Now on the Platform :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Now on the Platform

Josh Perkins
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(This is the second post in a four-part series tracing Josh and Natalie Perkins' reflections on their first year in Papua New Guinea as career missionaries. The Perkinses arrived in November 2022.)

The last time I wrote, I reflected on feelings of anticipation waiting to go to the field and likened the experience to waiting to perform in a recital. But what happens when you finally get on the platform? Thus far for me, arrival has been an exercise in managing expectations. What you experience may be very different from what you envisioned.

We arrived on a field where we had been previously. We entered a team setting with pre-established schedules and responsibilities. We also transitioned from life in “convenience and availability” to life in “the bush.” Some things have changed since we were here five years ago; some are the same. I have changed since then too. Previous experience has had two effects. First, it meant we could jump into ministry upon arrival. (For example, in our first two weeks I preached 8 times in Tok Pisin. Few first-termers do that without interpreters.). Second, it meant going from zero to full bore with little warm-up period. I have had less time than expected to adjust without responsibility.

The realities of “bush life” hit quickly too. In the bush there are no shops or repairmen. If something breaks, you fix it or live without it. During our first two months, I replaced a truck’s radiator, helped install satellite internet equipment, fixed a septic system, repaired a generator (our primary source of electricity), repaired a gas stove, replaced piping on a wood stove (the primary source for hot water and heat at night), made a trip by truck to get fuel for generators and vehicles, patched multiple roof leaks, and organized a supply trip moving 1,700 pounds of stuff (medicine, food, car parts, and miscellaneous equipment). This was in addition to daily tasks, such as keeping water filters full so you don’t run out of safe drinking water, etc. These things can be fun, but when five children are wondering if they are going to have hot food for supper, it’s also stressful.

I knew I would be busy upon arrival, but I didn’t anticipate the amount of responsibility or the number of things needing immediate repair. The result has been less time than hoped to brush up on language, prepare sermons, or sit down with nationals to learn about cultural differences. My family has had their own expectations too. Someone must help them manage their expectations. I knew it would be like this, but at the same time, I didn’t. My expectations met reality: some were right and some were wrong. When things aren’t exactly as expected, the question might arise, “Is this what I signed up for?” The answer is yes! You are on the platform now. It is time to play your instrument. Every field and context is different. The adjustments will be quicker/slower or fewer/more numerous as each case dictates.

I can assure you, it won’t be exactly what you expected. What do you do with unmet or even broken expectations? Are you going to play your recital piece or run away? Having to perform under bright lights is tricky, especially when you find a sticking key in the piano you have never played before. How long can you put up with that sticking key before you look at the audience, shrug your shoulders, and tell them the piano is broken?

The overarching lesson from my first months here is that this is God’s work. He called me here, and I need to seek Him. God already knew what we would face when we arrived. God determined to accomplish something through it.

He wants me to persevere and look to Him for help. Self-reliance gloats over the ability to handle the situation or is drawn into despair because things aren’t going as planned. When I do well, I attribute it to my “good practice and exceptional skill.” When I don’t do well, I default to blaming the instrument or my teacher or not having enough time to prepare. Blaming others typically results in giving up—it’s not my fault; this wasn’t what I was expecting; is it time to move on?

When I look to God, I see victories as His and difficulties as something He foresaw and areas where I need His help. Unmet expectations are not a reason to quit or question; they are an opportunity to seek God and see Him do things His way. I can surrender my expectations when I realize that this is God’s work and not my own. God’s expectations have not been broken. This is what I signed up for. This is what He wanted; by His grace and help the task will be completed. I have seen a fair number of recitals, and the majority of performers didn’t have smooth sailing. But everyone who persevered received praise and grew through the experience. It’s time for me to grow!