A couple months ago, Asbury University’s Director of Cross-Cultural Ministry interviewed me about my take on cross-cultural competency and missions. Once she got me talking about my heart for missions, I couldn’t stop. I went into the meeting having no idea what I would be asked or what I would say, but an hour later, the director had at least ten pages of notes, and I had the answer to the question I didn’t know I had been asking: Yes, I really am called to cross-cultural missions.
Truthfully, I can’t remember half of what I said, but it resonated with the director so deeply that she asked me to come back to campus after I graduate to speak about cross-cultural missions. Even though I haven’t heard from her since then, I often wonder what I might say if I ever give that message. Thoughts have been swirling in my mind about stepping out of your comfort zone, letting go of your appearance and the “American Dream”, and reaching out to the marginalized, all great points to be sure, but my heart and mind keep getting pulled towards Isaiah’s boldness when he said to the Lord, “Here I am. Send me.”
As I mulled over where I am in this process of understanding and living out my call to missions, I asked myself what simple piece of advice I would give to students grappling with the same thing. The answer was simply this: Don’t pray to be safe. Pray to be sent. There wasn’t some kind of addendum to Isaiah’s prayer that said, “Send me, but also protect me from sickness, exhaustion, terrorism, people that are resistant to the gospel, people that tell me I’m crazy for doing missions work, or any other kind of inconvenience imaginable.” Isaiah got straight to the point – He wanted to go and proclaim the Lord’s goodness, whatever the cost. Am I suggesting that we shouldn’t ask God to protect us? Absolutely not. He promises to be our “refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble”, and He delights in being just that for us, but it’s worth noting that two things in this verse are present – God and trouble. Praying for protection isn’t wrong; in fact, it humbles us by giving us a way to acknowledge our frailty and our need for the Lord, but safety can’t be our top priority if we want to serve as Jesus did. Jesus confirms this guarantee for a less-than-easy life years later when He says to His disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Sadly, many of us have bought into the “American Dream” (health, wealth, and prosperity) version of missions: “I’ll go on this well-organized, perfectly planned out trip with my youth group/university/best friends for a week… maybe two… preferably somewhere warm… probably somewhere in Africa, actually. People love to hear stories about Africa. I’ll make sure that someone brings their super expensive camera that cost more than my plane ticket to take Instagram-worthy “candids” of me laughing with adorable kids. Maybe they’ll even get a video of me teaching the village the one hymn I can actually remember. I’ll buy a few trendy, handmade bags to use as conversation starters once I’m home, give a heartwarming speech to my church (or at least some sort of post on social media) about how my life was forever changed, and give myself a pat on the back for clearly meeting my “missions quota” for the rest of my life.”
I don’t want to downplay the importance of short-term missions work or serving in third-world countries in any way, but a lot of us have clearly missed the point. If we truly desire to call ourselves followers of Christ, our lives should actually resemble His in some way, including the fact that He “did not come to be served but to serve”. When we adopt the aforementioned “American Dream” mentality about service, it’s not others we’re serving, but ourselves. It’s easy to try to meet our own needs for comfort, recognition, and happiness without once considering laying all of that aside (along with our own basic needs for survival if need be) to give it away to someone else. We seem to have forgotten that anyone can do “good” things like meeting another’s basic needs of food, water, and shelter, but only we, as Christ followers, have been sent out by Him to give gifts that only He can give – the saving love and grace powerful enough to bring His lost children home to their Heavenly Father forever.
As much as we’d like to believe it, we aren’t promised safety (or likes on Instagram for that matter). In fact, we’re more likely to lose friends, social status, basic comforts, and maybe even our lives when we’re truly following Jesus with everything we have and everything we are. The good news is, Jesus promises that anything we lose for Him here on earth will be repaid to us abundantly in heaven. Of course, I’m not implying that we should intentionally seek to be in harm’s way or that Jesus’ intent is to harm us (after all, He tells us that His plans for us are to prosper us and not to harm us), but being a completely committed follower of Christ means we are willing to sacrifice our social lives, our personal lives, and possibly even our physical lives in order to be sent into a world that Jesus died to save. If He saw each person as worth dying for, then we should, too.