Mr. Missionary’s Tough Decision

by Jim on 10 November 2008

And one day Mr. Missionary decides that he’s going to go on a little retreat to really evaluate his priorities.  He takes time to pray, read his Bible.  He evaluates his spiritual gifts, God-given talents, and experience, and asks himself,"Am I in the place I should be?  Am I making the best possible use of all these things God has given me?"

He has to be honest – the answer is no.  He could be making far better use of his abilities.  So… he makes the difficult decision to leave the field.

Don’t worry – I’m not dropping a bombshell and telling you that we’re leaving Mexico.  As a matter of fact, Mr. Missionary isn’t me at all.

However, more than once lately I’ve read a similar story written by others serving cross-culturally, and I have to admit, it concerns me.

Now, this isn’t a criticism of any of those missionaries in particular.  They may very well have had many good reasons for leaving their ministry, and God may indeed have been leading them elsewhere.

That being said, it made me think about the way we often choose to make decisions, and I think Mr. M above was missing some key things, in spite of the prayer and Bible reading that made it all look so good.  So what was he forgetting?

Look at it this way.  I’m just entering my second year full time in Mexico.  Let’s say someone is in their first term, finishing a 3 or 5 year commitment in another culture.  They have an opportunity back in their home culture (ie Canada), and they think,"Wow, I think my gifts could be used so much better in that position!"

Do you know what I say to that?

Well, of course!  That’s not a shocker.  You’re living in another culture, struggling with language and basic cultural misunderstandings.  Do you really think that your talents could be used better in your own culture, using your own language, with (particularly if you’re from a more developed country) more technology and information at your fingertips, easier communication – you expect me to be surprised that your talents could be better used there?  Of course they could!

But Mr. Missionary is missing some key factors.  You can tell, because Canada and the USA (for example) have such a wealth of Christian workers and churches and ministries compared to many other parts of the world that it’s a scandal.  If everyone thought this way, no one would ever go anywhere.  And surely that can’t be right.  Surely people need to be sent. (Rom 10:13-15)

Mr. Missionary is not looking at the big picture.  It is not all about him and his abilities.  He is a part of the people of God – the body of Christ.  He is not an individual alone who must make the best decision for himself.

Why is it that everyone says they are at "peace" where they are?  That they aren’t "called" to be in another culture, sharing the Gospel?  If everyone is telling the truth, does that mean that it’s God’s will that people never hear about Him and His love (2Pet 3:9)?  Or could it be that we’re not basing our decisions on all the right factors?

I’m not preaching from a pedestal here – people who have made the decision to serve in another culture are not necessarily doing any better than the people serving in their own culture.  They can be lazy and selfish and ignorant across the seas just as they could be at home – and often are (Rom 7:14-25).  I need to struggle daily to serve God and not myself.  I’m not a better servant because I have a different location.

And I’m not suggesting that all the Christian workers (many so committed, so diligent, making such a difference) in areas with more believers leave to go to an "unreached" area.  Maybe what we need is for a whole new group to rise up and go.

And hey, I’m all for knowing your strengths and focusing on them.  That’s biblical (Acts 6:1-7) (1Cor 12).

But if that’s all I base my decisions on, that’s a problem.  There are so many places in the world where there are hardly any believers to share the Gospel.  Maybe we need to start making decisions that look foolish to the world, start doing things that don’t make sense.

I empathize, especially with "first term" missionaries, because I am one.  It’s not easy.  But if you suddenly realize that your gifts could be better used elsewhere, don’t be surprised.  That’s probably the case.  But is that really a reason to leave?

Maybe God is leading you on.  Maybe someday He will lead us back to Canada.  But if I just say it’s because my talents would be used better there, smack me on the side of the head and tell me that’s not a good enough reason.

(PS Am I the only one thinking of the old Steven Curtis Chapman song?  I made a list wrote down from a to z all the ways I thought that you could best use me; told all my strengths and my abilities…  I formed a plan; it seemed to make good sense.  I laid it out for You so sure You’d be convinced.  I made my case presented my defense.  But then I read the letter that You sent me.  It said that all You really want from me is just — Whatever!  Whatever You say)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia Dwyer November 10, 2008 at 9:47 pm

An interesting article Jim. But how do we REALLY know where God wants us or what he wants us to do? Whatever he asks….. I am not sure alot of the time what he IS asking. There are so many places to serve here and in the world and so many not serving at all. I am just thinking out loud:)

Amrita November 10, 2008 at 9:52 pm

You ‘ve hit the nail right on hehead Jim.

Before setting out to cross the seven seas Missionaries should really prepare themselves in all areas of their lives. Frontier missionaries have to face tough conditions.

I ‘ve seen some leave as they couldn ‘t it, others just couldn ‘t leave, they stayed on, even their children.

Thank you for sending me the photo graphics link.

Greg Neufeld November 11, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Excellent observation Jim. I have had those thoughts occasionally over the past 9 years so I can relate. Thanks!

Andrew Agnew November 13, 2008 at 8:51 am

I have been reading in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly about that very thing recently. Humm, well, we’ll be in touch soon. God bless.

Greg Millsaps (via Facebook) November 14, 2008 at 7:20 am

Very good thoughts, Jim. I find that the concept of self-actualization (pursue your dreams…be anything you want) and the emphasis on maximizing one’s “potential” are such “gringo” ideas in the first place. When I talk like that and get super self-absorbed (which I do), it perplexes my Mexican friends and they tell me, “tranquilo!” because to them it’s really more about just being obedient.

Also, after being out of your culture for years you begin to not be so savvy about your own culture. Even with the internet and all the means of communication we still aren’t current on all the latest sayings, new words, lingo, styles, fashions, etc. You see the contrast most starkly when you host teams – it becomes very clear that you’ve now caught between two cultures. Forever separated from the host culture (because, face it, we’re NOT Latinos) and at the same time strangely alienated from our own culture. Welcome to the Twilight Zone!

Jim November 17, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Thanks for all your great thoughts!

There are a lot of questions in your comment, Patricia. I think a big question is, why wouldn’t God make things more “clear”? One answer may be that He wants to share His will in relationship – with Him and His people.

Of course, when people get married they don’t hand each other a comprehensive and permanent list of everything they want out of the marriage. Marriage is a relationship – growing, and learning to serve the other person out of love. I think finding God’s will is a similar thing.

Maybe I should write a whole other post on knowing God’s will. “Books have been written” as the saying goes. But in the context of what I wrote here, I think an important part of knowing God’s will is finding it together in a community of committed, Bible believing Christians. That may mean putting aside, at times, what we think is best for ourselves, and working together with a group.

Another thing to remember is that, if we’re studying and learning God’s Word in the community, and obeying what we know, we’re probably going to be fine. It’s not like 10% of God’s will is in His Word and the rest we have to guess on. If we’re following His Word, I don’t think we’re going to really blow it. Of course part of that is the Great Commission, and I think often times we do blow it – all of us.

Long comment! I’ll reply to the rest in another comment. 😉

Jim November 17, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Amrita – certainly preparation is a factor. Just read an interesting article on the topic – Why Some Missionaries Don’t Plant Churches. Check it out.

Greg and Andrew – thanks to you too! Good to know that people are thinking and talking about these things. Which EMQ were you reading?

Jim November 17, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Greg M – thanks for your comments too!

You make it sound like missionaries aren’t good for anything else after a while! 😉 Of course, if that’s the way it needs to be that’s fine. But I tend to think the “Twilight Zone” is a great place to learn.

Great points, though. And I think this concept of “self-actualization” is not only gringo, but Canadian too, though maybe to a lesser degree.

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