On October 4th of last year, I found myself in the Chengni village of Shangri-la, spending the Chinese Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival at a hostel in the Tibetan countryside. Just a couple days before, my traveling companions and I were making our way through the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge in the southern Yunnan province. After a day and a half of hiking a trail so beautiful and arduous it literally took our breath away, we were happy to rest and meet new friends at the Desti Youth Park Hostel.
Our hosts had organized a huge, traditional Chinese barbeque and KTV (karaoke) party in honor of this national holiday. As the only wài guó rén (foreigners) in the building, the staff was delighted when we joined the celebration. Shāokǎo (barbeque) was eaten, “Aladdin” hits were sung, and before long, everyone was headed outside to gather around a huge bonfire.
The Mandarin-speakers of our group followed the locals outside, but Kaile and I stayed behind to continue a spirited discussion. I hadn’t known her long, but she was quickly proving to be a great friend, blessing me with encouragement, sisterhood, and wisdom during what had become a difficult time for me. Though I had been excited to return to the field, my second year in China was not going as well as I had hoped. Unforeseen circumstances in my new life were challenging me in ways I had never known. In all honesty, the fire in my missionary heart was feeling more and more extinguished with each passing day.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17
Twenty, thirty, maybe even forty minutes went by before we realized we were the only ones left in the common room. “We will keep talking about this,” she agreed. “But let’s go outside and join the others.”
We’d been outside no more than three minutes when we suddenly heard a collective gasp emerge from the crowd, all eyes pointed upward and fixed on the night sky.
An enormous fireball was burning through the clouds, dazzling the sky in streams of brilliant orange and yellow light. Within ten seconds, night seemingly turned to day as the object disintegrated in a bright flash. A moment later there was a great boom as the resulting pieces struck the ground, miles outside of Shangri-la.
Stunned silence. Then, a unified roar of excitement and bewilderment.
Despite our linguistic differences, we all shouted, hugged, and cried in the mutual language of astonishment after witnessing what we could only understand to be a miracle straight from the heavens.
We later found out it was a meteor. It began as a larger rock, minding its own business, orbiting the sun in its own time – when it happened to slip through the earth’s atmosphere and get pulled downward so fast it caught fire and broke up into different pieces before it struck the ground. The life of a meteor is kind of sad, isn’t it? How quickly a great space rock can become a small has-been of the majestic sky. (Disclaimer: I am not a NASA scientist.)
And yet, without its drifting from orbit and burning through our atmosphere, we would never be humbled, amazed, or inspired by such a spectacular show of light in darkness.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
You know something? I think our brothers and sisters in Christ are kinda like meteors. (C’mon, you knew a metaphor had to be hiding in this story somewhere, right?)
No, I am not likening God’s servants to lifeless rocks floating in space. And I’m certainly not going full hippy and saying that we are all made of stars.
I’m saying that, whether or not we make a “sonic boom” on impact, we are all sent from the same rock – THE Rock, the Lord Almighty, our fortress and our deliverer – to spread His light unto different corners of the world.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
For some, that means packing your life into a suitcase and traveling 8,000 miles to share the love of Jesus with strangers in a strange land. For others, it might mean inviting your neighbors to church again and again, even if they always decline. Either way, God has a purpose for each and every one of us. He sends us where he wants to use us. He puts us on separate yet intersecting paths, equipped with the Holy Spirit and ready to serve as kindling in each other’s fires of faith. He doesn’t need us to spread his light, but he chooses to use us so that we may grow stronger in faith while serving the mission laid out for us.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
And even when it feels like nothing is happening, or when it feels like nothing is happening the right way, our God is still at work. His timing is perfect. He makes things happen when they are supposed to. And sometimes, God allows us to struggle so that we may learn to trust in Him and rely on Him more. It is during this struggle, this time when we feel like we’re falling out of orbit and plummeting towards an uncertain future – it is then that He is refining us, molding and transforming and sanctifying us as we journey through this earthly life.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7
When we are falling out of control it humbles us to the reality of how little control we have in the first place. Think of the meteors again. Once they begin to enter Earth’s atmosphere, there’s no going back for them. They have no control over where they land – but they can still be used to bring hope and light into a world of darkness. Talk about falling into God’s plan.
Locals claimed that our meteor broke up into three different meteorites as it plummeted towards the earth. Each landed in a different spot, waiting to be found by those hungry to learn more about the miraculous light they had just seen.
I believe Kaile was my meteorite during those rough months in China. Why, even when she admitted to be struggling, she was a light for Christ. She comforted me in times of distress, and she guided me back to Christ's love in times of doubt. She echoed the manner of our Savior, showing love and humility to all she met, no matter her own frustrations of being in a foreign culture. The Lord was using her to show others how to reach for his hand when falling instead of pridefully trying to control the situation.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
I’m not sure if anyone ever found the space rocks that fell from the sky last autumn in Shangri-la. For all I know, they could have been destroyed upon impact, having become frail and breakable when separated from each other. As for his servants, however, we know that God’s word and grace only strengthens us as we are sent out into the world. After all, our God is the Creator of everything – all space, all matter, all universe.
“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2)!