Pharmacist William Leslie lived in Ontario, Canada. After he became a Christian, Leslie felt God wanted him to become a medical missionary. He left home to serve God and those with medical needs. He would remain abroad for 35 years.
When he arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1912, he established his base of operation in Vanga. A small part of his ministry involved crossing the Kwilu River with his team once each year to tell the Yansi tribe about Christ and to provide them with basic medical care. Years later after an argument with one of the tribal leaders in the primary area he served, Leslie was asked to leave.
He left the mission field in 1929, convinced his ministry in the Congo had been a failure. He eventually made peace with the alienated tribal leader, but Leslie died in 1938, believing he had failed God and the people he was sent to serve.
Nearly anyone from North America evaluating this ministry would have likely agreed with his assessmen — at least until 2010, when a group of missionaries visited the area Leslie had ministered in 80 years before. The leader of that missionary team, Eric Ramsey, was shocked by what he and his coworkers found.
He said, “When we got in there, we found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle. Each village had its own gospel choir, though they wouldn’t have called it that. They wrote their own songs and the believers would go back and forth between the villages for singing competitions.”
Ramsey and his team visited one village which had a huge stone church building that was constructed in the 1980s. The sanctuary could seat nearly 1,000 worshippers. The building had been so full and the people were walking such great distances, that church leaders decided to build smaller church buildings in the surrounding communities. Ramsey’s team discovered that eight villages had churches. While it seemed William Leslie had failed, he had not. His work accomplished far more than he ever dreamed.
One analogy Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of God was the idea of how a tiny seed, once planted, takes on a life of its own. Consider Jesus’ words, “‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field.” (Matthew 13:31, NLT)
To put this in perspective, one mustard seed can produce a plant that is 9 feet tall. God can achieve great success through people who feel like they are total failures. We are all a bit like the mustard seed; when God blesses our feeble efforts they become more significant than we imagine because God’s people rarely see how he is using us. The truth is, God often does his most extraordinary work with the most ordinary people.