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.