When Jordan flew to the Balkan Peninsula two years ago to plant churches among the Roma people group, he had no idea he would one day be sitting here, in a crowded café, sipping espresso and telling his story against the backdrop of bad American pop music. He also had no idea he would be saying things like, “I really did block out a lot of the difficulty that was waiting for me when I got here,” or “I feel like I got here and just was embarrassingly humbled. Embarrassingly.” But he is saying these things, because that is exactly what happened.
“I romanticized it entirely,” he confesses, imagining that working with the poor meant “getting dirty, and just meeting all their needs, and being this hero and, um, doing it all in the name of Jesus.”
Jordan’s journey overseas began with a simple statement uttered by one of his trusted mentors: “You know, I see you as more of a missions guy.” A month and a half later, he found himself walking on Pioneers’ campus in Florida, feeling more and more confident that these were “his people” and that God was calling him to spread the Gospel among the unreached – he just didn’t know where yet. After meeting with several potential teams, he heard of the opportunity to work with the poor and marginalized in Eastern Europe, and it caught his attention. “I romanticized it entirely,” he confesses, imagining that working with the poor meant “getting dirty, and just meeting all their needs, and being this hero and, um, doing it all in the name of Jesus.” To Jordan, nothing could’ve sounded more appealing.
To be fair, he is good at those things. Poverty doesn’t scare him, and neither do the sacrifices that keep most of us from moving to the other side of the world to tell people about Jesus. And while it can take missionary recruits years to raise enough funds to get to the field, his natural boldness and singular focus got him there in six months. Everything happened so quickly and easily, what reason did he have to doubt?
He didn’t, not for a long time. Because at first, the flavors were exciting, the language seemed easy to pick up, and the people were kind and receptive; it was every bit the adventure he imagined it would be. However, unlike the short-term mission trips he’d gone on in his twenties, he didn’t have a ticket home when the honeymoon ended. When the food became bland, he woke up in the Balkans. When the language became complex, he woke up in the Balkans. And when he saw the flaws and weaknesses in himself, his teammates, and those he was trying to reach, he woke up in the Balkans. “You feel, or at least I felt,” he says, “lonely and insignificant, and helpless like a little child.”
Even the ministry became a source of discouragement as, with each passing day, he realized how far they were from their goal of reaching the Roma with the Gospel – much less helping them escape the clutches of poverty. Worse, his team went through an intense time of conflict, resulting in half of them going back to the States and half of them starting over. Months turned into a year, and eventually his disillusionment brought him to a place of bitterness, frustration, and anger. “And then in my case,” he pauses, “loneliness and even bits of depression.” Not quite the wave of self-edifying momentum he rode to the Roma’s front doorstep.
Like many of us do, Jordan responded with heavy doses of self-medication and escapism; food, drink, too much sleep, not enough sleep, too many Skype calls home, not enough Skype calls home, movies, school – he turned to anything and everything but the One who could truly help. Of course, nothing did. “I would look out my window or sit on my balcony and just see this lively neighborhood that just didn't care that I was there,” he says, his voice equal parts amusement and regret, “I had come to save all of them, but they didn't care.” At the end of his first year, “The Lord felt extremely far away, and I felt extremely small.”
And that’s when Jordan saw it. “You've been relying on yourself,” he realized, “and not the God who is big.” On his own, he was never supposed to be significant; it was always supposed to be God.
As it turns out, he was right. He was small – but that wasn’t the problem. When he finally turned to God for help, God didn’t build him up or feed him nice-sounding platitudes about all his hard work and effort. On the contrary, “He affirmed that I was small, but that He was big.” And that’s when Jordan saw it. “You've been relying on yourself,” he realized, “and not the God who is big.” On his own, he was never supposed to be significant; it was always supposed to be God.
Not much changed in his circumstances after that realization, but a lot changed in his mind and heart. “You start understanding,” he explains, “that as you've walked away from situations that you thought impossible or that you didn't have enough energy for or didn't have enough language for...God did.” He still went about his daily tasks, still labored to learn the language (a process that never really got easier), and still worked hard to begin new and impactful ministries. But now, he knew by whose strength he did these things – and it wasn’t his own. The odd thing was, being aware of his weaknesses only made him feel more capable. “The difficulty didn't go away,” he admits, “but the ability to deal with it greatly increased as I sought the Lord through it.”
He laughs as he thinks back to the moment he begged God to send him somewhere challenging, somewhere he could do great and significant things for the kingdom. While parts of that prayer were well-intentioned, “basically, it was like a bravado thing.” A bravado thing that God answered by putting him in a new place, using difficult situations to reveal the pride and arrogance in his heart, and then disciplining him until those things were gone – or at least, Jordan would tell you, smaller. It wasn’t how he thought God would answer his prayer (and it certainly wasn’t how he wanted him to), but it was how he needed him to answer it.
“You have in your mind how God is going to work, or how he does work, and he always surprises you for the better.”
“You have in your mind how God is going to work, or how he does work, and he always surprises you for the better.” That is a truth Jordan holds to tightly as he looks to an uncertain future, one that may or may not include a return flight to the country he’s finally started feeling comfortable in. Regardless of whether or not he does come back, he is glad to draw from the lessons God taught him here, lessons of humility, remaining faithful in times of difficulty, and drawing from the strength of his Maker rather than his own meager reserves. They are, he suspects, lessons he will continue to learn the rest of his life.
“I know who is in control,” he says in a café in the middle of a crowded, lost, vibrant city in Eastern Europe. “I know who is in power, and I –” he pauses, “I know where I stand before the throne. And it's far down.” It isn’t with pride in himself that he says these words; it’s with pride in the King who does sit on the throne. He is, Jordan would tell you, the only one worth taking pride in anyway.