By R.C. Stevens, a Pioneer in India
When my wife and I first arrived in India, we brought with us a number of large pieces of luggage filled with important things we were sure we could not do without. Toiletries and Tupperware, books and bed sheets—we didn’t stop to wonder how one billion people get by every day without these “essential” American products. We soon learned. It’s easier however, to change shampoo than it is to change assumptions. For, alongside our luggage, we also brought a fair-sized attaché case of dreams—with unwavering confidence in our ability to actually initiate church-planting movements, and anticipation of a life filled with adventure. Possible and extraordinary. Both filled me with expectancy for what lay ahead.
Years later, I find I have exchanged the attractive attaché case of dreams for a banged-up, simple but sturdy suitcase with a broken wheel. Our perspective has changed. We have come to realize that our task is not difficult, but impossible. The reality is we simply don’t have what it takes to change hearts and families and see a church-planting movement begin. But not only is our task impossible, we’re asked to do it with lives that turn out to be actually quite ordinary. We still have to take out the trash and parent our kids. Budgets, sickness, arguments, making meals, feeding the fish… These all blend together into a very ordinary life. Even the “extraordinary” of living in India fades with time. I came with a vision of the possible and the extraordinary. I find myself every day facing the impossible and the ordinary. The slick attaché case of expectations meets the battered suitcase of life.
And yet I have hope—hope that is stronger today than ever before. Why? Because my hope no longer rests on my own ability. It rests on Jesus. And as I look to Jesus, I see Him consistently accomplishing the impossible through the ordinary. Read Luke 9:1-17, the story of the feeding of the 5,000. A long day of ministry found the disciples weary and wanting to send the people away. The crowds were hungry. The disciples didn’t have any food. But Jesus simply said, “You give them something to eat.” Imagine yourself as one of the disciples: “Do you know how tired I am? This is impossible! We don’t have enough time or money. All we have is a little boy’s lunch. What good is that?” But Jesus took what they had, blessed it, broke it and then used his disciples to distribute the food in such a way that everyone left satisfied. In fact, not only did everyone have enough, there was an abundance.
More than was needed. More than was asked for. The impossible seen to be of no consequence in His hands. Bread and fish. The ordinary transformed by God and used to accomplish the impossible. This is my hope. It rests in my belief that God, in the same way, can and will intervene in my impossible situations with extraordinary grace—making it possible to live an ordinary, run-of-the-mill life for the glory of God in a place like North India. This is what I understand to be the “sacramental life.” A life so saturated with the presence of God that the ordinary becomes holy and the impossible happens. A simple, every-day life in the hands of God—blessed and broken and offered to others.
And what is the result of this sacramental life? What happens when the ordinary stuff of life gets into the hands of Jesus and is then offered to those around us? The meal of bread and fish caused the crowds to proclaim, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14).
Every day we walk out our front gates and face a multitude of harassed, helpless and spiritually hungry people who have nothing to eat. We hear Jesus say, "You give them something to eat," and so we offer the few small loaves of bread and fish that we have. How many of the multitude can we really feed? I don't know. But if we are willing to pursue the sacramental life together, then I have every reason to hope that we may actually find ourselves feeding thousands, because we were first willing to be found in His hands. Soli Deo.