IVP - Strangely Dim - The Bigness of the Small

December 5, 2007

The Bigness of the Small

I'm still trying to process my trip to Cambodia last month, to know all that I am supposed to know and remember right now, trusting that what is supposed to become clear later--maybe in a month, or a year--will. My trip, as missions trips and other cultures are wont to do, sparked so many ideas and thoughts that I want to process with you, Strangely Dim readers, who have shown yourselves willing to wait as strangely dim thoughts become clearer, coherent, practical, applicable.

The idea looming large in my mind right now is, ironically, small. The bigness of the small, that is.

I went to Cambodia to coteach an editing seminar. That was the task, simply stated but not, of course, simply executed.

At the end of the first day of our seminar, Elaina (my coworker and coteacher) and I were

Discouraged.
Disheartened.
Disappointed.
Dismayed.
(Etc.).

Pretty much all the difficulties of teaching editing through a translator became evident. We realized we weren't going to be able to use much of what we had prepared to be translated ahead of time, and there wasn't time to have anything else translated. I felt stuck and defeated, and the week was just starting. At the beginning of the second day, I cried.

I just want to point out that I did not cry at the end of the second day, when I opened my suitcase to find very small ants crawling around in it. Small ants in a suitcase, if you didn't know, are a big deal. But I did cry that Tuesday morning out of frustration and disappointment. I couldn't help the missionaries and Cambodians. I couldn't do the task I had been brought to do. I wouldn't be useful to God.

I can tell you that the next three days went much better, thanks to truly God-given inspiration about exercises to try. And I can tell you that Steve, the missionary we went to help, was very encouraged about the work our team did. The fact is, though, that three weeks removed from that day, I don't really know what our students took away from our editing seminar. We had no tangible way of measuring what our students learned.

And to be completely honest, in a country that has seen so much death and torture and despair, teaching a few editing principles to a handful of would-be editors seems so small. Cambodians need food and clean water and AIDS care and help getting out of the sex-trafficking industry. I was tempted at points to believe an editing seminar--particularly one taught through a translator--couldn't be useful at all.

But who am I to say what Cambodia needs? Who am I to judge what's useful to God or not? On Monday evening Steve reminded us that God's work in Cambodia is a big puzzle--say 5,000 pieces. Our work there, his family's work there for seventeen years, the work of his staff at their publishing company, are pieces of that puzzle--or maybe not even full pieces; maybe just work toward another piece of the puzzle. But all are useful and important and necessary in God's plans for Cambodia.

And who's to say teaching people to edit was my main task anyway? Maybe my job, my piece, was even smaller; maybe the role Elaina and I served in teaching our seminar was simply being foreigners. Not many Cambodians would have attended an editing class taught by a fellow Cambodian, but after a week of observing the leadership role Steve's editor Savy took in our class, the students we had may start to trust her knowledge and experience.

I read Ephesians 3:20-21 while in Cambodia. I've always been sure that God doing "more than all we ask or imagine" means that God's power and wisdom and work are more than we could ever fathom. But now I'm sure that it also means God, with his all-knowing, all-wise perspective and his limitless ability, can use efforts, words, lesson plans that to us seem so small, in bigger ways than we can ever imagine. Jesus did it often. "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish," Andrew said to Jesus in John 6 when a large crowd needed to be fed, "but how far will they go among so many?" I can tell you that no one left hungry that day.

Three weeks ago I gave my small offerings in Cambodia. How far will they go? I don't know. I'm tempted even now, as I so frequently am when I offer something to God and others, to say "Not very far." But during and since my time in Cambodia, God has been doing some type of healing in me, growing a small, fighting piece of faith into something much bigger, so that right now I'm actually trusting his work even when I can't see it or figure it out. Because what I can see is that he is pulling together all the small things he calls each of us to do, and using them to do his big work.

Celebrate with me, reader-friends, because I sense that for me this new trust, this rest, this perspective, is a very big small step.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at December 5, 2007 11:04 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments

Wow, what great reflections. Having been there with you, these reflections almost made ME want to cry. I know that I often think that God won't use me because my attitude toward him isn't always spiritual enough or loving toward him enough. I think I try to do things in my own power, instead of in God's--even though I really have no idea what that means! But I know God uses anything and everything, including bad things . . . so he can certainly use me with my good intentions but less-than-perfect attitude.

I expected great things for me and for the Cambodians out of this trip. For me, I expected that my views on money would be turned upside down, and that I would be so grateful for the abundance I have that I would stop binge-shopping! That didn't happen. I expected God to "show up" in big and dynamic ways, totally righting my flawed perspective on spiritual realities and faith. That didn't happen. As in everything in my life, stuff comes in bits and pieces. As Marya Hornbacher wrote in *Wasted*, "you stitch them together wherever they fit, and when you are done you hold yourself up, and still thre are holes and you are a ragdoll, invented, imperfect." God is slowly stitching back together the broken fragments of my faith that I, through his grace, have stubbornly held onto. Even as I may have been only a piece of the puzzle in the Cambodians' lives, they too were a piece in mine . . . even if the picture of the completed puzzle isn't showing up all at once. I guess I can trust what God is doing in them . . . and in me.

Comment by: Elaina at December 7, 2007 3:42 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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