Real Missionaries

It must be hard to be a missionary and to have to write reports home detailing your life and ministry. I’m sure all want to be honest, but many must find it hard to be honest when those to whom they are writing control the dollars which enable them to stay where they are. So, rare is the prayer letter which says “the strain of ministry here has put a great strain on our family” or “we find that after four years here, we have not seen any conversions” or “sometimes I feel like quitting”. Such things are often felt, but rarely written. I understand.

But that can give us a false image of the brokenness that can often be a part of cross-cultural ministry. When a missionary is able to crack a window on his or her broken heart, it not only helps us appreciate what they confront, which can inform our prayers, but it as well can encourage us in our own brokeness.

For a number of years we have been friends with a couple who have been serving in a difficult, predominantly Muslim, part of the world. They find themselves now in a situation which demands that they leave that place which has become their home. They may never be able to go back. And so it is with a profound sense of sadness and grief that they face this move.

Perhaps reading the wife’s reflections on their impending move will give you a greater appreciation for the missionaries you know and the struggles that the tenderness of their hearts cause them to face.

This is a long quote, but worth reading and pondering. It is quoted with permission.

But the harder thing is that we’re telling our friends. And this is the point where I always get emotional. I can talk about the facts of the move ok, but when I start to talk about our friends, I break down. From the first, we have always been here in _____ for the people. Simply put, we love them. God called us to this amazing country to share His love with such wonderful, warm, giving people, all of them made in His image, and He has blessed us with a lot of really special relationships. So, it is really hard to give them up. We’ve learned that, while sure there are sacrifices made in coming to the field, the real sacrifice is when God takes you off that field. When you decide to come, you are making the choice to serve God in the way He has called. And, you still have connections that withstand the distance, especially as you are able to phone, email, and visit home occasionally. But when you have to leave and you don’t know that you will ever be able to visit and many of your friends don’t have email and it is really hard to type Arabic with English letters anyway… 😦 We have to remind ourselves that these precious people will remain in our hearts, even if we aren’t able to stay in touch. That they are a blessing we would never have experienced if we hadn’t come here – and oh, how much richer our lives are because of them! And, I realize that I can trust God to leave them in His hands. Even though many of them have no other believer in their lives, that is not an obstacle for God. We are not their Savior, Jesus is. So, I have to give them over to Him, one by one, in my prayers. Often repeatedly.

And here’s where another big reason I haven’t written comes into play. I haven’t wanted to talk about it. I’ve been mourning, but I’ve realized that I’ve also been really rebellious in my attitude. It took me a while to dissect it, but I found that the emotions I’m feeling were really familiar. I was experiencing the same sense of loss, of betrayal, of things happening beyond my control that have a huge impact on my life as I did when my parents divorced when I was in high school. And that discovery make me understand that I was handling things in the same way that I did when I was 16 – basically feeling bitter and unhappy and passively rebellious.

Soooo. Well, I’ve been praying about it. And God reminded me that I once told Him that I wanted Him to control my life and, as a result, He started changing things up in really startling ways. I had certainly never expected to be a worker overseas and yet that was what God had in store for me. Such a blessing it turned out to be! And now He is changing things up again because He is still the One in control. That comforted me to be reminded of that. Another thing He has reminded me is that I am called to be thankful, to bless the Lord in all circumstances. And I’ve begun doing that again. Two years ago, when we were ordered out of the country, praising God even in the midst of my tears was my immediate reaction and I had so much peace about it all. It’s so crazy that I didn’t start there again this time, but I was too busy being upset about it all… Anyway, I’m not saying that I’m done mourning because I’m sure that will continue, but I am asking the Holy Spirit to change my heart – not that I would ever stop loving our friends here, but that I would rejoice despite our departure.

Stott on Dialogue

[We are clipping quotes from John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World. When Stott wrote the book, the idea of ‘dialogue’ with other religions was a very hot topic. He differed with the concept, seeing proper dialogue being a part of our proclamation itself. Nevertheless, the idea of a loving conversation and interaction with adherents of other faiths was a type of dialogue he embraced.]

Paul seems to have expected all the disciples of Jesus to be involved in continuous dialogue with the world, for he urged the Colossians: ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one’ (Colossians 4.6). Here are Christians in such close contact with ‘outsiders’ (v. 5) that they are able both to speak to them (with gracious and salty speech) and to answer their questions. (63)

(Here quoting J. H. Bavinck) So, ‘in practice I am never concerned with Buddhism, but with a living person and his Buddhism, I am never in contact with Islam but with a Moslem and his Mohammedanism’ (240). Further, this living contact must also be a loving contact. (70)

If we do nothing but proclaim the gospel to people from a distance, our personal authenticity is bound to be suspect. Who are we? Those listening to us do not know. For we are playing a role (that of the preacher) and for all they know may be wearing a mask. Besides, we are so far away from them, they cannot even see us properly. But when we sit down alongside them like Philip in the Ethiopian’s chariot, or encounter them face to face, a personal relationship is established. Our defenses come down. (71)

It is impossible to evangelize by fixed formulae. To force a conversation along predetermined lines in order to reach a predetermined destination is to show oneself grievously lacking in sensitivity both to the actual needs of our friend and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such insensitivity is therefore a failure in both faith and love. (73)

Stott on Evangelism

[We are clipping quotes from John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World. These come from his second chapter where he wrestles with the nature of evangelism itself.]

Evangelism is the announcement of the good news, irrespective of the results. (38)

Now it is comparatively easy to be faithful if we do not care about being contemporary, and easy also to be contemporary if we do not bother to be faithful. It is the search for a combination of truth and relevance which is exacting. (43)

But Christ offers more than the forgiveness of our past. He offers too a new life in the present through the regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is also the guarantee of our future inheritance in heaven. We must not separate the two gospel promises which God has joined together, forgiveness and the Spirit. (52)

There can be no evangelism without the church. The message comes from a community which embodies it and which welcomes into its fellowship those who receive it. (56)

Stott on Mission

[We are clipping quotes from John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World, these from his first chapter on how the mission of the church is to be defined, particularly whether evangelism or mercy should be at the center.]

Yet it seems that it is in our servant role that we can find the right synthesis of evangelism and social action. For both should be for us, as they undoubtedly were for Christ, authentic expressions of the love that serves. (25)

It comes more natural to us to shout the gospel at people from a distance than to involve ourselves deeply in their lives, to think ourselves into their culture and their problems, and to feel with them in their pains. (25)

To see need and to possess the remedy compels love to act, and whether the action will be evangelistic or social, or indeed political, depends on what we ‘see’ and what we ‘have’. (28)

I venture to say that sometimes, perhaps because it was the last instruction Jesus gave us before returning to the Father, we give the Great Commission too prominent a place in our Christian thinking. Please do not misunderstand me. I firmly believe that the whole church is under obligation to obey its Lord’s commission to take the gospel to all nations. But I am also concern that we should not regard this as the only instruction which Jesus left us. (29)