Missionaries Shouldn’t Ever Come Home – part 9

Matthew 4:17-22 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (New International Version)

The logistics of a missionary going back to their country of origin are huge. Most of the remote unreached peoples in the world are far from modern cities, and great effort is required to get back and forth to them. It also costs a lot of money for missionaries to go back to their countries of origin, especially if they have families. Someone somewhere has to pay for all that transportation to and from the mission field. The farther your remote unreached people group is geographically, the more time and money it will cost to travel to them. Let’s say that you have removed the need for finances to go to the mission field. Now, go just one more step and think about removing the need of going back home. This creates a whole different dynamic in missionary sending. Sending becomes a one-time action. It also raises the level of dedication in the life of the missionary when they know that they won’t be going back home. It forces the missionary to think about many things. Actually, this is not a new idea. In the 1800s, hundreds of young people packed their belongings into coffins to go to Africa. Because malaria was rampant, they knew that they would probably give their lives on the mission field. They knew that they were not coming home.

I have heard that 10,000 young people responded to that call to Africa, and about 1,500 ended up going. That is not a bad percentage for mobilization. The percentage that went back then is much higher than we see today. The 1800s were not that long ago. The availability of technology we have creates distance in our minds to those times in history when there were no cars or planes. At that time, the coffin was all you got to fit all your belongings into. There was so much sickness; the new missionaries were not expected to survive. Another reason was that they really didn’t need to take any more to the field. They could have said, “Pack what you can in the coffin and what doesn’t fit, pack into other bags.” But the person told them to pack what they need into that one space. The important things we see here are that the missionaries were willing to take very little for the journey, they were most likely not coming back, and they were willing to give their lives. I think someone was trying to make a statement, and it worked: we still remember this event. I imagine that most of those young people who survived did not come home on furlough.

Furlough Has Hindered The Extension Of The Gospel

It is commonly taught in modern mission schools that you need to come home every occasionally. You need to come home because you have supporters and churches. There exists a link to them because they give you money, and thus they need to be visited to renew their commitments. You come to see family, friends, and supporters, and, because you need a vacation from the mission field. Raising new support or renewing commitments to support is called deputation. So, if you don’t need to raise support, this eliminates one major reason to go back home. If you make the mission field your home, this eliminates the second reason to return. Home becomes where you are ministering. Definition of the word deputation: Noun — A group of people appointed to undertake a mission or take part in a formal process on behalf of a larger group. The definition gives the impression that your support team should raise your support for you even if you don’t come home. This is a good idea. You, the missionary, build a team back home that does the work of support-raising for you. This gives you more time to focus on discipleship. If this is what it means, I like the real definition. This would not be a new idea, either. At one time, people back home raised the money to send the missionary. From that concept arose the idea that people stay and just send money instead of going themselves.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

(NRSV Acts 4:32-37)

The words in these verses, “private ownership of any possessions,” are very interesting. The first church brought in finances as the body had need. We also see the scriptures referring to those having the gift of giving finances. Many people believe that sending or giving finances is a way for them to participate by proxy of the missionary. Today, the problem is that people don’t give enough to fill the need. Most Christians, about 98% are not sharing at all to the mission field. The other problem is that too many people are staying. The idea is that if you stay, you support. But people are staying and not supporting. The very small part of the Christian body who does give to missions (2% of all Christians) give an average monthly offering between $20 and $100 Dollars. Every statistic is completely the reverse of what it should be. The majority of Christians should be extending out into the world where Christianity does not exist, and the few who stay home should be giving as the body has need. So, 98% of all Christians should be living where there are no Christians, and 2% of those who stay should be giving 98% to support them. All this being said, we must keep in mind that finances are not a prerequisite for the missionary to go and disciple the nations. It is Biblical that the body gives but staying behind and getting a good job in order to give is not Biblical.

The fact that the furlough concept exists shows us that the body is not giving as they should. The idea that one stays behind to make money to give to missions is not working. Too many are staying behind, and too few of those are giving as the body has need. This unbalance is why we are so far behind. The missionary task needs people more than it needs money. The breakdown could be that we need 98% people and 2% finances. We are sending less than 2% of all missionaries into the remote unreached people groups, and those staying behind are giving less than 2% of all finances toward what they call missions to missionaries in the unreached. We are blaming the unfinished task on lack of finances when it is really a lack of people. There is an extreme over-exaggeration and focus on finances. It fits the situation today: we think that the missionary needs finances to stay on the mission field, and so they occasionally have to come home when finances have dropped. Finances drop because the people sending the missionary feel less and less committed to continuing with donations. It is ironic that the church as a whole has taken the stance of staying home but has neglected to give as the body has need. If you stay, you should be giving as the body has need, and this will have to be out of your abundance. It is incorrect to believe that furlough is when missionaries have to go home because their finances drop. It is also incorrect for the missionary to have the attitude that furlough is when they get to go home. Mission-sending structures require you to go on furlough to do deputation and a few other things. You also have to go home from the mission field to visit family and to rest. The furlough concept reinforces in the missionary that home is their country of origin, and so they never consider the mission field their home. Furlough has become a normal missionary sending protocol.

Let’s discuss this supposed “rest,” that you get on furlough. I don’t know many missionaries that actually get to rest when they go on furlough. They are too busy traveling to do deputation (fund raising). They don’t get much rest because they are trying to help their children adjust to a fast-paced, materialistic culture. There are so many distractions and things to do that rest is the last thing the missionaries get. They finally get to rest after returning to the mission field. Typically, missionaries spend one year on furlough and by the time the year is over, it is very hard to go back.

There is too much sending structure and too little sending. The sending structure seems to be the focus. Some countries have more sending agencies than they do unreached people groups. The missionary movement is top-heavy. We need to knock the top off. We must change the way we do mission work. More missionaries have to go than stay and those who stay must give sacrificially. Those who go need to stay on the mission field and not come back. These options need to be presented to all new missionary candidates. Giving is Biblical but staying is not an option unless you give everything to the effort until the need is met. This means that support-raising, prayer letters, and furloughs were never meant to be part of the plan. They are natural deformities that came about in a top-heavy missionary movement. What will finish discipleship the last remote unreached peoples? Missionaries will, not the sending structures. Those missionaries who are focused on staying in on the mission field making it their new home will finish the great commission. God does not want you to support missionaries; he wants you to go. If God wants you to stay, he will make it clear to you that you are to stay. You will get some direct communication from him about it. Going is the mandate that is assumed by what is written. Staying requires specific guidance, and even then, the New Testament model will require the majority of your wages to support those who went. God did not bring us to Christ to just go off and do whatever we want. He brought us into a body in order to make sure that every part of the body had what it needed to finish discipling the nations.

Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

(NIV Acts 21:11)

The apostles did not know if they were ever going home again. I doubt that it was on their minds much. A friend of mine is a leader of a mission agency and says, “We need to send missionaries who are willing to bury their bones in the 10/40 Window.” In other words, they must go and not come back. The 10/40 Window is a term coined by Christian missionary strategist Luis Bush in 1990 to refer to those regions of the eastern hemisphere, plus the European and African part of the western hemisphere, located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, a general area that, in 1990, was purported to have the highest level of socioeconomic challenges and least access to the Christian message and Christian resources on the planet. The 10/40 Window is where the majority of the remote unreached people groups live. Occasionally, people on my mission field (my home now) ask me when I will be going to my country of origin. My answer is “I don’t know.” And I really don’t know.

“Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

(NIV Act 26:16-18)

When you finally get ready to go to the mission field, do so as though you are not ever coming back. Get prepared: put things in order while still in your country of origin so that you do not have to come back. Take care of all your obligations. Pay off all your debts. You cannot expect supporters to pay off your debts for you if you have supporters. Say all your goodbyes. Sell all the things in your parents’ attic. Finish all the things you need to finish so that, when you go, you are free to stay as long as necessary. If you come back, you come back, but you don’t have to do so. Go quietly, without warning. You don’t need a going-away party. You don’t even have to tell your people where you are going. It might be a good idea that you do not to tell anyone which country and to which people group you are going. They might publish it on their blog or a social networking site without you knowing about it. You could just say you are going to somewhere in Asia, or somewhere in Africa. Why does anyone need to know exactly where you are going? It’s not like they are going to come to your rescue if you get into trouble. You are going to turn sinners from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. That should be enough information for them. Your specific training and your vision for unreached remote peoples should be enough information for the most committed supporters and prayer partners. The medium-commitment supporters will eventually dwindle away, anyway, and leave you growing in your understanding of, “Give us this day, our DAILY bread.” The Lord did not tell us to pray, “Give us this month, our monthly bread.” Go with or without money, and don’t come back! Coming back is not in the plan. It shouldn’t be in your mind. The Greek word for “go,” means “depart”: hupago (G5217), “to go,” translated “depart,” primarily and literally meant “to lead under” (hupo, “under”); in its later use, it implied a “going,” without noise or notice, or by stealth.[i] In this passage, the idea is perhaps that of a polite dismissal, “Go your ways.” Don’t make a big deal out of it. It should not be a big deal, as it should be a natural and frequent occurrence in the Christian life. It is very interesting that go means without noise or notice. I get the impression that when Jesus said “go,” he meant several things: (1) go, and (2) go where you will, or (3) go in a way that you can be pulled by the will and hand of God; (4) go without making a big deal out of it.

As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’

(NIV Matthew 10:7)

Do you get the impression that those who followed Jesus knew where they were going, or when and if they would ever come back? I don’t think so. Live your life as though you are not coming back. I met a Chinese man who offered to take me to remote people groups in China. One day, I will go with him. I am married and have a ministry and many obligations, but when I finally go with him, I will have left things in order. I will have left my ministry and other obligations in the hands of my wife and a few close disciples. I will have left my house in order so that if God calls me to stay or if I were to die or whatever, it will not have been necessary for me to come back. I will have tied up all the loose ends and prepared to go as if Jesus himself had told me to go. There are no ties stronger than the will of God as one goes. It is the will of God that we go to China. It is as though this following verse was written for us today.

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

(NIV 1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

[i] All references to the Greek in this book are from the Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Copyright © 1984, 1996 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.