Go With No Intention of Returning – part 10

God cannot steer a parked car. You have to be rolling in order for God to steer you. You have to be going in a forward motion. You go in faith founded on the word of God, and on Jesus’s words in the great commission. You go in obedience to that written word. You don’t need a dream or vision, although they do happen; if you don’t get one, go in obedience to his word. Even if you do get a dream or a vision, go in obedience to his word, or you may find yourself in a remote unreached people group seriously doubting that the vision or dream you had was from God. Go in a car that has no reverse. Go, silently, without notice. Don’t give notice. Don’t make a big deal out of it with a lot of noise and missionary sending ceremony music. Just go silently into the night. Go not worrying about if or when you might be coming back. This may require a little preparation, but think of it this way:

Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” 23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.

(NIV Matthew 8:19-20)

You can go with Jesus but know this: you don’t know when you are going to eat, where you will be staying, or when and if you are coming back. Also, you had better go now. Those who want to get a lot of things done before they leave get left behind. Do you get the impression that the disciples were thinking much about going back home? If the word of God is inspired and it is for us today, then why have we added so much to it regarding missions? Shouldn’t the word of God be enough? Didn’t Jesus know what he was doing? Most traditional missionary sending agencies have furlough in the fifth year. You spend four years on the field and then go home for a year. The more I think about this, the more irrational it seems. I don’t see furlough in the heart and spirit of the disciples. When Paul lost funding, he made tents. He didn’t go home. Most Western missionaries’ terms on the field are only four years. You are considered a long-term missionary if you go for four years. There is hardly anything in life that one can do in four years and call “long-term.” Being an architect for four years isn’t considered long-term. Being a doctor for only four years is not considered long-term. Being a mother of children for only four years isn’t considered long-term. Going to school for only four years isn’t considered long-term. So why is going to the mission field for four years considered long-term? Can you start a growing church anywhere in the United States in four years? But most missionaries only go for four years and come home for good. They don’t even go back for a second term. Those are the statistics. I guess most people just can’t handle any more than that. Home is too much on their minds. After four years, they come home with the medal of having been a veteran missionary. We should only give out completion medals when the missionary has reached their people group. You don’t get a completion medal for translating the Bible either. You get one when the Bible is being used to establish a strong group of believers who are discipling others and who are going as missionaries. Jesus did not give medals, plaques, diplomas, certificates, badges, patches, ball caps, or T-shirts labeled “India Summer Mission Trip.” Putting in four years is not the New Testaments’ teaching. Jesus never intended to send his disciples out for four years. You can analyze New Testament history and Paul’s journeys and somehow justify a four-year field term and one year of rest. The disciples wrote nothing about furlough and putting in your time. They went to do the mission until they were all killed, except for John. You cannot expect to go into remote darkness to turn followers of Satan to God if you are not willing to stay much longer than four years.

One year, things got bad on the mission field where my wife and I live. There was an uprising, and the military had to come in to calm the riots. People were getting killed in the streets. Many missionaries went home during that time. We live in an area where there are many missionaries because there are many people groups each one speaking their own language. I will never forget when my wife asked me if we would be leaving the country. I hadn’t even considered it. I told her no, of course. We stayed, and now we can relate with other missionaries around the world who live in similar situations. We also have a deeper bond with the people to whom we minister. Can you imagine how the local people felt when they saw the other missionaries leave the country? I have lived through the experience where field missionaries left, and their actions seem extremely selfish and conceited to me. I feel badly for the local people and ashamed for the missionaries. I don’t see a pack-up-and-go-home spirit in the New Testament. Christians were moving forward into danger and death. It was the way Christianity spread. Some mission-sending agencies have a special fund that you must save toward in case you need to get out of the country in the event of a coupe, war, terrorism, and so on. You also have to save for your furlough tickets. The agency is shaping the mentality of the missionaries with these protocols. We are setting up the missionary to fail. We are sowing seeds into the mind of the missionary that when the going gets tough, the tough get going home.

I looked up the word furlough — a. A leave of absence or vacation, especially one granted to a member of the armed forces. b. A temporary layoff from work. I attended university at a missionary training center. I saw many missionaries come home on furlough and saw their attitudes and not all of them were good. Many were finally back home! “Hurray! No more third-world problems and hardships.” They earned that year back at home by suffering on the field for four years. They were on vacation from work. The mission field was not their home. The mission field was a place they go to do mission work until they need rest and to raise more support. They get to come home for that. They are taking a vacation from poverty, sickness, contamination, and all the unsaved people among whom they work. The unreached people group was not their new family; they were the people to whom the agency sent them. Mission work is so programmed and packaged. When they finally get a church planted and a leader established, they are done, the task is over, and they pack up and come home for good. It’s as if they had a project to do, and now that it’s finished, they want to get back to their normal lives and try to make up for lost time. For three years I was able to talk to missionaries who were returning from the field. I remember hearing this attitude in their voices. Some of them were my teachers. There are always exceptions and varying degrees of this attitude, but it is quite common among missionaries. We have the statistics that show this to be true: most missionaries return for good within four years.

Four years is now considered long-term missionary service. This is not enough to start a church in a remote unreached people group. Ask the pastor of any church how long it takes to start a church in his own country, speaking his own language, in his own culture. He will tell you it takes more than four years. Even if the missionaries return for a second and third term, imagine all the logistics and resources needed to uproot and transport the entire family back home every four years. There are logistics on the field and at home. The ideal situation is where the missionaries make their homes in the destination country. They do not come home on furlough, nor do they come home when the work gets done. They don’t come home when the going gets tough. Missionaries should not ever come home. Another verse says it differently:

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

(NIV Luke 9:59-60)

What Jesus said in Luke 9:62 has always impacted me. What I am trying to say is that, if you want to be a missionary, go be a missionary, and forget about what you leave behind. It won’t be easy, but it is the best way to deal with being on the mission field long-term. Being on the mission field will bring a whole new set of troubles and warfare that you will have to deal with. You won’t have much time to be dealing with all the troubles back home. The troubles back home will only increase once you are on the mission field, so you will have to put them in the hands of the Lord and this includes the family members who stayed home as well. However, don’t run from anything by going to the mission field. If you are in debt, you need to pay it all off before you go. If you go to the mission field and are wanted by the law for something, such as paying your child support or unpaid traffic tickets, don’t go as a missionary until you finish paying. If you owe student loans or have other debts, you have to pay them all off first. If you are serious about going as a missionary, don’t get into debt in the first place. You can get your education without getting into debt. You can’t run up credit cards and then hide out on the mission field. Those are not the kind of troubles you can leave behind. You cannot take those burdens to the mission field or leave them with someone else to pay. Be very careful how you interpret the Bible not to interpret it toward your own laziness or irresponsibility. Once you are free and clear of those types of things, don’t worry about who will bury your father, or who will take care of your mother. They will get taken care of, and, possibly, only in heaven will they understand that you did what was more important. If you are the only child, you might have to take care of your parents. If not, say goodbye to your mother and father, family, and friends. If you are the only child, bring them to the mission field. I have missed important family members’ burials, being on the mission field. I have missed many other important events. My family is not happy about this, but one day they will understand or not. They might never understand until they get to heaven. Once in heaven, they will see the people that were reached because I stayed on the mission field. This is just one more thing that the missionary will sacrifice to be in ministry. You will have to try to help your family understand if they can.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn ” ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

(NIV Matthew 10:34-39)

Enter Open Doors And Don’t Come Out

But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

(NIV 1 Corinthians 16:8)

Once you are on the mission field, you may encounter an opportunity to get into a closed country or a closed people group. This is a door opened to you, and it may only open once. Once you see the door open, you had better enter right then. Once you are inside, the door closes behind you. If you leave, the door may stay closed and never open to you again. This is another good reason why you need to seriously think about staying inside the door, without any intention of ever returning home again. Make this new country your country. Make this new family your family. Make this new place your home because God opened the door to you.

My wife and I were recruiting a group of young people to mission work and we invited a missionary that was home on furlough to speak to the group. She was a single young lady about thirty who was doing dentistry work as a cover in one of the modern cities of Morocco. She had five disciples who were all young ladies, and she would visit them one by one to do discipleship. During the day, she was a dentist, and at night she was in the house of only one of her five disciples. They could never meet all together in one place because it would put the dentist at risk of losing her visa. One of the disciples invited the missionary to meet her family that lived far from the city. They traveled several hours into the mountains, and the missionary found herself in a remote unreached Berber people group. After only a few days the people fell in love with the young dentist. They had dressed her in the local clothing, and she was dancing and singing with the whole group, having a great time in their mud houses far from the modern city where she worked. She was showing this video of herself to the young people in our missions group. As I watched her dancing with the Berbers I could not stop wondering, “What is she doing here? What is she doing all the way on the other side of the world back home?” A great door in an unreached people had opened to her, and who knows if she will ever be able to get back in.

You have to be able to recognize the door when it opens to you. Then, once you are inside, you had better be able to stay. You should have nothing tying you down back in your country of origin. This means that you had better know how to live by faith, make something with your hands, or provide some valuable service to the people, such as dentistry. You can get a book called “Where There Is No Dentist” and it will save you several years of college and college debt. You also had better have all the training you need for language learning and getting the New Testament into audio for them. Many missionaries go in the door untrained and eventually leave because they are not of any value to the community, or because they don’t have any fruit for lack of learning the language. It has nothing to do with the door or their willingness. It has to do with the missionary’s irresponsibility. You, the missionary, are responsible to know what to do once inside the door. You, the missionary, are responsible to get trained. I am not talking about years of training. You can get training for language learning and translation in a year or two. You can learn how to make something or provide a service in a rural community in about a year or so. Most remote unreached people groups are in rural communities. Learn about how to provide something of value to a rural community.

An indigenous pastor I know goes into remote unreached people groups teaching them how to build clay ovens and make bread with ingredients they have in their villages. He does not have to carry anything into the people group. Another missionary I know is putting together a plan for an indigenous family to have a ten-meter garden, ten chickens, or ten rabbits. You need to find something that you can do with no startup funds and no inventory you have to carry in. You may be asking yourself how you are going to get their language into audio in areas where there is no electricity. Don’t worry; you will find a way. The Lord will make a way. Let’s assume the dentist stays and learns the language for four to six years, doing dental work or whatever she can in the village to contribute to the community and sustain herself. This is how long it will take before she can start to put their Gospel into audio. After that long bonding with the people, it will then be easier for her to go out of the village and spend very short periods where electricity is available, getting portions of the New Testament recorded to digital audio. As the people group opens up and responds to the message, more digital audio can be introduced. There are new technologies that are making these things possible. If she has to, she can teach the stories verbally, and the people group can memorize them. If something were to wipe out our global electrical system, such as a massive solar flare, we would all have to revert to the old-school mission work of orally passing on the scriptures. All she would need is a copy of the New Testament in her language. In a no-electricity scenario, you don’t need alphabets, grammars, literacy programs, back translations, or printing presses. There were a few points in history when bad people tried to destroy every copy of the Bible. Think about this for a minute. If we rely on the printed or recorded scriptures, what happens when we lose the only copies? Right now, ministries are spending thousands of dollars on satellite systems so that Bible translators can upload their scriptures to the cloud. Are we relying too much on technology? Has the printing press hindered the spread of the Gospel as well? It has given way to copyrights and selling the word of God. This has definitely hurt the Christian movement.

We know a couple that went to Tibet as missionaries. Tibet is not an easy place to live. You need two visas if you are going to enter legally. They could have entered illegally with no problem. They were Latin and had no problem blending in. At that time, they were married and without children. However, they miraculously got both visas—one to China and one to Tibet—and started a small restaurant. A year later things were going well, and the young missionary lady became pregnant. The couple and their family back home felt that they had to have the baby in their country of origin. So, they closed up the restaurant and purchased thousands of dollars in plane tickets to go back home. The restaurant was looted, their visas were not renewed and the doors were closed. In their minds, “home” was their country of origin.