Salutations from the Far East! That is to distinguish it from the “Near”, and the “Middle” Easts. And I am the farthest of the Far. (If you are a humanities major please do not write me of my outdated orientalist view, let me just use this literary license please.) I am still pushing along and still fighting strong. I don’t mean this to sound like it is a struggle, but in a sense it is. Every day is in some way for all of us trying to do what is good and right. If we are not thinking about our progress on a daily basis we are standing still by definition. And I do not want to stand still. I want, and need to move forward. That doesn’t mean that every day is an adventure or a thrill, because some are just ordinary. So as days go as they added up to a week, this one was not the most eventful of my mission.
I failed to hold anything live that could technically be eaten, whether I wanted to eat it or not, but I did have my first encounter with "Bible Bashers". So maybe it was eventful after all.
First I need to explain some backstory to the aforementioned experience. My companion and I were merrily on our way to the bus terminal when we crossed paths with some women who were proselyting for another faith. They saw us first and stopped us. They wanted to talk so we did what we always do. We were polite and didn't argue and traded a pamphlet for their newspaper. We then went along our merry way and didn't think any more of it. Unbeknownst to us, one of the women called and asked to set up an appointment to talk with us, I believe with the intent of arguing. All our caller said was that she had received a pamphlet and was interested in learning more about our church. We were so excited! We wondered, “how often do people come looking for you?” We made an appointment for a few days time and decided to meet at a local café. As we approached the café, my companion recognized the women from our previous encounter and worried aloud that it did not look good. I was still kind of optimistic. I thought maybe they had some real concerns and questions. Unfortunately, my companion's prediction turned out to be very true. We of course entered the café and greeted them politely. However, they immediately began what I would call haranguing us. I have never been harangued. It was a new, but very unpleasant experience. I felt doubly horrible because I could not understand anything the women were saying. They were quite emotional and loud for respectfully polite Korean women. All I could understand was "Jesus Christ" and "Bible's promise". They were saying over and over again in rapid-fire delivery. It wasn’t that I felt bad that I couldn’t understand them; it was that I was leaving my sweet companion to fend for both of us all by herself. She is a native Korean and is so very polite and quiet. I watched her maintain her demeanor in spite of being barraged in tandem. She was more patient and kind than I thought was possible in a situation like this, and I knew that she was relying n the Holy Ghost to guide her in how she responded to the women. I watched her continually try to excuse us from the situation, but her Korean politeness maintained that she not be rude. So it actually took us over an hour to leave the situation. Even though she was “Rosie” and I was her “Sophia Grace” (oh pop culture I love you), I still felt a little worse for wear. It was stressful to say the least, and I might even choose eating Korean blood sausage over it the next time, but I have to say I am grateful for the experience. These are the things my testimony is made from. Being smack dab (my grandma’s word), in the furnace of affliction.
It was after going home that evening feeling that I somehow lacked in my ability to stand tall and bear Christ’s image in the face of adversity, I came upon the scripture that titles this post. What particularly caught my eye was the simple preposition “in”. “In” is a preposition of time. In any language they need to be used exactly, because they designate very specific meanings. “In” indicates a location, so around, over, under, beside, or on does not have the same meaning. It also designates immediacy, so before, or after means something different too. The scripture says: “I have chosen the IN the furnace of affliction”. It is often IN the very midst of our trials that the Lord calls us. It is during our trials when our faith is being tested to its limits. It is then that we are asked to make a decision. Not before we enter, and not after we are released, but while the heat is scorching our face. It is IN our affliction when we choose to stand strong It is IN our affliction that we hold fast to our faith to sustain us. And it is while we are IN our affliction that we become tempered and refined. Sadly, sometimes we cower when the heat rises and we search for an easy exit, or at least an open exit. My companion didn’t cower, and neither did I, but I think she got charred while I just got a little singed. However, we both emerged with a stronger faith than before. If while we are in our affliction of furnace we search for that easy exit, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. By choosing to cool our feet we deny ourselves opportunities to grow. Not just to grow, but also to become stronger and more resilient than we were before.
The words that precede this scriptural passage say: "For, behold, I have refined thee". The common analogy of the refiner's fire to affliction is well known. Raw ore cannot become beautiful silver until it is heated in a crucible, in such high temperatures that all of its imperfections are burned off, leaving a metal whose distinct characteristic is described as having a glossy reflection. It becomes more pure through the process. I can't imagine that this is a pleasant experience for the sliver; perhaps it feels that its state of ore-dom (I’m using the word whether correct or not), is beautiful just the way it is, and that it was happy living in the rocks, they are safe and no one expects anything of it. It is comfortable and content in its current state. However, this is because the perspective of the silver is so limited. It cannot see its potential. It has no concept of the luster that it is capable of reflecting. It cannot even imagine what it has hiding in its crusty crevices.
We are the same. We might feel that we are fine just the way we are, that our progress is fine just where it is. We may feel that our life is easier when we know where all the exits are, and we are ready to use them. However, we cannot see what the Lord does. He alone knows who we can become. But we agreed a long time ago that we would search for our potential when we came to earth. I know…we always make promises without understanding what we are really getting into, but that's why we have been given help. We have been given the Holy Ghost. Sometimes we take HIS hand and step into the furnace deliberately, and sometimes we just cling to it as we find ourselves pushed into it.
I miss you all and I love you very much,