Posted Jun 04, 2014 by 3 Comments
There is a people group almost entirely ignored by the Christian Church. They are found on almost every continent and in every major city, there are over 175,000 of them in the US alone, and here’s the real kicker… The vast majority of them speak English.
But for many years, their souls have been virtually ignored and almost completely neglected by the church. When I discovered them, and their spiritual state, I was appalled and ashamed.
Who are they?
Obviously… Or not.
I had encountered them for years. I had lived with them, learned from them. As a child I practically idolized them. But it was in Haiti that the pieces came together and I suddenly saw missionaries in a whole new light.
First off, I have to clarify what I mean by “missionary.” I don’t mean evangelists specifically. I’m referring to anyone and everyone who is living a life committed to the mission of God.
This would include evangelists, but would also be any long-term workers in orphanages and charities, nurses and counselors, teachers and lovers of the poor and marginalized. Pastors and church workers too – all these people have dedicated their lives, in whole or in part, to a “mission.”
While many of them avoid the term because of all the baggage it has accumulated over the years, in my heart I will always consider them missionaries.
And these missional people, these dedicated servants, always seemed so special to me. They obviously understood God at a deeper level. Their souls were obviously already on the “good” list, they obviously believed in God and obviously didn’t need my help.
That’s what I always believed. It seemed obvious.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Who loves the lovers?
Everything changed one evening in Haiti. I was sitting with a nurse who had lived there for years, and she was telling me about the different short-term teams that often visit. I asked her about her favorite team, and she got quiet for a moment.
Then she told me about one team, one couple, in fact. They had come to see the orphanage and the clinic, like all the teams did. They asked about the children and the programs, like all the teams did. But then they came to her, and they asked how she was doing.
They wanted to know who was serving her. Who was helping her. Not her clinic, not her program, not her mission, her. Just her.
They wanted to know who was loving her for who she was, who was speaking love into her life. In essence, they wanted to know: whose mission was it to love the missionaries?
The nurse began to tear up as she told me this story. Overcome by the very memory of the couple that came simply to love her.
Living on hope
I was shocked. Here was someone who had dedicated their life to giving love, but was so starved for it themselves that a single weekend visit brought her to tears.
I began thinking back to all the missionaries I had met.
To the exhausted teachers, wondering if anyone is praying for them.
To the youth leaders, little more than an afterthought in their own church.
To the nurses, who have watched the ones they love die, and yet don’t stop loving.
To the charity workers, who can raise a thousand dollars in donations to sponsor orphaned children, but won’t receive ten dollars in donations to buy clothes for their own.
I had assumed that these people must be closer to God; that their spiritual and physical needs must be filled, that they were giving out of their abundance.
But now I was faced with the inescapable reality that most of the missionaries I had ever met were not giving out of abundance, but were giving out of a ruthless trust and desperate hope in God. A hope that so often seemed to go unanswered in the hearts and hands of their own “supporters.”
True love, true name
I still don’t know what to make of all of this. It seems too big and too absurd- that the lovers should find themselves unloved.
And yet it also makes a kind of perfect sense, and I find a new hope as well.
I know, without spending years embedded in a culture, that I am unlikely to make a real impact in places of injustice. Unless I make it my mission, my work will be temporary and ephemeral.
But there is a people group that I can change – that I can radically impact without spending years in a foreign culture. The missionaries.
I can be an answered prayer to a starved soul, and show real love to someone who’s given so much they’ve almost forgotten how to receive.
And most importantly, I can love them for who they are, NOT what they do. For I have seen the alienation that comes with celebrity worship and the isolation that comes from being “Jim… the missionary” or “Nancy… who works in India”.
I can love. I can help give them back their name.
And if you’re reading this, I believe you can too.
A missional benediction
To each and every missionary out there, to every pastor and teacher and medic and servant to the oppressed and lover of the marginalized, I want to close with a very special message from the bottom of my heart:
You are not your mission.
You are a much-loved child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made.
The Lord delights in you. And should your mission succeed today, or utterly fail tomorrow, it will not change who you are or how very much God loves you.
You have a Name, and it does not end in “the missionary” or “from Haiti” or “who works in Africa.” It is a Name much grander than anything you can do, and it is written in the Book of Life.
It is for freedom we have been made free, and you most of all. You who are carrying the banner of Christ’s Love and living out the prayer,. “Thy Will be done”
You are not your mission.
You are you.
You are God’s.
You are Loved.
Do you know someone who is living a life dedicated to a mission of love? Let them know how much YOU love THEM. Send them a note, a gift, a card. Treat them to dinner or share this article as a way to start the conversation about how YOU can help THEM.
Share this article – post it to your Facebook page and let people know about one of the most un-reached people group living just next door.
About the Author: Brad Miller is a year-long fellow with WND. A student of Psychology, Biology, and Theatre, he's worked as an actor, teacher, balloon artist and last-minute fill-in guy for any number of projects. He loves camping and tinkering with broken and discarded things. Brad's passion in life is to unleash the potential in others.