“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20
“I need a book, a gift for a friend.”
“Any particular subject?”
“No. But, I’d like something encouraging.”
The clerk hesitated, then called out a title.
“I don’t think so, ” came the response.
For the next few minutes a barrage of titles filled the air, followed by a round of “no’s.” Then, there was an uneasy lull. The shopper deliberated, then brightened. “Maybe a biography…”
“Good,” said the clerk, her face a mixture of relief and inspiration. “I have something special. It just came in.” She slid a thick book on to the counter. On the glossy jacket was a portrait of a young woman from a bygone era and the title, “A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael.”
“Who’s Amy Carmichael?”
“Oh, she was an Irish missionary to India.”
“Missionary? Oh, I don’t want a missionary book! They’re always so full…of pain.”
The book buyer is not alone. Many of us turn away from missions and missionaries. Perhaps our world, too, is full of pain. Or, we’re too busy. Or, we don’t know any missionaries and missions seem remote. Whatever the reason, missions and missionaries are often treated like seasonal decorations–displayed at certain times in the church year and then put away.
That’s too bad…for us. The history of missions discloses the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is a history worth getting excited about! As participants in the gospel of Jesus Christ, missionaries are our kindred spirits. Like us, they feel concern for the eternal welfare of others. Unlike us, they re-root their lives to demonstrate that concern.
The foreign missionary works at living. He twists his tounge around the awkward sounds of language. He dances hesitantly through the clumsy steps of culture. He dodges disease. Like Alice, he lives in a Wonderland–a world in which he never truly becomes a part.
A missionary rarely struggles with sharing the gospel–ha! His battles are language, culture, relationships, illness, and isolation. Battles produce pain. Missions is a story of pain: physical, emotional and spiritual.
Missionaries like Paul understood physical pain, but so have others. Betty Olsen, a missionary nurse caught in the Tet offensive, marched twelve hours a day for eight months, enduring fever, malnutrition, beatings and dysentery before her death at the hands of the Viet Cong. Adoniram Judson buried two wives. Illness plagued David Brainerd.
Other missionaries fought emotional battles. Ida Scudder long remembered her adolescence and the traumatic night her mother left her in Chicago to return to missionary work in India. Hudson Taylor was grieved when bickering persisted among his missionary staff. China haunted C.T. Studd: “For five years we never went outside our doors without a volley of curses from our neighbors.”
For others, spiritual responsibility caused pain. After seven arduous years in Bengal, William Carey had no Indian converts. Depression dogged A.B. Simpson, who was troubled by the “burden of a Christless world.” Restlessness plagued Joy Ridderhof, who knew there was no “voice” for Christ in Honduras.
There is more to missions than pain. In his old age, Pierre Auguste Renoir, the great French painter, was plagued by arthritis which twisted his fingers and hands. His friend and fellow artist, Henri Matisse, watched while Renoir carefully clasped a brush and painted in spite of the agony.
“Why persist?” pleaded Matisse. “The pain is too much.” Renoir shook his head. “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
That is exactly what happens when someone becomes actively involved in the mission of taking Christ to a lost world. In spite of dysentery, death, squabbles, language, separation, and ridicule — in spite of the frailty of human beings — the gospel of Jesus Christ reaches and changes the world! It persists and the beauty remains! Those facts alone should encourage us to heed the call to the mission and celebrate!