Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrifice”

by Rachel Pieh Jones on December 4, 2012

Hudson Taylor said it, David Livingstone said it. “I never made a sacrifice.” A life spent as a foreigner, away from traditional comforts, away from family and home country, a life of talking about Jesus, in these men’s opinions was no sacrifice.

While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree. What these men did with their lives in China and on the African continent is the very definition of sacrifice.

A sacrifice is a giving up of something loved, something precious in order to gain something better.

I heard a young woman working in Uganda say that her life doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. In the next sentence she talked about hardships and how some days she doesn’t know how she will get through the day. That is sacrifice. I’m not sure what people expect a sacrifice to feel like but I think it feels hard sometimes. I think it feels like not being sure you will get through the day.

Every step of obedience, every life choice, every risk taken, whether it is getting married or not, having children or not, living overseas or not…brings with it a gain and a loss. Negating the reality of the sacrifice cheapens the reward, the sense of joy, fulfillment, purpose, the God-honoring obedience.

One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals. Have you ever had someone say something like:

“You are so holy because you don’t care when your hair falls out from the brackish water and searing heat.”

“You are so much more spiritual because you don’t struggle when you aren’t able to attend your grandfather’s funeral.”

“I could never do what you are doing because I couldn’t send my kids to boarding school.”

No and NO! We are not all so different, we simply live in different time zones. I cry when I see handfuls of hair in the drain and when I watched my grandfather’s funeral three months later on a DVD and I weep with a physical pain in my chest over the miles between here and my kids at school. I am not more holy or spiritual or stronger than anyone, I feel the sacrifice.

And feeling the sacrifice makes the privilege, the reward, so deeply precious, so treasured, so urgently prayed for.

Livingstone said (emphasis mine),

It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”

Not a sacrifice, but rather a privilege.

Can this life not be both? Are sacrifice and privilege juxtaposed against one another or could they perhaps go hand in hand? It is a privilege to sacrifice.

Living with hair in the drain instead of my head, away from loved ones during a crisis and on everyday days, international borders between me and my kids, living like this is a sacrifice. It hurts, it tears, it might leave you weeping on the couch some nights, snortling into your husband’s shoulder. But it is not in vain. It is not without joy. It is not without faith. Feel the pain and the joy of it and then render everything sacrificed as rubbish and count the privilege as gain.

I will not say that I have never made a sacrifice.

I will say that I have never made a sacrifice in vain. I have never made a sacrifice that didn’t bring with it a deep, residing joy. I have never made a sacrifice without faith that there is a reward coming which will, like Livingston said, far outweigh these present sufferings.

With my eyes steady on the prize, I sacrifice. Never in vain, (almost) never without joy. Always with faith.

In what ways do you feel the sacrifice? Experience the privilege?

                                                                                                                       -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • I LOVED this post, Rachel. I loved that you didn’t negate that living overseas can be really really hard. So often, we get this idea that to be “holy” we have to be unhumanly happy about the really awful things. And this feels completely unnatural to me. And not real.

    I love that you were honest about the sacrifices made, but that you led with HOPE that those sacrifices were not/are not in vain.

    Inspirational piece, here, Rachel. Thanks for writing it.

    • Laura, speaking of the sacrifices…I just lost my previous reply thanks to an internet cut. But that’s minor (usually), isn’t it? Yesterday I blogged about one of those ‘hard’ things that happened and how I can’t pretend to be happy happy, I won’t pretend to be. I don’t think that is honest or honoring or helpful. But I also have to choose to look beyond the awful things, I have to hope. And keeping my eyes on eternity really does make a difference. It will be sweet, won’t it?

  • I feel ya!

  • LOVE THIS. You know, living oversees *can* be really, really hard. And having lived in a remote village Asian village (and sleeping on the floor and open spaces with the bugs), and also having lived in an Asia city where traffic seems to make my skin crawl, I can say emphatically, for me, that the biggest sacrifice comes from the city. (For some people, it would be the remote village. We are all different, and I am not categorizing this.) The ironic part is that when I’m living in the hut, everyone gives me piety about the sacrifice, but in the city, my life is assuredly not a sacrifice. I’ve noticed that especially within the missionary community. “what, you live in the city? we live without modern convenience. Life’s so cushy where you live.” People who thought that had no idea what I was going through.

    • Lana, good to hear your perspective. What is hard for someone might not be hard for another and we can’t compare, can we? Each heart knows its own pain, I guess. A friend who has lived in Malaysia and I have visited each other’s countries and we laugh at how the grass always looks greener, but the challenges are so much more than those easily visible things of comfort or access to convenience.

      • Lana and Rachel–

        Ah, yes about the comparisons! I remember HATING my first year in Asia, and thinking it was soooo hard, and then having people come up to me and say, “Oh, yes, I used to live in _________, and that was so much harder than living here. This is cake.” And me leaving the conversation feeling like a total missionary-pansy.

        • This always drives me crazy, too – I’ve always felt I was one of the wimpy city missos. And honestly, many days I’m thankful that is the case. Yet when I either “pansy-ify” or “pedestal-ify” a particular misso or their lifestyle, I’m honoring them or our God, and I reek of some sort of self-serving humility.

          Lately, I’ve been trying to rejoice with other missos about those things that cause rejoicing and weep over those things that cause weeping, regardless of whether it would cause me to rejoice or to weep. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but at least the thought is crossing my mind. I hope it is a step in the right direction.

          • What a right-on way to approach it Richelle. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Cor. 12:26

        • yeah. me too. and to have a veteran missionary completely dismiss your culture shock as you being ‘unspiritual’ doesn’t help you deal with the ‘shock’ either.
          On another level, Laura, your post about the veteran missionaries silently standing to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” brings tears to my eyes… even when just remembering it.

  • Liz K

    I love the line “One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals.” And I love when you say, ” I’m not sure what people expect a sacrifice to feel like but I think it feels hard sometimes. I think it feels like not being sure you will get through the day.” This was good for my soul this morning! Thank you.

  • This was a beautiful and uplifting post, Rachel. Thanks. Sometimes this life is hard. And sometimes you just want to cry out that you can’t take one more gross bug and power outage or internet funk. But you keep plugging along. And it is sacrifice. Rewarding? Satisfying? In the big picture, sure? Every moment, not so much. A friend once told us, “Listen, that adage to give without counting the cost doesn’t apply to foreign missionaries. Count the cost before you go. Know what you are walking away from and into. And while you’re there, don’t crucify yourself for feeling the weight of the cost. Pay it anyway, but don’t stress because you feel it. It’s natural” That has been a great relief to me, the freedom to walk in that wise counsel.

    • That is a beautiful quote to live overseas under. The freedom to feel is so, well, freeing.

    • Gary Ware

      And while you’re there, don’t crucify yourself for feeling the weight of the cost. Pay it anyway, but don’t stress because you feel it. It’s natural
      What powerful and wise counsel. We compare our sacrifices to what Jesus did but he never intended for us to do so. He never belittled anyone’s sacrifice. When a person tells me the pain they feel, then I know they understand sacrifice.

      • More wise words. I am not sure where we ever got the idea in the first place that feeling something is hard would negate its value or benefit.

  • Tanja

    Thank you! It IS a sacrifice. And after reading your thoughtful words, I can give myself permission to recognize that, but “pay the cost anyway” as another commenter wrote. We too, hear many people say “I could never do what you do” when we visit “home” and share in churches. That is probably true, because, really, nobody could live somebody else’s life. Carry somebody else’s cross, other than Christ’s.

    When I awoke that day two months ago at five in the morning to the sound of gunfire and a huge bomb blast, and looked over at my two toddlers who were asleep while their bodies where battling malaria, trust me, I had no doubt that being obedient to our call is a sacrifice. Not anywhere near what Jesus sacrificed for me, but still, for us, it is a sacrifice.

    And I can’t really see the fruit of my ministry either. So the sacrifice is fully by faith. Faith that He who called me to make it receives that sacrifice for what it is. A declaration of trust and love in Him.

  • Well said. No comment I can make would add anything!

  • Sherri

    Rachel, my husband and I have talked many times that we never truly felt the sacrifice more till our oldest moved to the US for college. Now we have 2 kids in the US attending college and one living in the capital in a boarding program. Pain is real. He is FAITHFUL!!!!!

    • Amen. i think it has sunk in more this year for me too, with my oldest being away. Faithful, that is a word I need to hear, thank you.

      • Sherri

        Rachel, there are truly days when I wonder why I am not in bed with the covers over my head crying my eyes out. Not that if I did that, it would show less faith, but HE has given me the grace to carry on. Our three children are doing well and walking with HIM which helps A LOT.

        • Glad I’m not the only one who could be found in bed crying. Do you have any kids at home now? I have one more at home, seven years old, and it is hard to look to the future, no kids at home and I’m too young to be an empty-nester yet, and not be terrified.

  • Shannon Kelley

    a to the men. well said my friend.

  • Hi All, I have been reading this blog for a little while now as my husband and I prepare for the field. Thankyou for being so open and honest – as scary as it may be to us on the outside about to move in.

    • Welcome to the blog and welcome to the expat life. Just asked God to grant you joy, adventure, faith, and Jesus as you go.

  • Love this… what a perfect way to look at this life. A sacrifice not without it’s blessings and joys!

  • I’ve recently begun giving myself permission to admit when I’m not happy, and just blogged a similar post a couple weeks ago. I felt like admitting it would be whining, so I preferred denial rather than people thinking I’m playing the victim or just complaining a lot. It helps to read that I’m not the only one who feels the weight of the sacrifice, and that admitting it doesn’t make me less holy, less of a missionary. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    • Christie, I blogged about it too this week. While I don’t want to be complain or whine, I think there needs to be room to be honest. Doesn’t have to be on-line, but at least in some way. I’m off to enjoy your post now…

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  • Charlene Klingen

    beautifully written

  • Shay Ballew

    What an excellent post. And great conversation, too. All good stuff for me to hear! Thanks, from a “wimpy city misso”!!! Ha, ha! I loved that, Richelle :o)

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  • Gary Ware

    Thank you SO MUCH for this very REAL and HONEST view of sacrifice and for adding back the value of sacrifices made by so many.

    • I like how you phrased that – adding back the value of the sacrifices made by so many. May we continue to honor the sacrifices, from decades ago and from the comments here, through faith and hope and joy and through telling our stories. Thanks Gary.

  • Jamie Jo

    This was “spot on.” I find myself returning to this post. In fact, I may put a link to it in my own post this week. I’ve been thinking about sacrifice a lot lately. This Christmas finds me with only two of my seven children here on the field with us. Very different, and quite sad. Thanks for your perspective.

    • Jamie, we’d love for you to link to it. I’m sure you are feeling the sacrifice, with only 2/7 kids at home. May Jesus be your comfort, your hope, and your joy. And may you find creative ways to connect your family across miles.

    • Oh, gosh, Jamie,

      hard. just, hard.

      Prayers for your mother-heart today, from here.


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  • Donna

    Thanks for the post – I’m not usually sentimental about Christmas, but not being able to bring my two college kids back for Christmas, and for one of them, it’s their first Christmas away, aadn just feeling some of the financial crunches of this life… I’ve been in the ‘I don’t call it sacrifice’ circle these 14 years on the field, but I appreciate the way you are articulated this. We live in a big city and yet, at this particular moment, nothing about it feels like ‘not sacrifice’ because I’m missing my kids and don’t know when I’ll see them here again, where we have been ‘home’ these many years, nor even when they’ll be able to come back this way for a family holiday. I feel the sacrifice of not being able to get them things they need or could just really use, and not being able to be with them when it’s hard (one’s a junior in college, and things have been hard there for a while)… Anyway, thanks for sharing this.

    • I am struck by how much of the pain we feel is related to our kids – missing them, hurting for their hurts, not being able to give them everything we might dream of. I wonder if there is comfort in the truth that God is our father? That we are his children? That our kids are his children too? I haven’t made that connection in my mind before and want to think about it more. I’m sorry for your pain, thank you for having the courage to share it. Praying for comfort and Presence for both you and your kids.

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  • Mom in Madagascar

    Thank you, a resounding AMEN shouts out to you from the middle of Madagascar. We have lived here for just a year so far, and we have had these types of conversations. From what I can understand from others, a “real” sacrifice would be tough persecutions, martyrdom, going without food or drink for proper nourishment… etc. I live in the capital of madagascar, and some “joke” about not being real missionaries compared to those living in the bush without running water, electricity, or a grocery store. I say “joke” because I think deep down there are some very real insecurities being shared. Which is sad. These insecurities may even be fueled by people in North America deciding our standard of living in the city is not really how a missionary should live.? Anyways, another topic perhaps. But I think sort of related to this thing about sacrifice. I understand your words, agree with them, and shared along the same lines when we were on the verge of leaving every single relationship we’d ever known from Canada. When others were weeping about missing us, I was almost dying inside knowing I was entering a life where I knew no-one, and everything was going to be new. But they could carry on with their relationships. Blessings this Christmas season. May we be more focused this year on Christ, and letting him empower us to carry on. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing. I think what you said about the insecurities is really interesting, and probably accurate, including where those insecurities might be stemming from. Have you had any feedback like that from the US? There are so many widely-ranging and passionately-held opinions and convictions about money and living overseas, even by people who don’t actually live the life! Good things to think about, thanks for bringing them to the conversation.

      • I definitely agree with the observation about insecurities! I have coworkers on both ends of the spectrum and have also had people State-side indicate they thought the use of money by someone who lives overseas wasn’t “appropriate”. It’s so easy to let that sort of attitude turn into a feeling of having to justify everything you do/purchase and then – if left unchecked personally – I could see how that would turn into a need to make everyone else around you justify their convictions and habits.

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  • Dalaina May

    LOVED this post. I am fortunate enough to live in a supportive, multi-organization missionary community where there is plenty of freedom to honestly struggle. In fact, many other missionaries will call you on it if you aren’t being real.
    And then there are the people back home… My struggle is dealing with the “platform” that everyone but me wants to put me on. I’ve been very honesty about culture shock, clinical depression, struggles etc. in an effort to show that I am just a believer who happens to live in a foreign place. God didn’t put me there because I am special. Yet, I still hear the “oh, I could never do what you’re doing…” How do I respond to that with grace? Honestly, what I want to say is, “Yes, you could and perhaps better than I. In fact, have you considered that possibility?”

    • Have you tried that response to the “I could never…”? I’d love to hear what people would say. :O) Sometimes I want to say, “I can’t do it either.” So that’s why I do it – putting myself in a place of weakness and need forces faith in important ways that I need because I know myself and my sin and the pulls of the world, you know? Sometimes that’s what I want to say – I’m too weak to not force myself to depend on God this way.

      • Dalaina May

        I have, actually! And it actually compounds the problem. Now I REALLY sound like Super Holy Woman. Ugh

    • Karin

      I think the “I could never do that” is partly a defense mechanism. If I can’t do it, I don’t have to go or at least not before God calls me in a supernatural way and gives me all the talents I don’t currently have.
      And I know I’m special because God has given me unique talents and a unique calling, but I don’t want to be more special than anyone else.

  • Tammy

    Thank you for this post. I know I am commenting 5 months after it was posted, but I just saw the link today on someone’s FB. The Lord knew I really needed to read this right now. For some reason I’m feeling extra lonesome for my daughter who just returned to boarding school 12 hours and a border away. I’m struggling with the sacrifice of having not only my daughter away most of the time at boarding school, but also my two adult sons a continent away. We are preparing for a year long home assignment in July. My prayer is that the Lord will fill me up and prepare me to come back. Feeling pretty dry right now! But I’ve been in this spot before and He is faithful to give me just what I need to continue in the work He’s called us to do.

  • I love this post. Very profound. The thought of deliberately recognizing sacrifice and doing it anyway, of realizing that you are paying a price and that everything that has value has a price to pay for it. Choosing to pay that price every day.

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  • Vivian Palmer Harvey

    sacrifice of your children to boarding school, where often they are at school somewhere far far away.. losing track of the sound of their mom and dads voice, even what they look like.. with 9 months away from the family center. Sending children to be raised by an institution and by strangers.. who pose as friends..is human sacrifice.
    Don’t deny the cost to your homegrown children. DON”T use them as currency for “your” sacrifice..
    I say “home grown children” because they are YOURS; a gift from THE LORD. NOT to be thrown away..raised by “others” for years at a time.
    Vivian Palmer Harvey
    Examine this site..


    and this one: my story


  • Thanks for writing this post. It’s given me a perspective to think about. My husband and I live in an urban neighborhood in the States, and we have mixed feelings about the language of sacrifice. We acknowledge the struggles that sometimes go along with our life choices and calling. However, we’ve also seen others come and go who are quick to “advertise their sacrifice” in ways that have not resonated with us. We feel at home where we have chosen to be, and we want to honor our neighbors and those who’ve chosen to live elsewhere by framing our choices as our desire to follow where God leads us. Like many of us are trying to do. I appreciate your connection between the acknowledgement of sacrifice as a way to more fully understand the joy of God’s fulfillment.

  • Kimberly

    Yes!! In moments of deepest ripping, I would take the pain of the sacrifice and place it in a box in my mind, wrap it up in wrapping paper and give it to Jesus as a gift.
    We sacrifice for Him.
    For a purpose. That does not lessen the pain.
    It increases the privilege – to be counted worthy of sacrifice.
    Sacrifice never in vain.

  • Yes. Love that bit at the end – it’s not about never making a sacrifice but about never making one in vain. Good stuff, as always!

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