Archive | January, 2016

The Greatest Dangers of Missions. Pt. 1

7 Jan

A few weeks ago, I was discussing with one of my American friends through email about the dangers of being a missionary.  Of course, we all know that there are dangers everywhere for everyone, specifically for Christians.  However, what are the sometimes unique dangers of being a missionary?

My Naive Ideas

When I was in Bible college 10 years ago, I believed that the greatest dangers of missions were persecution and illnesses because of the many stories that I heard.  We know that every Christian experiences persecution and life-threatening illnesses but that all seemed to be intensified on the foreign mission field (that may be true for some people and may not be true for others).

The Real Danger of Illness

When my husband and I moved to Kenya about 3.5 years ago, my husband almost immediately had a 3-month period of near-death illnesses.  For 3 months I wondered if my husband was being called by God to go home to heaven.  As you can imagine, this was not easy for anyone and I hated to watch my husband writhe in agony so many times in the hospital.  I realized that life-threatening illnesses are a real danger of living in Kenya.

There was another time that I became so sick from malaria.  Malaria really isn’t that bad if it is treated immediately, but mine wasn’t quickly treated due to a misdiagnosis.  My organs were on the verge of shutting down due to the amount of malaria in my blood.  I felt so miserable that I truly wanted to die.  It was a hard experience and another reminder of the danger of illnesses in Africa; however, illnesses are not the greatest danger of missions.

The Real Danger of Persecution

There are so many different kinds and various intensities of persecution all over the world.  When we say, “let’s pray for the persecuted church,” we should really pray for everyone because most Christians are persecuted in one way or another.  Some persecution is more well-known than other kinds but all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. There is all kinds of persecution in Kenya that isn’t on the news.  I have several friends who have been isolated, mocked and physically harassed by other “Christians” because they fear God and refuse to participate in bribery and theft in the church.  This is not famous persecution but it is there and it is real.

Of course, there were a number of terrorist attacks when we were in Kenya.  It was very common for me, any time we went to the market or any mall, to mentally look for places to hide or duck just in case terrorists were to come and shoot everyone.

The different kinds of persecution and general mistreatment from others was surprising to me and always have been.  The persecution in North Africa is quite different than the persecution in Kenya.  When I lived in North Africa about ten years ago, one of our friends was martyred for his faith and I was nearly kidnapped.  This was very hard for all of us and the real possibility of martyrdom was right behind the next door.  We need to pray for these difficult places in the 10/40 window.

I have also heard of God’s servants who suffer a lot in places like St. Louis, MO.  I have heard of people getting mugged, hated and sometimes shot.  Suffering is by NO MEANS something reserved for the foreign field of missions. So many pastors in America are suffering by constant criticism from their own people.  We need to pray for each other!

Persecution is a real danger for missionaries and we need to pray for and encourage them, but it is not the greatest danger of missions in my opinion.

The Greatest Dangers of Missions

What are the greatest dangers that missionaries face?  I do not write this paper, essay, blog or whatever you want to call it as absolute facts.  This is more of an opinion and is subjective in many ways (or in every way).  Either way, let me make a list of what I believe are the greatest dangers missionaries face (or all Christians, really).

Pride

We all know that pride is an illogical lie because it is a sin.  It is a blindness from the reality of who God is and therefore, who we are.  Because pride is an illogical lie, how can people become proud?  Specifically, what do people become proud about and how does it happen, since in reality, there is nothing to be proud about?  Even more specifically, what do missionaries sometimes become proud about?

  1. Suffering

Often, missionaries experience suffering that they were not expecting.  Sometimes missionaries encounter corruption, poverty, terrorism, loneliness, illness, culture shock, embarrassment, public shame along with being used, mistreated and misunderstood by other people to shocking measures.  However, I have met a number of missionaries who have actually become proud (not in a good way) of what they have suffered.  I don’t believe missionaries suffer more, but I believe the kind of suffering is just different and often unexpected.

It can be a temptation to compare our sufferings to the sufferings of other people and when we decide (according to our human judgments that have nothing to do with the Word) that maybe we have suffered more than others, we can start to actually look down on and criticize them.  Our preaching and conversations will start to become full of emotional guilt trips rather than God-glorifying, God-centered speaking. This might seem unusual, but my dear friends, I have seen this happen so many times, especially within myself.  I can say with all honesty that I have done this countless times!

What Should Suffering Produce In Us?

However, suffering for Christ (through His power) ought to help us become more like Jesus.  Specifically, in and through Christ, suffering helps us to love and know God more by tasting His goodness and power in a much sweeter and real way.  Suffering also affects how we view other people.  In Christ, suffering actually helps us to be more gracious and patient with other people, not critical and harsh.  Suffering in Christ ought to produce humility, not pride!  I believe that the more we are mistreated for our faith, the more we will grow in Christ’s kindness, meekness and patience and the less we will glorify suffering (sometimes, when we obsess over and overly glorify suffering, then maybe we haven’t suffered very much).  We will also be less controlled by emotions and more controlled by the Truth of God’s Word because suffering teaches us how to endure in our Lord.  (Jesus is our endurance).  Emotional people tend to not endure very well.

Suffering often reveals how ugly we are by exposing the deep sins of our hearts.  Few things are as refining as being hated all the time.  Few things will increase our boldness and compassion like constant opposition to our message.  We know that God is completely sovereign over every ounce of suffering in our lives (He is sovereign over everything).  Every second of suffering will be used to help us know Him more.  God knows that without suffering, our faith will be incomplete and whatever suffering we experience is a necessary part of our sanctification.  Therefore, through prayer, we can endure with joy and increase in mercy for our persecutors.

B. Good Deeds

When we become proud, we tend to compare ourselves to other people.  Sometimes, this is a comparison of visible deeds.  We can compare our deeds to the deeds of others and use that as a way to exalt ourselves.  When we are proud, we like to talk about all the many things that we have done that no one else seem to be doing.  We tend to exaggerate about all of our “sacrifices” that no one else seems to have any idea about because in our minds, everyone is too selfish to understand our sacrificial service.

This is often very worldly and evil.  Yes, we need to encourage each other towards good deeds but not by guilt-tripping people by comparing them to ourselves.  Self-righteousness is self-deceit and a total misunderstanding of God’s grace.  Of course, pride is a false understanding of God and ourselves but it also affects how we view and treat other people. Think about the parable of the pharisee and tax collector in Lk. 18:9-14.  Of course, we know that this parable and the one before it are about prayer.  This specific parable, however, deals with the intentions behind prayer.  We can see in this parable that the pharisee was comparing himself to the tax collector as a way to exalt himself.

The pharisee was confident that he was such a blessing to God for all that he did.  He was not afraid to talk (even to God, yikes!) about all the wonderful things he was doing.  Of course, his deeds looked especially wonderful when compared to the tax collector next to him.  Not only did the prayer of the Pharisee reveal a lack of reverence for God, a misunderstanding of grace and repentance of sin, but it also revealed a bad view of his fellow man.  Ultimately his poor view of God resulted in an exaggerated (too high) view of himself and an exaggerated (too low) view of his fellow man.  (We know that this is not the only way that pride is revealed.  Sometimes we can be too critical of ourselves and obsess and obsess with how “horrible” we are at everything).

Commentator, Darrel L. Brock in writing about Luke 18:9-14, put it this way:

What is most dangerous about pride is noted right at the start.  First, we come to trust in our own abilities rather than trusting God.  Second, we come to regard other people with contempt and disrespect rather than seeing them as created equal in the image of God.

Often, when we become proud, we become less loving towards other people by exalting ourselves over them.  This produces harshness towards others. This sometimes also happens when people at home overly praise missionaries for their “sacrifices.”  However, let us focus on the one true sacrifice that matters, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

All in all, whatever the reason we become proud, it is because our focus shifts from God to ourselves.  We stop being God-centered and start becoming self-centered.  We begin to think about ourselves too much instead of glorifying God for the Gospel of His grace.  I am sure there are hundreds of other illegitimate reasons for pride, but I have only listed a few.  Let us all be very aware of the deceitful sin of pride which carefully creeps into our hearts.

On the next blog, I want to write about the second greatest danger of missions: compromising in doctrine/theology.  Thanks!—Leah