The first years on a foreign field can often be called the lean years. Actually, the lean years probably started several years before arriving on the field. Years of training and then months, if not years, of raising support for the venture to which you were called.
Our first years in service were lean years. They were lean as far as what we had, but they were rich in what they produced in us.
Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Lean years are when there is not enough money for necessities, let alone desires. Lean years are when there are only a few people to minister to. Lean years are when you have few friends and you are exceedingly lonely.
Yet there are wonderful lessons to be learned in the lean years:
1. The first and greatest lesson is to lean on God and trust Him for everything we need. He causes peace to well up from deep inside when we trust Him. This peace makes no sense rationally, but it is His sweet gift for trusting our Heavenly Father.
He doesn’t always give us what we need when we think we need it. During our lean years it often seemed like it was late, but it was in enough time to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
God has surprised us when we most needed it with blessings so lavish we could only be amazed! Once when we were changing fields, we were exhausted and emotionally drained. He arranged for some of His children in London to give us two weeks of rest and refreshing. They served us food, washed and ironed our clothes, gave us money to sightsee and time to ourselves to regroup. We could not have afforded or been able to plan a better break.
2. The next lesson is to humbly and graciously accept gifts from others. By the time we arrive on a foreign field, we have usually already passed a few tests on this lesson. However, receiving from people we are supposed to be serving, usually takes this lesson to new levels. The temptation is to be embarrassed by these gifts. When we do, we steal the pleasure of the one who is giving. To refuse their gift is to deny them the blessing of giving.
3. Another lesson we learn in lean years is to live within our means. Again, your sending organization probably already made sure you were out of debt. Living within our means sets us free to follow wherever the Lord leads us.
Then on the field we repeat this lesson when we learn not to live as though we are entitled to special treatment because of who we are or where we came from. Because we did not grow up in the place we are serving, we need to take more precautions and may need more help than the locals with activities of daily living. Sometimes our foreign currency allows us luxuries we could never afford at home. However, we should not live on a level so far above those we serve that they feel uncomfortable with us, as though we were royalty.
4. In lean years we learn to be satisfied with simple pleasures. Take the time to get up early and see a beautiful sunrise. A single flower given with a heart of love is worth much more than a dozen long stemmed roses given out of great abundance. A cup of tea shared with a friend can be very satisfying. Don’t forget to take time to listen to your children or your husband. Listen to their dreams and cherish moments spent alone together.
5. In lean years we learn to be thankful for each person God sends to us. When you serve a large number, you won’t know everyone who walks in the door. In the lean years, you will get to know each soul God sends your way and you will seek His Word for them. These people will always be precious to you, they were your first fruit. Don’t despise a small beginning.
6. In lean years we learn to treasure our friends and to maintain friendships. When we don’t have much, friends are very important. Ask God for friends. For some years I didn’t know to ask and I wasn’t looking for them when God sent them to me. I wasted valuable time lamenting my loneliness. No friend will meet all your needs, but each one will meet some of your needs.
Some of you will live in lean years throughout the time you live in a foreign culture. You won’t have anything financially to show for the time you’ve spent overseas. Some of you will only see a few people respond to your message. Some will not be able to say they made a friend. Yet with a multitude of other sisters in similar situations, you will be able to say they were not wasted years. God did much in you and only heaven will show all the rewards for your obedience to Him.
You see, God promises to reward us with an inheritance for serving Him. Our obedience to His call is what He rewards, not the results we can see with our eyes. So when the results seem a long time in coming and are meager when they do come, trust that God has seen your labor for Him and He loves your obedience.