Courtney and I are blessed to have people in our lives who are serving Jesus around the country and around the world. To those who have gone across the world to learn languages, learn cultures, translate the Scriptures, and give their lives for the cause of Jesus—the world is not worthy of them.
As I’ve interacted with a few regarding life in the United States and life where they serve over the past few months, I’ve had a thought: I’m glad that we aren’t missionaries.
Now, to the “wait, we are all missionaries” crowd, hear me out. There is a marked difference between me, living here in Texas—a place where I was born—and the person who has served in the Middle East for thirty years, or the person who is raising their young family in unreached parts of China, or the person who is serving Muslims in Africa, or the person who pursued a college degree because it would uniquely place them amongst unreached people. We serve the same Lord, but we don’t serve in the same way. Don’t water down the term “missionary” by folding everyone into the same definition.
The missionary is acutely aware of loss and loneliness. The missionary amongst the unreached has committed her life to others and dreams in a different language. Those who serve throughout the world lose comfort, lose “home,” lose family, lose friends, and, at times, lose this earthly life. They’ve attached themselves wholly to the Great Commission—unconcerned about their rights and ready to do what is needed to see others come to faith. They exist under restrictive governments, they know they may die, they recognize that those they serve will betray them. The fruit of their labors go back to old ways of living and, even after years of ministry, they might have zero “numbers” to report home to keep support up. This, for them, is life. And, while painful, it is full of joy.
Arguments, at least in our context, revolve around masks, vaccines, and when life can get back to how we want it. Rarely do we ask, “What is best?” or “What serves those I am trying to reach?” and instead we ask, “What do I want?” and “What best serves the needs I perceive are most important?”
But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Consider the Apostle Paul, who first lived for himself but then found Jesus (or, should I say, Jesus found him):
Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
And what is he doing but just living in the same way his Lord was:
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Matt. 16:25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
The Christian has lost his life. We don’t exist to win an argument or even show up on the right side of a debate—somehow vindicated for our—what?—our passion for worldly endeavors and concerns? All of that is chatter. It’s a distraction. It prevents us from living freely and gladly for the sake of others because no human authority can truly hurt us (Matt 10:28).
“I’m glad that we aren’t missionaries” isn’t a statement I say with pride. It is a statement I say in grief. The world needs more people to go across cultures to proclaim a real and risen Lord who offers forgiveness. However, we might not last three weeks in a culture that doesn’t exist to accommodate us.