What it means to be a missionary?
I am an American living in Berlin, married to a German pastor. Even though my status is more permanent compared to some missionaries I know in Berlin, I still consider myself a missionary because that’s how I started out here.
It could be that one of the most widely used quotes for missions is this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The quote is from Jim Elliot, who was a missionary to Ecuador, attempting to win the Huaorani people over to Christ. In the process, he was killed but his wife continued the work. She was was there two years ministering to the very people that had killed her husband. Amazing.
Yet, I find myself as far away from South America as I will ever be in a European country, thinking, my situation is not in the least like that of the Elliots. Or like that of Mother Theresa or Hudson Taylor or David Livingstone; all lived and served in a poverty-stricken and/or among primitive people. Does this quote apply to me, living in an advanced, modern, Western country?
He is no fool
Wherever you are and whoever you are, you are “no fool” to trust in Jesus and share the Gospel with people around you. Not just with your words but with a way of life. There is always occasion to give up what we seek on this earth to seek what is eternal. There is always opportunity to lay down our lives for others. If we look at the lives of Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, it’s the quality of their lives that we really adore and respect. What they did was a result of that quality of life. They were people that decided at one point to give up their lives for others. Every day we have the chance to search for what… or who…is really important in our life.
Sometimes our picture of the mission field is us being the superhero who comes in to save the day. Wearing humble clothing as we go to wipe the poor sick child’s brow as he finally receives Christ as his Savior and then the whole village gets saved! Actually, this is probably just an unrealistic daydream of how we think it should be. (God bless those out there who really do this). But for those of us in a scene that you don’t find in a movie about a missionary under extreme circumstances we might find ourselves thinking, What am I doing here? Am I really a missionary?
Who gives what he cannot keep
The essence of being a missionary is simply being a Christian. Jesus said that we will lose our lives, in a sense, because we are going to die anyways, so why not do it early for the sake of eternity. The things that are important to most people; money, wealth, reputation, etc. are no longer so important to us. As a missionary/ Christian I want to be continually checking my heart if these things have taken rule there. We would then miss the value and chances of what could be taking place. Let’s take a look at these inspiring verses in the Amplified Bible:
For whoever wishes to save his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], but whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake will find it [that is, life with Me for all eternity]. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [wealth, fame, success], but forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? -Matthew 16:25
So many noticed and unnoticed missionaries have made this decision in their lives and that is what has made them astounding people. It isn’t the location, poverty level, or position that made them that way. It was the sacrifice of their heart. So, as you see, anyone can be one.
To gain what he cannot lose
Much speculation has gone into what the reward will be according to our works when we step into heaven’s pearly gates. Will it be gold, jewels, a mansion up on a hill, rule over a city or a planet of our own? After prayerful thought I found that our reward will probably be people. We will look around and see the smiling faces of people that have found Christ and that were, at some point, affected by a small seed that we planted in their lives. It’s something that could make one weep.
The words of Paul: “But I will very gladly spend [my own resources] and be utterly spent for your souls.”
As I was thinking about this more I felt the Spirit leading me to give more to people. Here, where reaching out to someone is sometimes impossible, I started to see little moments of where I could help someone or where I could show them that they are important. Even if it was a small exchange with the neighbor, or I just gave some money to someone for no reason, or opened up my house to people I don’t even know that well.
But you say, “I don’t have the strength to do that!”…“I can not give up these things in my life!”… “I have a reputation to keep!”… “I already have my group of friends and I’m content!” Look, as we said before, this lifestyle is for anyone who is a Christian. Put your soul/spirit life on the line and start living the life of a real adventure! The Holy Spirit will break us and His life will pour out!
When I was visiting my home church and family in Baltimore, Maryland in the USA, a picture of this principle came to mind. It was that of an orange. An orange that isn’t open is just a round, cold and bitter object. But if it is cut open, it is something that is ready to be used. It is edible. Just like us, without the Spirit cutting us open we will be unavailable for Him to move and use us. Though it is painful, we need to be broken.
I sit here in my apartment in Berlin on a Saturday afternoon and ask God, what does it mean to be spent and be a person of quality? Show me and take me and use me. And then we will see our reward someday, (Matthew 16:27).
Recommended reading and/or references: “The Release of the Spirit” by Watchman Nee, Matthew 16:24-27, 2 Corinthians 12:15
by Mindy Stein