Friday, June 11, 2010

Missions: Someone Else's No is Your Yes

I received an email a while back from a missionary to a rather dangerous South American nation sharing with me how he has become estranged from his parents because of his vocation. Missions was not the dream they had for him, and at first they assumed it was a bit of a lark. Now that he has been entrenched in and committed to the field, they have cut off communication with him, so great is their disappointment and discouragement. They think he is crazy to take his wife and children someplace not safe, and the cause of the gospel is not great enough in their minds to justify the risk.

I was reminded of this message this past week when I received a reply from a missionary to the Middle East we support to an email I had sent. My message had been flagged, she said, and she asked that I be very careful when messaging her not to use the "m" word (mission/ary) for her safety. What a startling reminder again about how cheap Christian missionaries consider their lives in light of how precious they view Christ and his gospel.

Last night I had the great privilege of preaching the commencement sermon at a Christian school graduation here in Vermont, and one thing I always try to do when speaking to young adults in New England is encourage them to listen to whether God is calling them to ministry. New England needs its young generation of Christians to get passionate about indigenous church planting and missional ministry. And then I turned my attention to the 300-some parents and grandparents and friends present and challenged them not to become disappointed if their young people spurn the appeal of earthly success, count the cost, and become missionaries, abroad or home. I begged them not to settle for the American Dream as their hope for their children, but to be encouraged, encouraging, and joyful if their child should give up a great career and hopes of wealth and comfort to reach the lost.

Afterwards a pastor local to the area said he was in New York for a pastors' conference recently and one of the other pastors said to him: "You're from Vermont? What a dark, dark place. Why would anyone ever want to live there?"

My new pastor friend said he replied, "Because it's a dark, dark place."

When our family announced we were moving to Vermont, a relative of mine emailed with some negative stats about the state: how liberal it was, least religious state in the nation, the whole gay marriage thing, etc. And then he sarcastically quipped, "Yeah, sounds like a great place to live."

I wonder if we had announced we were going to Africa or Afghanistan if he would have been so dismissive. He might have been concerned that Africa isn't a safe place to live, but I doubt he would have been derisive.

How easy it is for American evangelicals to think missions is for overseas and as long as we're stateside, we might as well enjoy as much safety and comfort as we can. This results in the insular nature of the church in spiritually parched areas of our own nation. But it is distinctively unChristian for Christians to only want to be around other Christians.

Francis Chan talks about how lots of people in his area (Simi Valley in California) want to go to Asia, but nobody wants to go to South Central Los Angeles.

Where my relative sees the negatives of Vermont, missionaries see the need.
Where others avoid the darkness, missionaries seek to bring the Light.

Take heart, missionaries. God delights in and over you. You are precious to him, because where the disobedient look at the landscape and say "no," you see it through the eyes of the glory of God and say "yes." I am grateful for you.

13 comments:

Radical Christians Wanted said...

This is true in the States too. It's easy to go where it's "easy"! It's hard sometimes when friends and family think how much more "successful" we'd be somewhere else. I think it was Ajith Fernando in "Jesus Driven Ministry" that talked about how Jesus like it would be for someone with a Ph.D. in Bible to spend their ministry serving a small group of Christians in an out of the way and difficult field when they could be so much more "successful" elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Your piece brought tears to my eyes. When I was a young Christian I thought being a "Rockette" in New York City was a good way to make a living. Instead I married and have had many adventures. Now that I am elderly I realize how much I could have done by teaching at mission schools. But with the Lord nothing is too difficult! There is still hope!

C. Holland said...

Thank you for both the encouragement to us missionaries and conviction to address something that's rarely talked about amongst Christians. It meant a lot to us as I read this out to my Other Half.

As a full-time missionary in Western Europe, I have experienced the resentful estrangement from parents (the relationship is almost completely dead after 3 years in the field); when I blogged about it back in March it was one of my most commented pieces. And I've also had the snarky, dismissive comments from others back in the States, not just the "it's so Godless, why would you live there?" but also the "that's not a real mission field because it's not in the 10/40 window". Funny, God seems to think it is.

While it's so important to address these issues head-on (I've witnessed too many missionaries abandon the field when they realise what they're about to lose back home), it's taught me an important lesson that not only do Christians and potential missionaries need to fully understand the sacrifice involved, but parents need to be educated about this as well. The vibe I get from evangelicals is that missions is great--but not for my kid, and that's just wrong. Let's keep the discussion going.

diane said...

Jared,

I have a google alert for "parents of missionaries" and found this post that way. I want to tell you about a website and book for parents of missionaries. The site is

http://www.pomnet.org

and the book is Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive When Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally. It's available on amazon and also from the publisher, Biblica. The website above has a good description of the contents.

It's very true that some parents react as you've described. Often what's needed, however, is some understanding, on the part of everyone doing the sending, of what the impact is on the parents (and siblings) left behind. We think that sometimes parents react as they do because they don't feel free to express what they are really feeling--fearful of losing connection with their children and grandchildren and fearful that there is something wrong with their faith for feeling this way.
But even the most supportive parents grieve and need that grief to be acknowledged so that it can be processed and the new role of POM (parents of missionaries) can be embraced.

The book is highly endorsed and we frequently hear from parents who have found it helpful and healing. I hope you'll check it out and recommend it when you get the chance.

Faithfully,

Diane Stortz
National Network of Parents of Missionaries

JamesBrett said...

thank you, jared, for your words. i was going to say you wouldn't believe -- but i think you might -- how many people try to talk us out of moving to africa or china or wherever we may have been called. and they do so for all kinds of reasons, not just safety.

many (i give these credit for their honesty) offer selfish motives for keeping missionary friends and family in the states, explaining how they'll miss their grandchildren or their close friends, etc. others do suggest the dangers, troubles, inconveniences, or unhappiness generally associated with moving to certain places. some try to mask their efforts in logic, explaining how there is a great(er) need there in the states than anywhere else -- isn't there work we could do "at home." and then there are others (the american dreamers) who honestly don't understand how someone might do without $80,000 a year, air conditioning, and a membership at the gym.

fortunately, my mother is very supportive, as are my in-laws and most of my closest friends -- many even support us in our work in tanzania. but i am both embarrassed and saddened by what often seems to be the bulk of modern christianity, with their lack of zeal and, even more, their general disdain for foreign missions. may God give us hearts for the lost and the hurting, wherever they may be.

JamesBrett said...

thank you, jared, for your words. i was going to say you wouldn't believe -- but i think you might -- how many people try to talk us out of moving to africa or china or wherever we may have been called. and they do so for all kinds of reasons, not just safety.

many (i give these credit for their honesty) offer selfish motives for keeping missionary friends and family in the states, explaining how they'll miss their grandchildren or their close friends, etc. others do suggest the dangers, troubles, inconveniences, or unhappiness generally associated with moving to certain places. some try to mask their efforts in logic, explaining how there is a great(er) need there in the states than anywhere else -- isn't there work we could do "at home." and then there are others (the american dreamers) who honestly don't understand how someone might do without $80,000 a year, air conditioning, and a membership at the gym.

fortunately, my mother is very supportive, as are my in-laws and most of my closest friends -- many even support us in our work in tanzania. but i am both embarrassed and saddened by what often seems to be the bulk of modern christianity, with their lack of zeal and, even more, their general disdain for foreign missions. may God give us hearts for the lost and the hurting, wherever they may be.

Em said...

thank you

Roberta said...

My parents were faithful supporters of missions for years and years so that is why I didn't understand my mother's feelings when my brother went to Africa as a missionary. I remembered Abraham who was willing to give his son up and I remembered in the New Testament where we are supposed to put God before family. And most of all I remembered God Who gave up His One and Only Son. Maybe if I had talked to other missionary families I might have understood my mom's feelings.

tomb6378 said...

Would it be safe to say that sometimes the best place to find missions is look where you struggle or have struggled and then find others that suffer the same way and serve them. Would you consider that a form of missions?

rdsmith3 said...

I'd like to think I would be very proud and encouraging if one of my kids served as a missionary.

Bill said...

rdsmith3

Amen. I hope I will be too, when/if I face that.

A large part of being a parent (I have four, from 20 to 12) is learning to let go.

We had a sort of reversed situation - my parents in law served in Ukraine for three years. They gave up regularly seeing their daughter and grandchildren to serve there. While sad, we were supportive of them (and went to see them over one Christmas - one of the best trips we've ever taken).

Zach said...

Thank you.

Jason said...

"Francis Chan talks about how lots of people in his area (Simi Valley in California) want to go to Asia, but nobody wants to go to South Central Los Angeles."

I once worked for a "ministry" who had decided they were going to sponsor a mission trip. A meeting was held to determine the location of the trip.

On the board went the names:

Russia
South Africa
Israel
China
Bosnia
Egypt
"Anywhere in Africa"

You know...the places that needed Jesus.

I piped up and said "South Central Los Angeles." All the eyes in the room shot toward me and someone started to object but the guy heading the meeting said it was a brainstorming time. More foreign locations went up.

"Rural West Virginia." I said. Again, the dirty looks.

So they close the "brainstorming" session and the leader says for people to vote for three places you want to see removed from the list before any debate.

Eight people were in the room voting. Two places had seven votes. You can guess which two they were. They were not names on my list.

I had one of the women confront me after the meeting about being disruptive and trying to undermine the process. "People in foreign countries need Jesus more."

It still disgusts me to think about it.