It happened on Skype, like many weighty conversations between international missionaries in which a multi-year decision can hang in the balance. We were discussing our future plans. My pregnant wife, our toddler son, and I had just embarked on an extended trip in Europe – in part, for my current role with Serge, and in part to investigate where we could serve for the next five years. And that’s when it happened.
We were told, “No.”
I was expressing my willingness and some sense of calling to raise the support, move our family to Prague, and work not only to get a new Apprentice program off the ground, but also to help pastor in an international church community there. I was willing. But Eric Brauer was not. He said, “No.”
Eric is the Serge Area Director for Europe and this would have been a boon, I would think, to the work of his area, but he was not thinking about himself. He was thinking about me. I could hear it in his voice when he said that two-letter word that was crushing my dreams. He said it with such…kindness.
Eric went on to explain his reasoning, “If you could choose to learn Czech, pastor a church, or start a new Apprentice team, which two would you choose? Because realistically, when your kids and your wife also need you, you will only be able to choose two.” But Eric wasn’t only concerned about me, he was also concerned about the Czech people we would serve and frankly how kind our ministry would feel to them if we neglected to learn their language in the midst of recruiting them to an Apprentice program (in English) and a church (also, in English).
I was instantly put in my place by Eric’s kindness. I felt remorse about how arrogant I had been in my ambition: the impact on my family and the Czech people whom I hoped to serve was being laid bare. The Romans verse came to mind about how God’s kindness (supremely expressed in Christ) leads us to repentance.
I was also endeared to Eric. This interaction helped me really trust him. And that fits precisely with the definition N.T. Wright provides in his word study on “kindness”: “the art of being endearing to people.” A feat made more impressive in Eric’s case since he was telling me “No.”
Here I was shown the fruit of the Holy Spirit, working into Eric’s regular conversations the character of God – the character of kindness. I left that meeting with a crushed dream but something so much better had replaced it. I thanked God that I worked for and with people who know God to be kind. I think I have met several Christians who do not believe that, and I confess, it is hard to believe! I mean really believe. But when we grasp something of God’s kindness it is a beautiful thing as this fruit of the Spirit works God’s character into our hearts and into everyday (even Skype) conversations.