Susanna was passing a truck going up the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee when it happened. The air conditioning was blasting, and our girls were watching a movie to make the trip go by faster. Suddenly the van slowed. Susanna stepped harder on the accelerator and the engine revved, but we kept slowing down. We had blown the transmission.

The transmission, in our case an automatic one, connects the motor to the wheels. It transmits the power of the engine to the drive train making the van move. Our problem wasn’t a lack of power. The engine ran great. But without transmission the car wouldn’t move.

Susanna coasted across the traffic to the shoulder. All we could do after praying and calling for help was wait. Explaining our problem to the kids made me reflect on my own difficulty as a disciple of Jesus and our collective problem as the Church of Jesus Christ. It seems like our problems often result from failed transmissions.

The Bible says God’s divine power “has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV). Daughters and Sons of the King don’t lack power. Christ imputes His righteousness to us through faith. The Holy Spirit who lives in the temple of our bodies has resurrection power and unlimited resources at His disposal. Applying those resources to my daily walk and our collective work is the real challenge.

It helps me to think about transmission in terms of communication. My own communication with God through prayer and praise and quiet time before Him gives me access to His resources of love and joy and peace and wisdom so I can live the life He bought for me on the cross. When communication breaks down the power doesn’t go away, I just lose connection with it.

It’s the same way in God’s mission for the church of Jesus Christ. His plan is that “speaking the truth in love” we should grow up into Him who is the head, building up His body (Ephesians 4:15, 16), until it fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:22, 23). This happens as each part does its work joined and held together by its supporting ligaments.

In the work we did with street children in São Paulo, there were times we isolated ourselves from other ministries or churches or mission leaders in an attempt to save our time, energy and money and keep our project afloat. There was no extra time to share about the ministry unless we were to receive something out of it. Who has money to fly around the world to a meeting? But we learned that the resources we needed are the fathomless riches of His grace stored in his body, the people of God. Sharing what we had learned or our contacts or stories or even our resources inspired, encouraged and built up the body of Christ so that more children were rescued and discipled and challenged to do their part. They didn’t always come back to us, but we all gained grace in the process.

So what? Many of us think of ACTION as a bank or perhaps a pipeline like the water company. We pay our dues and as long as we get our finances on the right day without their bothering us too much, we’re happy. Who has time for P&Ps and GSDs and MPBs? That’s what those people in the home office sit around talking about all day. “Leave us alone,” we think, “and let us do the real work of missions.”

But what if the resources we need are in the new ground the church back home is taking through your inspiration? What if your personal prayer letter, instead of just raising money for your project and asking for prayer became a “transmission” of what God is doing and wanting to do around the world? Maybe you know somebody that a ministry in Brazil needs. The contributions you need might come through my contacts in Wheaton.

II Corinthian 9:8 says, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (NKJV). The problem is not a lack of resources or people or power. The problem is bad or nonexistent communication. When we don’t speak the truth in love, (good communication) the Body remains stunted and separated from itself and Christ’s work suffers.

Here’s what we need to do:

  1. Confess any ministerial egotism.
  2. Find out how you can serve what God is doing all over the place as He gives you opportunity.
  3. Communicate. Tell the story of His transforming grace so pew-sitting Christians back home will be inspired and do their part. Our personal prayer letters are the single most powerful recruiting tool we have. Nobody in the home office can accomplish what you can through your letter. If they are poorly written or only focused on us and our need, we will, like our van, have transmission problems.
  4. Respond positively to those God has placed in leadership. God blesses His children who submit to those over them. Let’s create a culture of joyful submission in the ministries God has given us.

Eventually our new friend Matt who with his wife, Amy, and their three kids are applying to ACTION USA to work in disaster relief rescued us and we got the van to a good shop for repair. Every time I pass a truck these days I’m thankful for a working transmission. It reminds me to communicate well and stay connected so the power we have in Jesus will make a difference where the rubber meets the road.

Smiling family ready to board our newly repaired mini-van in Knoxville

Thomas and Susanna Smoak served the Lord among the abandoned children of Brazil from 1995 to 2016. They have six children and live in Wheaton, Illinois.