Ask a group of Sunday school kids what missionaries do, and they’ll usually say, “Tell people about Jesus!” Even adults tend to think of missions work as a succession of spiritual highs, with story after story of radical encounters with Christ.
But I’ve been there. I know what missionaries really do.
Of course, they tell people about Jesus. They have moments of spiritual breakthrough. It’s why they do what they do.
But they also do a lot of mundane things. They go to the dentist. They go to the hair dresser. (It takes longer than usual, because language school didn’t teach them how to say “root canal” or “root touch up.” And they have no idea what a reasonable price is for either one.) Missionaries wait in line at government buildings to apply for their work permit. They mow the lawn or shovel snow. They fill up the car with gas. They visit the government building again to check on that elusive work permit. They spend hours and hours and hours studying for foreign driver’s license examinations. They clean house. They do laundry (in unconventional ways). They fill out more paperwork for the work permit. They experiment with unknown substitutes in their favorite recipes….
You get the idea.
Missionaries put up with mundane activities and cross-cultural difficulties because the difficulties are a necessary part of telling people about Jesus.
The apostle Peter recognized that all Christians live in a foreign culture. He repeatedly referred to Christians as “exiles” (see 1 Peter 1:1 and 2:11, for example). He wrote:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9, ESV
Those of us who trust in Christ alone for salvation belong to God. We’re chosen. We’re royal. We’re holy.
But we live on earth. Fallen, sinful, dirty, smelly, sometimes boring earth.
And we live here for a reason: to proclaim God’s excellencies (my spell check doesn’t even think that’s a word, which says something about how unique God is in His excellence).
If we’re going to proclaim Christ, if we’re going to “tell people about Jesus,” then we’re going to have to put up with some cross-cultural difficulties. We’re going to have to suffer through the consequences of the curse: things like illness, surgery, PMS, menopause, weariness, frustration, and – of course – mountains of laundry and ironing (you do know there were no clothes before the Fall, right?).
The way I see it, we have two options. We can whine and complain and lament all the “wasted time” that we could be spending in more “spiritual pursuits.” Or we can remember our purpose. We can remember that this is a necessary part of cross-cultural ministry and that it enables us to share the gospel with a hurting world.
I think that’s why the Proverbs 31 woman “seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands” (Proverbs 31:13, ESV, emphasis added). She knows there’s a bigger picture and her attitude matters.
So does ours.
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