“I would I had a thousand lives that I might give them…”

by Richelle Wright on April 10, 2015

On Aug. 27, 1888 while working in Zhenjiang, Lottie Moon made the above statement finishing with the words “…for China.”

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It’s one of those inspirational missionary quotes likely to land on a striking or haunting photo featuring those in this world who most likely don’t know Jesus. The desired response is conviction and motivation. Get people moving, doing, giving, going, supporting, praying, partnering… something… anything! Animate and embolden others so that they engage and global missions benefits.

It is also one of those quotes that usually prompts me to self-evaluate, asking: “Can I say the same, only substituting ‘Africa’ or ‘Quebec’ or wherever else the Lord might lead our family before our missionary journey is finished?”

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This time, however, this quote provoked neither typical response.

Instead, I started thinking about all those lives already given – and not in the martyr sense. I allowed my mind to dwell on what has been sacrificed heretofore as well as what will continue to be sacrificed:

  • in my life,
  • my husband’s,
  • my kids’ childhoods and their potential futures,
  • time with tck grands and great-grandparents,
  • closer relationships with aunts, uncles, cousins,
  • weddings, funerals, family celebrations,
  • old hopes and dreams of what might have been,
  • potential jobs and careers,
  • scholarship opportunities,
  • the illusion of safety and security,
  • the innocence that was… before we saw more of this amazing yet very broken world…

No, it isn’t thousands… It’s not even hundreds.

It certainly isn’t actual martyrdom or such sacrifice

But it still costs lives, relationships, security and dreams of what could have been:

  • owning my own house and land;
  • to not have to daily depend on the financial gifts of others just to put food on the table for my children to eat;
  • actually taking a cruise with my husband for our anniversary;
  • actively planning for someday… or retirement;
  • sitting with loved ones during difficult health challenges;
  • dancing and celebrating together at weddings;
  • not leaving my family in one land while the rest of us go to another;
  • never having to uproot this family once again to go through the really hard starting over; and
  • no tears because I drop children off for school – in a new place and a new language – again.

But the very hardest part?

Knowing this:  It isn’t just me sacrificing because of these choices.

This calling that my husband and I are following requires everyone who knows and loves us – parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, children  -to sacrifice.

Once upon a time, I watched a play entitled “The Cost of Greatness.” It portrayed the life of Adoniram Judson, another one of those missionary giants from yesteryear. In this world and from a human perspective, he sacrificed much. Judson worked in Burma for 38 years until he died – 61 years old and physically broken by the difficulty of his life in that land. He endured long separations from his family, buried two wives and several children. His “first term” of service was 33 years long – after which time he made his only return to the United States. During this “home assignment,” he was treated like a hero and was much in demand as a speaker. One historian wrote about this time: “At times he would disappoint audiences by not telling of his labors but declaring the wonderful story of redeeming love. He found it difficult to frame sentences in the English after so long a time thinking in a foreign tongue.” The price he paid was immense.

I used to think the title of the play referred to the greatness of such a man, one so willing to sacrifice for God’s cause.  Not anymore.

I now believe that such sacrifice is to be anticipated for those who long to proclaim God’s greatness to those who need Him above all else.

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This is the expected cost – NOT something extraordinary – for those who want our world to glimpse the greatness of our God.

I’ll never forget when our Jonathan first began school for the first time. It was a French school so we had talked about it, what he might expect and how it could be very different from what his other missionary kid friends might tell him about their school. A few days into the school year he came home and started to tell us about his day: “And Mama, did you know they say zshee for ‘J’ and zshay for ‘G?’ THAT. IS. JUST. WRONG!!!”

I get what he was saying. French school took something that Jonathan knew and believed good and right… then turned it upside down and backwards.

In the economy of this world, we’d think that those willing to proclaim God’s greatness should receive great reward.

That price tag of “sacrifice required – and not just by me, but by all who care about me” seems upside down and backwards

~ but for these words ~

I long to know Christ 

and the power which is in His resurrection, 

and to share in His sufferings and die even as He died…

Philippians 3:10 – Weymouth New Testament

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Do you agree? Why or why not?

Why do you think so many of want to proclaim God’s greatness but then feel like we shouldn’t have to sacrifice to do so?

Has sacrifice surprised you? How?

final photo by Danette Childs, missionary with Via Abondante, Niger
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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Casey

    What a wonderful and challenging post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and starting this discussion.

    “In the economy of this world, we’d think that those willing to proclaim God’s greatness should receive great reward.” I didn’t consciously make the decision to believe this lie but have slowly realized its existence in my heart as I have striven against sacrifice and struggle, throwing inward fits that would rival any toddler meltdown. The striving brought the lie into the light, the lack of peace in the midst of hardship revealed how deeply it was buried in my heart.

    “I now believe that such sacrifice is to be anticipated for those who long to proclaim God’s greatness to those who need Him above all else.” Yes! The expectation and anticipation of sacrifice and of suffering should be in all of our hearts, regardless of life occupation. In each calling, what a gift anticipating certain sacrifices should and can be as well as anticipating sacrifices we might not foresee. Finally, I think we can even be searching for certain sacrifices we can make which can further the Gospel and bring honor to our Savior, sacrifices based solely on the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives versus looking to others’ lives or just coming up with our own ideas of sacrifice.

    Great post, and I look forward to all the comments!

    • Richelle Wright

      Thanks for your kind words, Casey.

      It is a lie that we believe… and a dangerous one, not that different from the ideas proposed by prosperity theology – yet most of us openly talk about the dangers.

      I do think that we need to be careful with the idea of “looking” for sacrifices, however, because the idea of sacrificing all for the sake of the cause can also become idolatry. The trick is finding that line/balance between looking for sacrifice being willing to sacrifice all when He asks…

      So glad you joined this conversation. 🙂

      • Casey

        Isn’t it crazy how so many things can be an idol: sacrificing or not sacrificing, staying or leaving, this ministry or that. There is just no “coasting” through life, is there? We do need to always be seeking the balance, always listening to the Spirit.

  • Anna Wegner

    I think when I was younger, I was surprised to find out that a missionary had cancer or some other major problem, because it did seem like they should be somehow immune. 🙂 But I came to see that they are just as vulnerable as other people to health concerns, temptations, and the trials of life.

    Now that I am overseas myself, one surprise would be the loss of innocence. I knew the world was really messed up and broken, but I was a bit idealistic about the church and Christians. There are times that I wish I could go back to that innocence and not know.

    For living overseas in general, I see it as more of a different way of life than just sacrifices. There are things that we give up that are a struggle. Just this morning, I had bad news about a death in my family. It’s hard to be away at a time like that, and there is also the added grief of not having the time together because of the years of living way too far away. Someone who was important to me, but my kids can barely remember. And there things I miss from my own culture, the experiences my kids will never have, and so many other things that you covered on your list.

    But then I have so many experiences we would miss if we lived there with family- swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and petting lion cubs in South Africa are two of them. Not that this is an even trade off, but maybe it helps me when I can remember that there is a cost, but there are blessings in the midst of it, too.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I so relate to these things, Anna!

    • Richelle Wright

      I agree. I’d even go so far as to say that those blessings in the midst of the cost far outweigh the cost.

      What I’ve had to let go of – through the years of having been a missionary – is the idea that my choice to be obedient and follow God’s will for my life – won’t require those I love to sacrifice as well. And their sacrifice might not be offered as willingly. I don’t mind being the one to sacrifice. It is much harder, for me, to acknowledge that my choices are responsible for my parents’ sacrifice… for my child’s sacrifice… And that my choices have resulted in some challenging and painful consequences for my parents, for my child, etc. Part of knowing Christ is knowing this tiny taste of how He suffered, counting my benefit to be worth His cost, His Father’s cost.

      I think, too, there’s a tendency in Christian culture (and I’ve definitely seen it within missionary culture… have been guilty of it myself) to want to say: If I make this stand for Jesus, I shouldn’t have to deal with negative consequences. I started thinking about this when I heard a grandmother tell the following story last spring. Her grandson signed up to play league baseball and committed to the team. Then, the coach set Sunday morning as one of the practice times. The boy and his father together decided that they couldn’t/wouldn’t miss church. They spoke with the coach, who said, “I understand. But, team policy is that if you miss a practice, you cannot play the following game.” My immediate tendency would have been to think: “But God, I’m doing the right thing here. Surely this coach is wrong and you need to intervene for me or else I’m outta here. No way I’m going to be a part of this team.” In this circumstance, the boy and his dad decided very differently. The boy remained a part of the team and sat the bench almost every game. He practiced with the team twice a week, came to the games and cheered them on from the bench… but only had the opportunity to play in a few of the games because of the Sunday practice issue. His dad attended every game with his son, cheering for the team and was a very involved team parent. Both kept good attitudes. But no exceptions were made. Most games fell on Tuesday evenings and the previous practice was the Sunday one the boy could not attend. The coach didn’t have a life changing moment as a result. Neither did any of the team members, as far as I know. The boy and his dad experienced cost… but not really any blessing outside of the knowledge that they’d done what they felt God had wanted them to do, they’d done it graciously and they’d done it together.

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