What will you do now?

This coming August 14th I will celebrate ten years of full-time mission work in Latin America. Almost ten years ago, at age twenty-two, I was met at the airport outside of Caracas, Venezuela by fellow missionaries. I spent that night inside my very first apartment in Latin America. With a suitcase full of clothes, several books, a few things to remind me of friends and family, I began organizing my new life.

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Anaco, Anzoátegui, Venezuela

So much has happened in the past ten years: I’ve witnessed new births into God’s Kingdom. I’ve helped establish new congregations. I’ve sung at weddings, funerals, and helped expecting parents choose names for their children. I’ve run from armed gunmen and I’ve run into the arms of newfound family and friends. I’ve grown. I’ve cried. I’ve sweat and I’ve suffered.

 

So now what? People ask me, “What will you do now?” To ask, “What will you do now?” is a haunting question in our postmodern, liquid society. Very few people keep a job for very long anymore and many people move around fairly regularly. We expect new seasons in life to bring about important changes on many levels. So, What is my answer? What am I going to do? I would like to continue doing what I am doing now.

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Edo. Amazonas, Venezuela

My desire is to spend the coming years in Latin America as a missionary. This is not because I am somehow overly qualified for the job or never face uncertainties about my vocation. I recently discovered the following truth in a conversation with a friend while on furlough. Confession time. Here it is: I need to be a missionary.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the people of Latin America need me or that somehow the church would feel my absence. Quite the contrary, both friends and family in Latin America would do just fine without me. But I need to be a missionary because I need them – my Latin American friends and family.

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Parque los Chorros, Caracas, Venezuela

You see, mission work isn’t just about teaching – it’s also about learning. It’s not just about helping others, but being helped yourself. It’s about denying yourself certain privileges in order to walk alongside others. It’s about setting aside a part of your self to be transformed into someone different. Mission work changes you.

 

I would dare say that I’ve learned more about myself in the past ten years than I would have if I would have stayed in white, suburban America. Nevertheless, this self-knowledge would be entirely vain and egocentric were it not understood in light of my experience with the risen Lord.

 

You see, Latin Americans teach me about Jesus all the time. I’ve learned more about Jesus in dirty urban slums and in the Amazon than I did from a trip to the Holy Land. I come face to face with Jesus whenever I serve or am served by one of the “least of these”.

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Plaza Bolívar de Chacao, Miranda (East Caracas)

I don’t want to leave Latin America because there is so much more that I have to learn about Jesus. There is so much more that I have to learn about what it means to walk with Him on the asphalt, the dirt roads and through the high grass. I need to hurt, to struggle, to be alone, to be present, to laugh, to cry with my people because it is this pilgrimage together that teaches me who I truly am. It teaches me where I am going and to whom I am going.

 

I’m a missionary in Latin America because I need these people.

For Parents of Missionaries

Jim Elliot was a missionary in Ecuador in the 1950’s. He felt God’s call to seek and save the lost. He was passionate about missions and longed to be on the mission field. He felt that God wanted to use him in a powerful way. And He did.

 

Like many young missionaries, he was discouraged from going to the mission field. When friends and family could no longer convince him to avoid the dangers of jungle life in South America, many well-meaning brothers and sisters in the US pointed to the great need for preaching the Gospel near home. Nevertheless, he was unshaken in his commitment to serve the Lord in South America.

 

In a letter to his parents, he wrote the following words:

 

“I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America. This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when He told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And He never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves which we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause.

 

“Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as a heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly – all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.

 

“Surely those who know the great passionate heart of Jehovah must deny their own loves to share in the expression of His” (page 132, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life & Testament of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot).

 

I am thankful for parents who train their children up in the Lord in such a way that they choose to serve Him in foreign lands. I am thankful for the parents who in quiet prayer let go of their children and allow them to serve as Christ’s ambassadors far from home. I pray for those parents who will some day have to decide if having their children close to home is worth more than having spiritual grandchildren all over the world.

 

Parents of missionaries, join with us, your children in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ! Strengthen us with your prayers. Support us with words of encouragement. Send us with your blessing so that we might be a blessing to others.

Homesick Missionary

Ten Ways You Know You Are a “Homesick” Missionary

Homesick is in quotes because right now I’m homesick for Denver. Once I’m “home” in Denver, then I will miss my “home” in Caracas and I’ll become “homesick” for my other “home.” Either way, I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger homesick for my heavenly home. I hope my list makes you laugh and realize that “home” is really where God calls you to be, whether it’s here, there or in Timbuktu. Enjoy!

You know you’re a “homesick” missionary when . . .

1. You look up the house where you grew up more than once a month on Google Earth.

2. You’ll pay just about anything for an obtusely small jar of peanut butter.

3. You start pulling out your sweaters even though it’s 95 degrees outside.

4. You make a special effort to brush up on your English for the trip “home.”

5. You pull out those American flags you stored away in the closet to put them on display.

6. You start dreaming about Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club conveniences.

7. You smell imaginary doughnuts when you wake up on Saturday morning.

8. You get nostalgic every time you go to the mall and hear cheesy 80’s music.

9. You start reading CNN and the New York Times to catch up on what’s go on since you left.

10. You realize that life at “home” has gone on without you, but you’re thankful for where you live and what you are doing.

You Know You’re a Missionary If

You know you’re a missionary if . . .

 

The scale in your house has been used more to weigh luggage than to track your diet.

 

One fine day you realize that people in other parts of the world eat the animals you kept as pets in your childhood.

 

Someone scares you and you’re likely to react in any number of languages.

 

You’re an expert in bathing without running water and washing dishes without a sink.

 

You can chat with friends in different countries in multiple languages at the same time.

 

You can talk on two phones at once, interpreting from one language to another.

 

You’re ready to teach a Bible class, preach a sermon or teach kid’s class at any moment.

 

You have no problem picking up and showing love to unknown street children.

 

You’ve learned to never take the word “no” from a government official.

 

You’ve learned to negotiate a price so well that the locals congratulate you when you seal the deal.

 

Someone has yelled at you for being a “gringo” to which you politely respond in any number of accents to confuse the aggressor.

 

At one time the barber told you that you were the first person with blonde hair that he has attended to in his forty years of work.

 

You’ve slept in any number of spaces, kinds of floors next to any number of people.

 

You know how to get off a bus without waiting for the bus to stop.

 

When after living so long in a tropical climate, you put on a jacket when it’s 65 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

 

You really start believing that it’s best not to show up on time for any appointment.

 

You have entire conversations with people and later you forget which language you were speaking in.

 

You see visits to dangerous ghettos as an opportunity to grow in your faith.

 

You’ve shared a fermented drink out of same cup with people who have no teeth.

 

These are just a few!