Idolizing Gospel Ministry

Reposted from Rooted Thinking.

An Untimely Trial

I was hit with a virus, likely mosquito-borne that our Singaporean doctor in Phnom Penh could not identify. It gave me sustained high fevers for more than a week. The doctor sent lab results to Singapore to try to determine what this was. After ruling out major viruses, she admitted there are still many unidentified that cause the pain and fevers I had. I left the clinic for home, since I had already been a week in Phnom Penh, a six-hour drive away from my family in Pursat.

As time rolled by, the fevers were gone, but symptoms like nerve and joint pain, bad headaches, and extreme fatigue came in waves. I was very affected by noise and touch, the sensations ramping up my pain. We were in the middle of tremendous blessing in ministry, people coming to Christ and changing, a spiritual breakthrough. We had three potential church plants in motion. We were living our dream, as it were, church planting in Cambodia’s Folk Buddhist heartland.

A Seeming Setback

Our lives had been fully committed to and engrossed in learning language and culture while doing evangelism and discipleship. Our team was aggressively proclaiming the Gospel in several areas. God was starting to work in hearts. We were full of joy in the midst of a life and ministry that presented serious challenges. My wife Jennifer had her own deep valley of health concerns after repeated parasitic infections, and my own strange set of symptoms was limiting my abilities.

I was in such pain and fatigue that I spent much of each day lying down on a mat on our tile floor in our home. It was often difficult to sit in a chair to eat a meal. But I had evangelistic Bible studies and discipleship of new believers to fulfill. I would lie there trying to concentrate enough to pray, begging God to give me the physical strength to get up, sit astride my motorbike, get to the students’ house, and have the mental energy to socialize and teach God’s Word. I could not prepare and study like I wanted to. I would often ask God to give me a passage by the time I reached the home. God did provide strength and mental energy, just enough to accomplish those tasks and get home. At times I would have to pull over and put my head down and plead for strength to stay on my motorbike. Once I fell over as I did not have enough strength to climb off at someone’s home. I would arrive home only to lay on my mat once more. I felt like I was letting my co-workers down, not able to pull my weight.

We went to Bangkok and had all tests done to determine the source of all of this suffering, but the excellent Thai doctors again blamed a virus and treated for inflammation. We decided that we should return to the USA for a medical furlough due to the symptoms persisting for more than a year.

One More Thing

Before we left for that medical furlough, our team printed large 12-month calendars for the new year with pictures of the “I Am” statements of Jesus from John. Villagers loved anything beautiful like that to put up in their homes, so we determined to go house-to-house in areas we were seeking to plant a church. It took everything in me, plus God’s grace, to carry calendars and go house-to-house and talk to people.

I stood there on a path alongside a creek that ran through the village and emptied into the nearby Pursat River. Coconut and sugar palm trees were waving in the breeze all around me. Cows, water buffaloes, pigs, chickens, and dogs were plentiful. I could see wood and thatch houses on stilts in every direction. During this effort, I had preached Christ to a man who was running a rice-whiskey still in his yard, talking to him for quite a while. I gave a calendar to one woman who was very much baffled as she had never heard the Name of Jesus. I explained to her that He was the Creator of all things. I wanted to do this the rest of my life, and in Cambodia. I was overwhelmed with emotion, crying out to God in my heart that He would please not take me away from this place, take me away from this ministry that I so love!

Depression

We returned to the States with me wheelchaired through the airports and then using a cane to get around. I saw many specialists in the USA, ruling out many scary-sounding diseases. I was eventually diagnosed with Post-Viral Syndrome. I began to spiral into deep discouragement—dare I say depression? I was faced with the possibility of losing the ministry in Cambodia, probably not even being able to pastor, and maybe even being handicapped for the rest of my life, and I was only in my early 30s! How would I care for my wife and three young children?

In my Bible reading, I came to Matthew 6, the Lord’s Prayer. When I came to the words, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” the Lord smote my conscience with the reality that I was unable to pray that prayer with all my heart. I wanted to be a healthy young man able to continue aggressive church planting in Cambodia for the rest of my life. I did not want limitations, redirection, and most certainly not to be sent to the sidelines!

Thy Will be Done

But the Lord helped me to begin to pray, “Thy will be done.” God’s Spirit reminded me that God’s way is perfect, that His will is best and good, that His glory was what I should be seeking, not mine. I began to pray that if the Lord wanted to remove me from Cambodia, I would be content. I prayed that if He took away my ability to lead a congregation, I would learn to trust Him. Even if I was bedridden for the rest of my life and lived on aid and charity, I committed to preach the Gospel every way I could. Some days I was able to pray this with all my heart–other days I struggled. Eventually, I could pray “God’s will be done” and mean it all the time.

The result of believing in God’s goodness and embracing His future for me, whatever it held, was liberating. A great weight came off my shoulders. Each time that weight has started to be felt once more, I give it back to the Lord and return to His peace. I had made an idol of missions and ministry my way, and the Lord graciously chastened me and taught me.

Photo by Nguyễn Hiệp on Unsplash.

Forrest McPhail Bio


Forrest has served as a missionary in Buddhist Cambodia in Southeast Asia since 2000. He presently serves as the Asia/Australia/Oceania regional director for Gospel Fellowship Association missions. He enjoys writing and teaching on missions and the Buddhist worldview. He and his wife, Jennifer, have 4 children.

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