By Joel Malm
John is fluent in Thai, he grew up in Thailand. He understands the language and the culture. John is currently starting a church in Peru. To do this he has to learn Spanish. It isn’t coming easily. I am fluent in Spanish. I grew up in Guatemala. I understand the language and the culture. I am a pastor to English speakers in Peru. Scott is from England. He is struggling to learn Spanish so he can start a church in Peru. I translate for him on a regular basis. He gets frustrated trying to learn Spanish at age 37. We are all doing what God has called us to do. We are so sure of it that we moved our families from our various home countries to the mountains of Peru.
God is not practical.
From a purely pragmatic standpoint John should be in Thailand, I should be pastoring a Spanish church and Scott would be much more effective pastoring an English church. It seems God isn’t as concerned about reaching the world as he claims to be. If he were, wouldn’t he be more practical? Instead he plays musical chairs with his children and sends them to where they struggle to be effective. Can this really be God’s method?
Lately this question has become a popular one to bandy in churches and missions circles. Are foreign missionaries still needed? Practicality would say support the national workers who already understand the language, culture and social contexts. Foreigners botch things, are slow getting started and are terribly expensive to sustain. If we do agree foreign missionaries are still needed, and some would not be willing to agree to that, why do we keep sending them to countries that are already evangelized? Wouldn’t it be more logical, strategic and cost effective to only send missionaries where there are no local churches? Since the end of the 30 year civil war, Guatemala has a growing abundance of missionaries but the Guatemalan national church is highly effective. Not only are these pastors reaching Guatemala but many also travel and speak all over Latin America and have even planted missions churches in the United States of America.
So what is going on? Has God lost control or could we explain this apparent irrationality by seeing things from another perspective, a higher point of view? Could it be God is more concerned about who we become than about what we do, more concerned with internal transformation than global domination?
God will accomplish his full purpose on earth. He will not lose one of His own. He is not in a panic or anxious about the outcome of time. As He moves along accomplishing His good will, we get to be part of that work, but He seems more concerned about transforming our lives than using us to transform the world.
With that said, I have a confession to make: I don’t really see myself as a missionary.
Yes, I raise support, send out newsletters and live in Peru. But in reality I see myself as a carpe diem Christian. God presented a marvelous opportunity for me to serve him in South America and I seized it. There were no angelic visitations, spirit fingers writing on walls or even a passionate call to go to Peru. Much like Isaiah, opportunity met willing worker and I volunteered to go “send me”. (Isaiah 6:8) With instant global communication and rapid, transnational transportation producing a shrinking planet, the world of missions has changed. It is no longer necessary to sell all you have, wave bon voyage to family and friends you will likely never see again, then endure an arduous slow boat to China, or Africa or Peru, where you will live out your days and likely be buried. The emerging trend focuses on seizing opportunities to serve wherever God opens a door. I don’t have a burning passion in my heart for Peru. I love the country, culture and people but I came to see what God would do in and through me when I obeyed. Great things are happening because God is orchestrating them. I get to enjoy the adventure.
I encourage you to embrace missions from a new paradigm.
Yes, we are called to reach the world. But foreign missions is simply doing what we all should be doing anyway in another country. You don’t have to wait for voices from heaven or an unquenchable fire in your heart. Step out and embrace an opportunity. Go serve where you can. Live on the mission field for a few years. You don’t speak the language? You can learn. And whether you ever become fluent or not, you can be influencing those around you and making a difference in your life and the lives of others. Break free of your comfort zone and seize an opportunity.
Your practical, predictable life will always be there waiting if you want to come back to it.
Jol is the founder of Summit Leaders. He was raised in Guatemala, Central America, is fluent in Spanish, holds a bachelor’s degree in international political science, a master’s degree in counseling and has extensive experience abroad in missions, world travel, and mountaineering. He and his wife Emily live in Cuzco, Peru. Check out his blog.