Excerpts from a sermon given by Omega and Julie Edwards
SHARED BY OMEGA: As I have been studying the life of Nehemiah and reflecting on the time we have spent in East Africa, I have come to understand some of the things I need to do to be in a better position to be used by God. Are we living to our full potential for God? If we are not yet reaching our full potential, how can we?
Nehemiah was living a good life in a comfortable position as cupbearer to the king of Persia when he learned that his people – God’s people – back in Jerusalem were living in disgrace. The news caused Nehemiah to weep, fast and pray day and night. He knew he would risk his life by being sad in front of the king, but he prayed for God’s favor. And even though he was afraid, he asked the king for help.
Because Nehemiah walked so closely with God, he was concerned about the people of Jerusalem, about the things that grieved God’s heart. He readily risked his position as cupbearer to the king for the sake of God’s will. Because Nehemiah had a close walk with God, God used him.
Julie and I had a close walk with the Lord before we were married. She was a career missionary from New Zealand working at an orphanage in Mozambique. Just before I started medical school, the Lord sent me on a short-term mission trip at that same orphanage. We have been married now for 15 years and God has given us five beautiful children and as many of you know, one of our children died at an early age. I went to East Africa with my pastor for two weeks and the Lord lit a fire in my heart for missions work there. I called home to tell Julie and she said she had a peace about it, but she wanted the Lord to call the children also. At that time, the children were listening to the biography of Amy Carmichael and the Lord used it to inspire them to missions. Ultimately, the entire family was on board. Don’t get us wrong – we loved our lives in the U.S. The church, the Christian school. I loved my patients, I loved working at the hospital and I had a decent salary. Everything was good. Why leave?
When I made the announcement that we were going to be closing down my medical practice and moving to a developing country, I got all kinds of responses and reactions from people. One of my colleagues said, “I think you’re nuts, but good luck.” Another asked, “What does your mother think about this?”
And you know what? It didn’t matter what anybody thought because we serve God as a family. Those of us who know God know that having a close relationship with Him helps us to hear Him more clearly, to interpret every part of life as being part of His perfect will and ultimately it leads us to reaching our full potential in God.
“The Spirit of the Lord is Upon me”
Back to Nehemiah. I like how he prayed and asked God to give him favor. The “good hand of my God was upon me,” he wrote. Similarly, Isaiah wrote that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.” For the last two and a half years while we were in East Africa, we learned all the greatest methods of evangelism, church planting and discipleship, but the greatest lesson we learned is that if we don’t cooperate and get in tune with the Holy Spirit and what God is doing in East Africa, we are wasting time. We will never reach our full potential as servants of God if our lives are not surrendered to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Another reason that Nehemiah was so effective was that he was informed. Nehemiah himself went to Jerusalem and went at night to inspect the city. He saw for himself the walls torn down and the gates burned so he knew what to do.
Because I have been appointed director of ministry expansion for the entire city where I serve, I’ve been asking the Lord to open my eyes to what He is doing there. God wants us to know the people, their needs and their customs in order for us to be culturally sensitive missionaries. We are His ambassadors.
God wants His people to be informed. If we don’t investigate our communities, if we don’t interact and discover what God is doing in our communities, how can we know our communities? And if we don’t know our communities, how can we love our communities? And if we don’t love them, how are we ever going to reach our full potential to be used of God to share the gospel with them?
“Opposition often strengthens and equips us for the work.”
So Nehemiah surveyed the city and persuaded others to help rebuild the city walls. But as we all know, if you ever try to do something for God, there is always going to be opposition to that work. It wasn’t long before enemies arose and plotted against them. But Nehemiah said to the people, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”
In East Africa, we faced our own opposition. We were robbed.
SHARED BY JULIE: The first of December was a normal day for our family. Our three older children had gone off to school and Omega had gone off to work. I was at home with my house helper Suzie who was out the back starting the washing. Our youngest, Francie, then three years old, was helping her. I had swept the front porch and had gone back to get the mop. And as I returned, there were four men on my doorstep. They were very well dressed, one in a police uniform and the others in business attire. They told me that they were with Immigration and they needed to ask me a few questions. So I let them in. I sat them down and offered them water and we chatted for a little bit. They asked me what we were doing in that country and who was living in the home. At that point, I decided I would get on my cell phone and get hold of Omega since this was Immigration and he was also a foreigner. When I was pressing the keypad, one of the guys took the phone from me and said, “You don’t need to do that.”
It was at that point that I realized something was amiss. Two of the men went out the back and fetched Francie and Suzie and brought them inside. They led us down to the bedrooms and tied up me and Suzie in different bedrooms.
“We’re bad men,” they said in broken English. “We want your U.S. money and if you don’t give it to us, we will kill you.” At that point, Francie started to lose it, she started to cry. I told her to put her arms around my neck, which she did. And I just told her that these were bad men and they probably were going to take everything in our home and I said that was okay, that I didn’t want them to hurt us and she needed to stop crying, which she did. And we prayed that God would protect us and that God would protect Suzie. Meanwhile, they ransacked our house. They took every bag and every crate out and searched every bookshelf. They just tore up the house looking for cash.
The men left about as fast as they came. Francie was able to go and get a knife for me so I could cut myself free and she took the gag off Suzie and I was able to cut her free. They hadn’t taken my cell phone. We had heard them talking and they thought that would be a tracking device. So I was able to call Omega straightaway. That was when the reality hit and I started to shake and cry. Omega came as quickly as he could.
As traumatic as all of that was, we could really sense that God was protecting us during the robbery. After the robbery, during the healing process that has taken place since, we could sense the love and support that came from our neighbors who poured out their love and concern for our family. We also felt the love from people in the U.S., through encouraging emails and extra finances that were sent our way. It was just humbling and absolutely mind-blowing. We felt so loved after the attack.
Bad things happen and God often uses them for His good. This is the point that really hit home for me during the whole thing. As servants of God, we need to understand that opposition often strengthens and equips us for the work.
SHARED BY OMEGA: Until now, we have been testifying that if we abide with the Lord, He is better able to use us. If we walk in tune with the Holy Spirit, God is better able to use us. If we understand that opposition to His work often strengthens us for the work, God is better able to use us. I will make this final point, which excites me the most.
“Why would you go back to East Africa
when life here is so good?”
So Nehemiah got the wall of Jerusalem restored. The singers and Levites were back to worshiping God, and the people signed a covenant promising to be obedient. Nehemiah went to visit the king of Persia and while he was away, bad things started to happen. He returned to find the temple in disorder and with anger and passion, he set things right. He confronted the officials, demanding, “Why is the house of God forsaken?”
Folks, it has been hard for us to see the needs in East Africa, to see the fields ready for harvest, but yet there are so few workers. Don’t get me wrong, there are churches that have a heart for the world’s lost. But in general, where is the passion for the things of God in America?
Nehemiah’s story inspires me. I want to be used by God just like he was. As we prepare for our second term overseas, I’m sure someone will ask me, “Why would you go back to East Africa when life here is so good? Why would you go back to East Africa and put your family at risk of danger? I would answer, “Get to know God like Nehemiah does. Get to know God the way I know Him, and the way my family knows Him. You will see that it is the least that we can do in service to the King of kings.” We’re going back to East Africa because the people there need to hear the gospel message and I want to reach my full potential in Christ. What about you?
•Omega Edwards, MD, is a MedSend physician serving in East Africa along with his wife Julie and their children.