What do you think of when you think of a missionary? What comes to mind? What pictures are elicited? What traits do you imagine?
Courageous, Godly, Bold, Different.
Before coming to the mission field, that was my impression. These other worldly, supremely spiritual beings who long only for God’s kingdom. A sort of untouchable calibre of Christian, far from relateability, experiencing an entirely different set of problems than you or I.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I struggled with doubts when hearing God’s call on our lives to go into missions. I can’t do this, I thought. I’m not that person. I’m not good enough, courageous enough. I”m not serene or perfectly Kingdom minded. How could you ask me to go, God? Surely you’ve made a mistake.
But, since coming here, since embracing this particular mission and being surrounded daily with other missionaries, all my experiences have shaken up my preconceptions and the result has been a more accurate, complex and yet surprisingly simple picture of a missionary.
We’re not so different. Sure, I live in Papua New Guinea now. Sure I buy my vegetables from local farmers at 6am twice a week, send my kids to school with kids from all over the world and can’t rely on fast food for a quick dinner.
Yes, my kids now know a little bit of another language, will travel on more airplanes and change schools more frequently than most.
Yes, this life is far more different than the life I might have imagined I’d be living but the people – the people here – the missionaries, ourselves now included, are not so different.
You see, as I sat in my Bible study in Ukarumpa last week, far from my Canadian home, listening to prayer requests from translators and support workers alike, I was struck with a familiarity.
The situations may be different, the circumstances unique, the setting different and difficult to imagine, but the heart I heard was the same.
Praises for provision. Prayers for peace. Petitions on behalf of our kids. Cries for patience and stamina to carry out daily tasks.
Fear. Worry. Hope. Faith. Surrender.
You see, in a centre full of missionaries, in a land of different and always, to some degree, unfamiliar no matter how long one has been here, even here, our hearts still share in the same highs and lows of those at home.
There is no higher calibre of Christian, there are no special prayers for missionaries that do not boil down to all the same heart cries as those living anywhere trying to serve their loving Father.
Fear. Worry. Hope. Faith. Surrender.
There is one God and Father and there is one powerful prayer in the heart of everyone here – surrender.
Letting go. Letting go of our fears and worries. Letting go of our prideful independence.
Letting go of disdain for our weakness long enough to see that our weakness is just the prerequisite for strength. Letting go long enough to recognize that our ‘emptying is the preparation for being filled with God’s strength. Being cast down is the making ready for your lifting up.’ Charles Spurgeon.
Letting go of a gospel of works, rooted in a misguided reliance on our own strength in exchange for a gospel of grace – rooted in our delightful dependance. Stepping away from fear and worry while grabbing hold of hope through faith-filled surrender.
So, before you consider missionaries to be so different. Before you place them in the category of different, however you interpret it, remember that we are just people.
People who feel inadequate. People who feel worried and fearful. People who struggle with our weakness. People who struggle with where we are and desire to let go long enough to see what God is doing, to see what He’s revealing, to see how incredible and stunning it is that He chooses to use us – missionaries abroad and believers at home – imperfect people filled only with hope and a willingness to surrender.
And as He empties us and fills us with strength, time and time again, we learn that He is, not only aware of our weakness, but eager to use us in spite of it.
“Either we are adrift in chaos or we are individuals created, loved, upheld and placed purposefully, exactly where we are. Can you believe that? Can you trust God for that?” Elisabeth Elliot
We can trust Him here. You can trust Him there. We are no different.
Fear and worry don’t need to reign in any of us. Faith and hope are waiting for all of us as we relinquish any perceived notion that we are self sufficient. As we let go of any idea that we know all of God’s plans or that we could do a better job if left to our own devices.
“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” Elisabeth Elliot.
For I am convinced that God’s will for all of us – and missionaries are no different – is that we would walk in freedom.
That we would let go of fear and worry. That we would lift up our weakness so Christ’s sufficiency can be more adequately displayed. That we would pray for each other – wherever we are – brothers and sisters in Christ – different lives, different struggles, different strengths and weaknesses but same God.
Different journeys, same desired destination.
To arrive at the place where we can recognize we have been intentionally and purposefully placed right where we are. To arrive at the place where we can rejoice in our weakness with joyful anticipation of what He will do with His strength. To arrive at the place where we can rest in the truth that God can use us to point others back to Him and His unimagineable freedom, in spite of and because of our weakness.
We are different. We will struggle and stumble in different ways but, no matter where we are, what we’re doing and how God has made us, our hearts need the same thing – sweet relief from fear and worry and sweet embrace of faith and hope through surrender.
So, let go of the feelings of different – for yourself or for those you think are too different for you to relate to, and lay hold of the truth that we can be unified in our pursuit of the One who pursued us first.
He was different, is different and shows us a different way of life. May we step forward in faith with open arms, wherever we live and serve. We’re not different but praise God that Jesus is and that He is the one on whom we can depend.
“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been through God.” John 3:21