picture take from static.pexels.com
by Charlotte O
Missionary is a word I don’t always feel comfortable calling myself, but living overseas and seeing missions enacted in various forms gives me a lot of things to think about. Hence this series.
Do you ever think about the missionaries of old and how they did it? Maybe it’s not on the forefront of your mind every day, but I think about that a lot. Perhaps that’s because I’m faced with the reality in some small way every day that where I live is not where I was born, grew up, and had a set of rules ingrained into me. If you dig a little deeper, you see both a good and a bad side: there was the issue of sometimes abandoning families to do ‘God’s work’ which I kind of have a problem with, and the questions of whether they were bringing much more than the good news and wrongly imposing cultural imperialistic values on others à la The Poisonwood Bible. But those are topics I’ll save for other days and discussions, because today what I’m thinking about is how hard they had it, and how they managed in pioneering situations without giving up.
I know there are still plenty of places in the world where cross-cultural workers are facing very real challenges as they learn a new way of life. But I know that I have it pretty good. Taiwan is one of the most technologically connected countries in the world, and I can video chat or text my loved ones anytime for free. After being here for 10+ years, I can reminisce how I once had to use expensive and confusing phone cards to get in touch with my family, about how Western-style brunch was very difficult to get, and how few people around me spoke English. But at the same time I know I am so blessed that I get to go home almost annually, and that it doesn’t involve a 6 week+ boat trip.
I heard a true blue old school missionary share some of her story recently. She arrived in China in the inauspicious year of 1948 and had to flee from the communists not 1, not 2, but 3 times before finally landing in Hong Kong, from where she chose to come to Taiwan even though many of her peers were choosing to return home. And why wouldn’t they? It seems like a pretty natural response to the circumstances: Ok, well, I thought God was calling me to China, but there’s a civil war going on, so I guess that’s it. For me, when I heard the retelling of this story, I was challenged by how quick I can be to give up when things get hard. How at the first hints of opposition or things going less than perfectly I start to doubt whether or not that’s what I should be doing at all. Who am I to call myself a minister of the gospel? And how should I define success?
MAYBE HOW THEY DID IT DOESN'T MATTER AS MUCH AS WHY, AND MAYBE WHAT I DO DOESN'T MATTER AS MUCH AS HOW. LIVING OUT A CALLING, ANY CALLING, REQUIRES ASPIRING TO GREATNESS IN THE EYES OF GOD, WHICH LOOKS A LOT LIKE BECOMING LESS.
Joseph had to be sold into slavery and put into prison before he was allowed a position of leadership. Moses had 40 years as an exile, public ridicule, and unappreciative followers. David's struggles while waiting for God's promise of kingship to be fulfilled are well documented in the Psalms. And what did I have to do? Nothing more difficult than survive a couple of failed relationships, 4 Saskatchewan winters, and several hours of classroom instruction. Did that mean I was qualified to lead? Perhaps not, but lead I did, classes, discussions, bible studies. So maybe the lesson for me is a reminder of humility. Even though I'm living out my calling, and doing something that perhaps in the eyes of others is special, or noble,that doesn't mean I have all answers, in fact, I may not even have started asking the right questions.
Maybe how they did it doesn't matter as much as why, and maybe what I do doesn't matter as much as how. Living out a calling, any calling, requires aspiring to greatness in the eyes of God, which looks a lot like becoming less. This is the best thing I can do as a missionary. And sometimes, oftentimes, things ARE hard—not fleeing from war hard, but exhaustion, temporariness of relationships, people who don't respond the way you'd like, rejection, self-doubt, missing out on important family moments back home, wondering if there's any meaning or lasting fruit to all your time and effort—hard. And when I'm there, it's encouraging to look to the example of those who have gone before, but most of all, I need to look to God and remember that his ways, his works, are not mine. I have the privilege of being a part of it, but it's so much less about me and so much more about Him. I am not the savior.
I think of all the characters in the Bible who had very long gestation periods between the initial call and the birth of the dream, the freedom of a nation, the ascent to the throne, the return to a city. Maybe those stories are there to remind us, as the saying goes, that anything worth having is worth fighting for. When things are hard, that doesn’t mean I’m not in God’s will. In fact, it may mean exactly that. So instead of giving up, I can orient myself toward growth. Instead of questioning my mission, I can look around to see how what I’m experiencing can speak hope into the lives of others. When I have the eyes to see, it all becomes much clearer.
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