Incompetence and Promises

by James Kurtz, Short-Term Taiwan Team Member

by James Kurtz March 4, 2018

“Well, I think I’m on the right boat...”

An unusual art piece hangs above my desk at home: a collection of nametags from most of the VBSs and kids camps in which I’ve taken part. Every summer I had attended these things, until I started helping to run them.

But as I took a seat at the back of the ferry, I thought of the inadequacy I had felt earlier in the week. The mere recollection was so uncomfortable, it left me unaware I had sat in a puddle. I thought I knew how to do this kind of ministry—my first job was in children’s ministry—but that opening morning felt like I had never seen a child before.

As we pushed away from the wharf, I brushed a few drops of water off my camera lens, uncertain if it had come from the bay or the mist. There hadn’t been a sign to confirm our destination, and even if there were, I was illiterate in this country. But Google Maps had gotten me this far, and when it told me to get on a boat, I obeyed with the only boat I saw.

My thoughts shifted to the later mornings of VBS, and how they weren’t so disastrous. If anything, they had been miraculous in comparison. Despite the bumpy start to the week, the kids came back and even brought friends and siblings. As a startling surprise, those later days differed from expectations by exceeding them. The kids learned songs to sing to our Father and heard of his relentless love in seeking out both of his prodigal sons.

These are the moments my soul sings the hope that “we are not competent in ourselves, but our competence is from God, who has made us competent and worthy as ministers of the covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:5–6).

As the puddle on my seat soaked through my jeans, I clutched that hope of bestowed competence even tighter as I watched my intended destination disappear over the horizon. I was not on the right boat. Google had failed me. Prep for VBS had failed me. The promises on which I leaned, however, had not.

Throughout our time in the country, we had seen the certainty of our Father’s promises. We sometimes talk about “church in hard places,” neglecting the bigger picture: “hardness” comes in finite quantities, and the Church will infinitely prosper.

In the evenings, our team gathered in one such church—probably smaller than Liam’s office—and provided the native English-speakers for an ESL Café. The church had never hosted such a thing, so we began with an abundance of apprehension, and, like VBS a few hours earlier, a shortage of prayer. But as the evening went on, the conversations were meaningful. Dialogues scaled topics like the nature of evil, the inconvenient necessity of sacrifice, and enduring punishments imposed for doing the right thing.

As the boat neared an unknown pier in an unknown place, I began to wonder if I would make it back in time for those conversations this evening. I had ventured to the edge of the city to see the mouth of the river, collect my thoughts, and allow my off-the-charts introversion some recovery. Separated from the team, I hadn’t planned a contingency for getting on the wrong boat. Walking up the dock, I heard someone speak in English. The language alone indicated that I was the intended recipient.

“What are you doing here?” the voice inquired. It was that part of town, apparently. I gave the Twitter version of the explanation, passively mentioning it was a church thing. That piqued his interest, and after some discussion, I found that he was certainly not on the wrong boat. Formerly a pastor, having fled religious persecution on the mainland, our brief conversation reminded me yet again of the varying perspectives on “hard,” and the unwavering promises on which we depend.

As we parted ways, I came to realize that in the broader view where God is sovereign, I was on the right boat after all. Unfortunately, I neglected to ask him for directions.

If you’d like to hear more about Tenth’s short-term trip to Taipei last month, join us next Sunday after the 11 AM service.  More information is available here. Though mildly stressful, I now recommend getting on the “wrong” boat on the other side of the world. Learn more about short-term opportunities here.