What do you think of when someone says missionary? A new-agey type of guy with his socks and sandals on singing Shine Jesus Shine on his guitar or an elderly couple who tell unfathomable stories from the amazon jungle. Or maybe you think of a super-spiritual giant who is able to quote parts of the Old Testament you've never heard of before? Or maybe the recent film The Hobbit might give you some insights!
I guess it's fair to say you might come across these people from time to time, but it's certainly not the typical image that you would encounter. It's definitely a unique way of life - to be sent far away from your family and friends and arrive in an unknown country and culture. To try and speak the language and be an effective and influential member of society where at the same time you feel as if you're at the level of a 4 or 5 year old. But for thousands of years God has been calling people to this way of life.
One of the first missionaries Abram, later known as Abraham, was told by God to "Go to an unknown land that he would show him", and the Bible said Abram simply went (Gen 12). They didn't have google then so they couldn't do some research on where they were going. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, it takes me aback when I read stories about the missionaries who went into Africa or elsewhere, and would pack their belongings into coffins because they knew the reality of going to these places could cost them their lives.
A year or so ago, I had some coffee with OMS' President Emeritus, Wesley Duewel, a missionary for over 68 years now. He went as a missionary to India back in the 1940's. He described to me how he had a meal with one of our founders Lettie Cowman before heading off on the sea trip that would take a number of weeks. When he finally arrived in India he would send a letter home to let his family know he arrived safely. This letter would take severel weeks to make it's way back. All in all, Wesley's family would have waited a matter of months to hear the outcome of his jounrey. Today I can arrive on the other side of the world in 24 hours and even send news in-flight of my progress.
Mission for sure is very different today that it was years ago. I wonder whether it is any easier? I certainly think communication and ability to travel home for family emergencies has become something of a luxury compared with what my predessors had to cope with. However, I still think some of the same challenges apply when it comes to stepping out of our comfort zones to live and work in a foreign nation.
I was told recently by a Mexican that I need to keep on preaching, because even though my Spanish isn't 100%, people sit up and listen when I speak. Not because I'm the next Billy Graham, but because I am from another nation and therefore people are interested in what I have to stay. She told me how there is such an opportunity for missionaries to minister in ways that nationals never could. This was a great opportuntiy for me to encourage her and explain that there are some things that they as nationals can do that we could never hope to achieve. One of the opportunties God has given me over the last month has been to help some of the Mexicans I work with find their position in the body of Christ. Using a course that OMS use with its missionaries, I have been able to show and explain how all of us have been uniquly called and equipped by God to complement each other and work together with synergy to impact His kingdom.
I wonder if you have ever taken the time to consider what gifts you have, what your team style is, how you lead or relate to leaders? We might not always understand why the role someone else has in the team is important, but when we accept each other's different roles and gifts and work towards the shared visions and goals God has given us, we become a lot more united and effective.
Our life as missionaries seems mad at times and we have often felt like Esther in the Bible, who wondered why God had chosen little insignificant her to save all God's people. But as with Esther people have said to us, in so many words, 'how do you know that God didn't bring you to this place, for such a time as this?".
One of the other hardest things about being a missionary is having to say goodbye so many times. On Thursday we'll be saying goodbye to Hillary who has lived with us for the past 6 months. She has really become a part of the family over this time and we are going to miss her enormously - Nisha and Anya will be probably knocking on her door (at unseemly hours in the morning) and asking for 'Wee wee' (as Anya calls her) for many months to come.
We were also celebrating in MEFI when 19 young people made a commiment to put 100% of their trust in Jesus. We have also had a few that have left the streets and/or have gone to rehab recently.
But as always we covet your prayers for them. I read a quote last week from Corrie ten Boom, which said, is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?. How often do we only use prayer in a crisis, not as an essential instrument in our lives? Missionary work is mad at times, but it's also an adventure, an adventure which would be impossible without your prayers.
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