stories from the field

Suffering and Missions

Things were not always this unstable. When he first came to this country, it was peaceful. Then there were the protest, the riots, and increasing political unrest.

He looked around the room. There were the usual noises in the busy ward: a nurse trying to convince a husband why his wife needed to be in hospital, a malnourished child whimpering, an old man in the corner groaning in pain, the cries of a woman in labour. These familiar sounds were now rivaled by shouting in the streets, and even occasional gunfire. He thought about all they had done to build this hospital, and the great work that remained. Women safely delivered babies here, the wounded were cared for, the sick had access to medications, people came and heard the gospel. But it wasn’t safe anymore. News of missionaries in the capital city being kidnapped in the midst of chaos has caused a great exodus of foreign workers, the last of them flying out tomorrow. It was time to decide.

When we think of missions and suffering, this is often how we paint the picture in our minds. We envision as the protagonist of the story a courageous western missionary; somebody’s son, husband, someone loved. He’s the good guy. And good guys always make it, right?

The plethora of examples from the Old and New Testaments, as well as modern day, tell the story that the Lord’s workers often face danger doing the Lord’s work. We think of Daniel being thrown to the lions, the stoning of Stephen, and Jim Elliot being martyred by those he went to serve. While we know Jesus said we would be persecuted for His name’s sake, difficult questions still arise. Would I willingly go to a war-torn country? Would I subject my parents to the heartbreak of worrying about my safety? Would I risk my child’s health, education? Do I allow my daughter to risk her life as a missionary? What about the strain it would have on our marriage? What about finding someone to marry? What about burnout, loneliness, or being in a spiritual desert? As a missions agency, do we send our workers into known danger? While our hearts beat for missions, there is competing angst and concern for the missionary.

I would argue that some of the difficulty reconciling these questions stems from telling the story from the wrong perspective. What if the protagonist isn’t the missionary, and we’ve focused on the wrong person in the story? Are the lives of the people the missionary serves worth any less? Are they not somebody’s son, husband, someone loved?

Are the countless masses just countless masses, reduced to staggering statistics in our individualistic mentality? Do our hearts have the same angst and concern for their physical and spiritual wellbeing? However staggering, statistics alone are not known to compel anyone to leap into a fiery furnace. Perhaps focusing on the task, however great, isn’t the point of the story either.

Amy Carmichael quotes 1 John 3:16 to highlight the need for the gospel, “‘Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren’. How often I think of that ‘ought’. No sugary sentiment there. Just the stern, glorious trumpet call, OUGHT.”1 Is the Lord Jesus not the true protagonist; He who is the ultimate example of one who suffered? Is missions not ultimately about His glory and renown? So instead of asking, “Is it dangerous for me?” or “How else will they hear?” perhaps a superseding question is “Oh Lord, how are You working for Your glory here?”

This may mean we sometimes find ourselves bitten by a viper and unharmed for His glory, or completely shipwrecked for His glory. Paul and his disciples discerned from the Holy Spirit that Paul would be beaten and imprisoned in Jerusalem (Acts 20:23, 21:4,11), but instead of this translating to a change of plans, Paul was “constrained by the Holy Spirit”, and went, willing to lay down his life, as the people prayed and sent him (Acts 20:38, 21:5,14).

The difficult questions around suffering and missions need to be approached with the right focus on the story—the ultimate glory of God. When the Israelites spied out Canaan and saw fearsome giants, they focused on their impending doom instead of the power of God; they sinned and died in home camp (Numbers 13:28-14:4). When they grew impatient and decided to fight those giants on their own, focusing on the task instead of waiting in obedience, they sinned again and were defeated on the field (14:40-45). Whether remaining in home camp or venturing into the field, there is no peril more sobering than the words, “because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you” (14:43).

It is in this following that we need to continually seek the Lord, moving and remaining as the Spirit leads, like when the Israelites were led by the pillar of cloud (Numbers 9:16-23). Is it always safe? Most certainly not. It’s a challenge of faith to believe that our sovereign and loving God uses suffering for His glory, for the advancement of the gospel, and for our joy. As He said it, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Missions is about His glory and renown! Is God tugging on your heart to declare His glory among the nations? We’d love to hear from you and discuss opportunities to serve with Pioneers. Call us at 866-268-8778, email us at connect@pioneers.ca, or explore current opportunities at www.pioneers.ca/go.

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