had 20 more years there than what we ever expected. So that’s God’s blessing.”
Sturrock was heartbroken by the sudden way the transition came about and the fact that so many good people lost their jobs. But she also focuses on the impact that TEAM leaves behind at the hospital.
The once-sleepy road leading to the hospital is now bustling with street vendors and traffic. There were no churches in the area when TEAM’s medical work began there. Now there are three, and some of the church leaders have banded together and formed their own NGO to begin community development work.
And there are, of course, countless testimonies. Like Chandra, a woman who came to the hospital for burn treatment and came to know Christ while there. Now, she has healed and returned to her village, where TEAM workers believe she is the first Christian. Or like the handful of men and women who were once landless, poor and lost. Now they are believers and, because of their work at the hospital, they own their own land and have been empowered as church leaders.
“The legacy, for sure, is in the church and the people in the community,” Sturrock said.
The departure from the hospital has also spurred renewed efforts to develop a new medical ministry in another area of far western Nepal. Interest in launching a new project has simmered for years, and Sturrock suspects the hospital transition may be God’s way of finally steering a team of pioneers to jump start it. TEAM workers in Nepal are still exploring where the best opportunity lies.
Sturrock’s attitude is a long view of the missionary call, a Proverbs 16:9 way of looking at things: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (NKJV) And it’s enormously helpful not just for missionaries, but for everyone.
“No one was planning for it to happen this way,” Sturrock said. But “I’m convinced that God is using it. I think there will be some great ministry and great opportunities and growth of the church and wonderful things that will happen from it.”