The Glamorous Missionary Life

Ending up in Cambodia was not born out of a single event but rather a journey of the many ways God spoke to my heart to go. One of these was through the lives and stories of missionaries through the ages. I grew up loving the tales of Adoniram Judson, Gladys Aylward, Jim Eliot, and many others, and I dreamed of the adventures they must have had. I hung on the words of the modern-day workers who came to my church dressed in their country’s garb; their examples of people turning to Jesus and sacrifice for Him carving a special place in my heart.

We can so easily romanticize these stories, loving the adventures and making these heroes our role models. And they are, we have much wisdom we can gain from them, many lessons that they learned that can spur us on in our own journeys. But I am realizing that we must be careful too. All of these people were just as human as we are, sinners in need of grace. They were not perfect, nor did they have everything figured out. We should look at how God was glorified in their lives, in their everyday faithfulness even as He was glorified in their sacrifice and death. It should all point back to Him.

I am ready to give my life for the people who have never heard, if that is God’s plan. I might die a martyr’s death, sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel, and consider this a wonderful privilege. But God is sovereign over my days on this earth and I want to live faithfully, whether I die a glorious missionary-hero’s death, or die of something terribly ordinary, completely un-glamorous like parasites or a tuk-tuk accident or in a nursing home in America after a great many years. No books are written about those kinds of deaths, or the little ways that we die to self every day so that Christ can be greater and I can become less. But it is this dying to self that brings Him glory, that allows the Father to use us.

In continuing to wrestle with what it means to die to myself, to let go of the pride of wanting to be known as a great missionary hero, I scribbled these thoughts in my journal:

Dying is painful, it hurts, it is so very hard. Yet every day I must die to myself, die to the desires that come naturally, to the human skin I am in. I want to stay in my room and watch a movie, have control over what happens in my day. I want to stay in the comfort zone I have created, for all the big, exciting things I talk about to be easy. I want to be known, to be respected and esteemed.

Part of the dying means I am not known. I am nothing except a child of the King, known only to Him so that His name might be known to all. Am I willing to take up the knife as Abraham did in faith, to put my life as a sacrifice on the altar, and not expect any accolades? Am I willing to fail, to be misunderstood, to suffer, and not see fruit in my lifetime? I must be faithful, I must walk in obedience.

In the end, the life and death of a missionary is no more glamorous than the woman who takes care of her husband with humble strength in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The man who crosses the boundary line of his office cubicle to share Jesus with his co-workers. The child who memorizes Bible verses, storing away God’s Word, who prays earnestly for far-away places. While we marvel at the stories of risk and adventure, let’s delight in God’s story written in each of our lives, His glory proclaimed throughout the story of history, and work all together to complete the task of making His story known to all.

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