No glamour in missions!
Some years ago I escorted a group of Christians from South Africa for a visit to Swaziland. This was not what would typically be described as a short-term outreach. In fact, because the hometown from which the group came is virtually on the border between South Africa and Swaziland, their intention was only to attend a Sunday morning church service with us in Swaziland. But behind this visit were a number of years of building relations with the South African group and helping them to develop a vision for missions in their own congregation. I knew all the visitors personally and we arranged to meet each other after the church service to discuss their impressions.
The group consisted mostly of older people, all of them White, all of them Afrikaans-speaking, many of them farmers. This was the typical description of the people who, in the pre-1994 period, stood in the centre of racial tension in South Africa. In itself it was a miracle that they wanted to come on a visit to a church in Swaziland, consisting of exclusively Black people (our family is the only “pale-faces” in the church!) But amongst the visitors there was also a young couple, fired up for missions, dreaming dreams of how God would use them within His kingdom.
As we met later that afternoon to reflect on the morning’s experience, an extremely positive feeling was felt by one and all about the visit. After many of the visitors had shared their feelings I responded to what they had said and amongst others I said that they need to remember that there is no glamour in missions. The young couple I mentioned above was quite upset by what I had said. In previous conversations which I had had with them it became clear to me that they really had the idea that people would consider them as heroes if they go into missions full-time. The harsh reality is that, with the exception of a few close friends, missionaries are not modern-day heroes and like the apostle Paul we have to do this work without expecting any honour or glamour from it.
Sometimes, when I receive newsletters from people in missions, I wonder how long it will take them to realise that missionaries are called to a life of service, often doing thankless work where the only people who may (or may not) be thankful for what they are doing, are those who are being served.
But isn’t this what Paul had in mind when he wrote in Philippians 2:5-8: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!