What motivated you to go into missions? What keeps you going?
Romance. I don’t know about you, but romance is what drove me into missions. The romance of being a great missionary, of changing an entire people group, of seeing a whole country turn to Christ. This romantic idea was first kindled during my children’s homeschool studies of St. Patrick — the man in the 5th century AD who took the Gospel to Ireland, where practically everyone turned from paganism to Christ.
This dream of mine was further fueled when I learned about one of our organization’s church planting teams in South America. Churches have been planted that have grown to membership in the thousands. Those churches have planted other churches. Those churches have even sent out missionaries themselves. When I first heard of this field, I thought Cambodia was going to be just like that. Woo hoo!
Never mind the fact that those missionaries had been building a reality from their dream for over 20 years by the time I ever heard of them. And never mind the fact that all you experienced missionaries are laughing at me right now — I still believe it’s those kinds of dreams that propel us forward, into missions.
Science Fiction. Maybe today, my initial missionary dream seems like unattainable science fiction to you. Completely unrealistic, and completely out of reach. But Ray Bradbury, notable author of the science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, believed that science fiction actually drove real science:
“I think it’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and then build to a reality. There’s hardly a scientist or an astronaut I’ve met who wasn’t beholden to some romantic before him who led him to doing something in life.”
Ray Bradbury continued discussing the idea of romance versus reality:
“I think it’s so important to be excited about life. In order to get the facts we have to be excited to go out and get them, and there’s only one way to do that — through romance. We need this thing which makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and say, ‘I want to go out and devour the world, I want to do these things.’”
Does the reality of life as a missionary start as a dream, somewhere deep in our pasts? In order to go out and teach Christ’s love, do we have to be excited about it? Do we need something that makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and want to go into all the world? [Or perhaps, if you are like me, something made you sit bolt upright much later, more like age 29.]
Bradbury also said, “We may reject it later, we may give it up, but we move on to other romances then.” He clearly thought scientists needed something to motivate their work, even if they shift their focus. I wonder then, do missionaries need the same? To survive on the field, year after year after year, do we need a dream? But is it the original dream that keeps us going, or do our dreams change?
Science, like missions, is not all guts and glory. There are the countless experimental trials. There’s the disappointment when your data doesn’t support your hypotheses, or worse, it doesn’t make any sense at all. And there’s the frustration when your equipment breaks down, or not everyone interprets the lab results the way you do. Science is not mostly sudden breakthroughs – and working with the hearts of people isn’t, either.
My dream has changed. . . sort of. I’m still beholden to the romantic idea that the entire nation of Cambodia could turn to Jesus. But I no longer think that might happen simply because I showed up in obedience to His call.
It’s true that some days seem like a never-ending clinical trial, but I do still dream of nationwide revival. I long for it, I pray for it, I want it, just the same as I did when I first studied St. Patrick or learned of those thriving South American churches. That dream keeps me here, believing there’s a purpose to living through countless, repeated trials.
So today, I want to invite you to reminisce along with me.
What missionary dream did you first dream? Is that still your dream, or do you dream differently now?
What happens if you’ve lost your dreams altogether? Do you keep going without one, or do you ask God for new dreams?