Faith in Unfulfilled Promises

If you look at west Africa on google earth, you will see a very distinct natural line that runs east-west and separates the land into two regions – the barren, dusty Sahara desert and the lush tropical coastal region. Everything north of this line is brown, everything south is green, and it’s so distinct that you can see it from space. And if you are driving in Togo, you can cross over it in a distance of about twenty kilometers. This past week, we did just that. 

We live in the northern region of Togo, also known as (in google earth terms)…the brown part. It’s flat, it’s hot, it’s dry. For me and four other nurses, we haven’t left this region in about seven months. We needed a change of scenery and a little R&R, so we loaded up and headed south. 

We oohed and aahed at the hills rising in the distance, and as the truck winded up through them and then passed over to the other side, we started singing “A Whole New World.” We had just crossed over the brown-to-green geographical line. 

We couldn’t believe we were still in west Africa! Palm trees and banana trees heavy with fruit lined the sides of the roads. Every square inch of land was covered in lush tropical vegetation. Rolling hills to the ride and the left hemmed us in. The air was twenty degrees cooler and the annual average rainfall astronomically higher.  We kept calling out the names of fruits and vegetables that we saw with roadside vendors. Pineapples! Bananas! Squash! Cauliflower! Look at those giant carrots! 

Over the course of five days, we ate to our heart’s content in bananas and pineapple. We hiked to three different waterfalls and climbed a mountain. We drank coffee on cool mornings, slept under blankets, and wore jackets. We even ate both pizza and hamburgers. It’s a hard missionary life, you know! 

But that’s not the best part yet. The hospital in the north where we currently work is only three years old. It is a branch of the southern hospital that was started many years ago. We stayed on their mission compound and even toured the older southern hospital. Today this hospital is almost entirely staffed by nationals, and they are all Christians. There are multiple churches in town, a Christian nursing school, a Christian primary school, a Christian literacy resource printing distribution center, and a blind school…just to name a few of the ministries that we saw. But the town didn’t start out that way. It started out unreached and unchurched. Just like where we currently work. In less than fifty years, a total transformation has taken place in the south as a result of this hospital. 

It gives me hope that maybe, one day, our little town in the north will have the same story. Maybe, just maybe, one day, there will be many churches filled with former Muslims who have come to Christ. And it will have all started with a hospital. Perhaps one day the hospital will be primarily staffed by African Christians and they will tell the story of “back in the day” when the soil was hard and the Christians were scarce but brave. 

We romanticize and make heroes out of those who are pioneers, and they merit that because they work the hardest while seeing the fewest results. That’s how I see the people working in the northern hospital.

What strikes me about the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 is one common cord that binds them all together. It’s a very specific faith – a faith in promises not fulfilled in their lifetime. What makes all those characters in the “hall of faith“ so extraordinary is that they obeyed based on a belief in a promise that they never even saw with their own eyes. I don’t know about you, but the standard of faith for me just rose a little higher. It’s not just about having some kind of general faith in a God who keeps promises. Faith is believing and obeying in something even if you won’t see it fulfilled in your lifetime, even if it’s fulfillment won’t even be on this earth. 

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13)

Perhaps that is the secret to this extraordinary faith, knowing that we are but strangers and exiles on the earth. We are looking forward to another city, “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” (Hebrews 11:16) 

If we live with such a heavenly perspective, then it only makes sense to live by faith even when promises aren’t fulfilled in this lifetime. Because it’s not about this lifetime at all, but rather about an eternal kingdom ruled by an everlasting King who sits on his throne from generation to generation. 

I feel like greeted a promise from afar when I went down south and saw the impact of the hospital. Although sometimes here in the north the work seems hard and the soil impenetrable and the results few and far between, we look forward to the promise that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of God” (Habakkuk 2:14) and that people from “every tongue and tribe and nation and language” will worship the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-11). Even if we never see it in our lifetime, we greet it from afar, and we look forward to another city. 

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