The Hard Places

By Rachel Greco

Thunder throbs, rain races, and lightning leaps across the students’ and leaders’ faces as they watch, entranced, as the man dressed in a blue, knee-length kurta shares about his experiences in a Central Asian country.

Ben, the man in the blue kurta, and his wife spent 15 years serving in Papua New Guinea, but on this night, the first of the weekend-long CrossVenture event, he focuses on the difficulty of when they served the Lord in a Central Asian country. At the end of his presentation, Ben holds up the reason for all those arduous years—a New Testament. Unlike the New Testaments that Americans are used to seeing, it is an elaborate book as large as the entire Bible, since it also holds the Greek translation. This New Testament was crafted so that the people of this culture will respect and see it as God’s holy Word.

After showing the New Testament to the youth aged 12-17, Ben challenged them to go to the hard places. He explained that these more challenging locations have only about one Christian mission worker to about three football stadiums of 100,000 people each. He told the students, “Each of you is like a puzzle piece. God needs every puzzle piece to complete the task of sharing Christ’s love to the world.”

These students and their leaders came from a church in Charlotte, North Carolina to the woods of JAARS to experience God in a new way and allow him to broaden their worldviews. And God did just that!

One evening during the weekend, the group sat on blankets covering the cement floor around plates of rice and meat drenched in peanut sauce, eating with their hands like people do in West Africa. While they attempted to eat and not spill food all over themselves, Jen, a JAARS staff member, spoke of growing up in South America (which she loved), and then transitioning to Africa (which was a difficult adjustment).

Eating a West African meal

“Though serving overseas is hard,” Jen shared, “it’s meaningful and shaped who I am. If God tells you to go, I’d ask you to consider going.”

Jen’s dad also encouraged the kids and leaders: “God calls you to go, but he’s with you. He calls you to go with him to those hard places.”

One night during the weekend, the group experienced secret worship similar to that of our brothers and sisters in places where Ben had served. Carrying torches, they hiked deep into the woods to a hut. There, the worship leader, Tracy, sang and strummed her guitar quietly while everyone crowded together to hear and praise God. After the event, one of the female students said, “I realized how fortunate we are in just being able to sing out loud. It was terrible listening to Tracy just whispering the songs. It would be so hard not to be able to praise the Lord freely.”

Experiencing secret worship at a CrossVenture weekend

During the interactive prayer path that the group participated in on the last day, Ayden experienced the depth of God’s forgiveness. “Some people you just get mad at,” he recalled from past experience. “You don’t want to forgive them. But God forgives me, so why shouldn’t we forgive others?” God doesn’t call us all to go to hard places, but he does call us all to do hard things, like forgiving those who have wronged us.

Learning about God’s heart for them and the nations

After the prayer path, the group gathered in a clearing beneath some trees beside a makeshift altar stacked with Ebenezer stones—stones of remembrance. Each participant held a stone inscribed with a word God had given him or her. These words will help them remember the weekend and explain it to others when they return home.

A student whose word was ‘disciples’ explained, “Jesus said to go and make disciples. I feel like God’s calling me to do that.”

One of the volunteers had written ‘hard’ on his stone. “A few times, as we were talking about the unreached people groups and Ben’s and Jen’s stories, I was challenged that following where God leads you can be hard. I asked myself, am I willing to do something hard if God wants me to?”

What hard thing might God be asking you to do? What hard place might he be calling you to go to? Join with us in praying that God will raise people up to go to the hard places, and that those who live there will hear and receive God’s love soon!