Last week a friend wondered in passing, at the end of email, why some reasons to leave the field are more respected than others. She knew a couple who was leaving because their young adult children were not doing well in the US. Instead of being supported in their decision, they were asked why they didn’t “trust their children to the Lord.”
Yesterday I had tea with a woman who will move to the field in August. She is in the midst of sorting and pre-packing. We were discussing the number of bags she planned on taking. You could almost see the veil of shame come over her as she recounted other people’s comments.
Through ranking, we either feel better or worse about ourselves. Which of these areas have you ranked yourself, ranked others, or been ranked by others?
Why you left the field. More respectable? Illness or denied visa. More likely to be secretly questioned? Meeting someone on eharmony, adult children in some form of crisis (and faith crisis? Clearly you didn’t . . . .), or aging parents. The underlying question is: Where is your faith?
How many suitcases you travel with. Next time you pack, notice the comments you make to yourself or others make to you. Do you find yourself apologizing? Feeling embarrassed? Justifying how few or how many you have?
Form of education you choose. Oh the unspoken rules when it comes to schooling! The rank I sense from best to worst is: local schools (with some additional education from your home country on the side), home schooling, international schools (must be nice to have money grow on trees).
Language ability. Do you speak with the tongues of angels? Clearly you are a better missionary than those who speak like five-year-olds.
The numbers game. Number of converts. Size of your church. How many you have baptized. How many have joined your organization this year? If your numbers aren’t growing or at least impressive, the temptation is to justify, or explain, instead of merely report on facts.
Type of work. Are you translating the Bible? Helping with refugees? Freeing people from trafficking? Gold stars all around! How about balancing the books? Do people comment on how your job helps others to do their jobs? While it may be true, it also communicates that God values a well-conjugated verb more than a financially responsible organization. The subtle ranking in our language is more insipid than we realize. And those of you doing laundry and cooking? Thanks for enabling those who are “in the trenches”? As if what you do isn’t as the “real work?”
How large is the cultural divide you crossed? In other words, how exotic do your pictures look or stories sound? The more different your life, the higher you rank.
When Jesus said he came to make all things new, he meant it.
And he is going to start with us. We want to know what we are doing is significant. As image bearers of a God who is creative and purposeful and reveres work, this is good. Maybe even very good. We go off-rail, however, when we look to others and compare ourselves.
Can we stipulate a few areas? Of course we need to
- Pray about decisions and seek wise counsel. Having done both, any of the above could be viable options or not the best path for you, your family, or your situation.
- Be culturally aware and sensitive.
- Continue to grow as individuals, couples, and teams. A conviction or understanding you had needs to change over time as you learn more about the language and culture. If you have been on the field for five or more years, you know that the culture you live in not the exact same one you entered.
We also need to actively seek to please God and not other humans. We know we need to seek to please God and follow Him. But sometimes words are easy to say and hard to live. To help you live this lesson, print out this article or cut and paste this list. Spend some time with God reflecting on what you believe.
Ask yourself—What do I believe about:
Why somebody left the field.
How many suitcases a person or family travels with.
The form of education you or a fellow missionary chooses.
The overall language ability.
The numbers game. Consider what you believe high numbers and low numbers convey.
The type of work a person is doing.
The relationship between a big or small cultural divide between the passport and host country. Do you believe those who have to cross a larger gap are better than those who serve within a smaller culture gap?
—Ask yourself what you really believe about each area.
—Then go through the list again and ask God what He wants you to know.
—Is there one area He wants you to explore? Asking questions like: What experiences formed my belief? How is my belief now getting in the way of what God says? Where have I ranked or judged others? Do I tend to come out better than or worse than others when I rank?
I do not believe that God is after sameness. Part of the beauty of the Body of Christ is our variety. Without even realizing it, we have all been conditioned to rank callings and abilities. This is not the good news we preach! Instead, that is The Law repackaged.
The Psalmist declares:
You take care of the earth and water it,
making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
for you have ordered it so. (65:9)
Let that wash over you.
The river of God has plenty of water.
The river of God has plenty of water.
Plenty of water.
When you fall into the ranking game—whether towards yourself or others—you may believe the river of God will run dry. So, you may feel compelled to get while you can, hoard what you have, or judge decisions others are making.
When Jesus said he came to make all things new, he meant it. Thankfully his mercies are new every morning and He can remind you (and me!) to keep your eyes on Him and not on each other.