I always thought I’d end up as a missionary.
I’d just kind of figured. When I thought about the natural course of my life, I assumed that the work I currently do with Destiny Rescue – raising money and awareness of sex trafficking – would evolve naturally into me finding a place in Thailand and slotting into it. I thought this stage of my life was the waiting bit before my big opportunity came up. I was waiting for the voice from the burning bush telling me where to go, or the spinning arrow in Pocahantas – although that led to John Smith so I suppose that’s not really counted. A friend had a word for me once. She said I was in a hallway of shut doors and I was pulling at each one trying to open it, but what I actually needed to do was just keep walking down the hallway. So I did. I kept on doing what I was doing, trying to shine a light on human rights abuses, but still waiting for that arrow in the sky. One day, I was driving home from a Destiny Rescue event. I think I had been speaking at a mothers’ group. Only four people had shown up, babies cried through my presentation and I hadn’t raised much money, but the women had so many questions about how they could help. Suddenly that big ol’ burning bush flickered to life, lighting up in my car, and I realised that I was exactly where I was meant to be. I am not called to go but to stay.
Since that moment I’ve realised how much we expect that passionate, missions minded people will end up being trail blazers in India, bible translators in Tibetan hill tribes, or khaki wearers in deepest Africa. In reality, if everyone that wanted to do missions left the country, there’d be no one left behind to drum up support or raise awareness. I’d probably be useless in Thailand. I’m terrible with kids, and have zero skills that would be useful. But I’d just figured, that’s where people go. If you want to be involved you have to be on the frontlines. The more I adjusted to the idea of staying behind, the more I saw that if everyone was on the frontlines, not that much would get done.
In the army, I was in a support battalion. On exercise, the infantry guys would be running around in the bush, blowing things up, sleeping rough – the things that everyone pictures when they think of the army. I, on the other hand, was getting up at dawn to turn on hot water boilers, peeling potatoes till I was blue in the face, or stirring huge vats of meat sauce. It wasn’t fun or exciting. No one wants to hear the war stories about potatoes, and I doubt army cooks ever felt like they were beating the Taliban. But those guys on the frontlines wouldn’t get very far if they had to plan what they were going to have for dinner. Support battalions take care of things behind the scenes so that the people at the front can focus on doing the job. In the same way, those who stay behind have a role to play here to support the ones who go, or to enact change in their own neighbourhoods. The best way that I can help the anti-slavery cause is by raising money. With money, people can be rescued. By raising awareness, pressure is put on governments to take action – and more people raise money – So more people are rescued. If rescuers had to fundraise as well, so many of the kids that have been rescued would still be in slavery. If the bible translators in Tibetan hill tribes don’t have to work day jobs, they can get to work doing the job they were sent there to do. If there is a cause you are passionate about, sometimes the best way to help is to stay backstage, in the shadows where you are crucially needed. If William Wilberforce had become an overseas missionary, he wouldn’t have ended slavery. If Harriet Tubman had been a missionary in her own town, hundreds of people would have never known freedom. Some people need to stay. Some need to go. Staying might not be that exciting. It’s likely no one will ever make a movie of your life. But the mission might not move forward without you.
Sometimes staying feels like a relief. The struggles of the missionary life are obvious. Language barriers, isolation, etc. In Ethiopia our concerns were over things like gas bottles, clean water, and the leopard in the backyard – hierarchy of needs type stuff. But I don’t believe that people called to stay necessarily have it easier. Our struggles are subtle and therefore more insidious. A big challenge for me is forgetting that I’m on mission. It’s right up there with complacency, materialism, wanting to keep up with the Kardashians. When you’re in some removed mission field, you don’t have to see the ease and luxury of other lives. Comfort in itself is not a bad thing, but the expectation of comfort can become a distraction from the mission. Your mission at home may also mean that your life looks different to the lives around you. You may not be able to work full time, meaning you can’t replace your iPhones at breakneck speed. The lure of consumerism is so in our face here and if you need to break away from it to achieve your mission, it can be a choice that you need to make over and over again.
Distraction and other lives aside, a big part of staying is the fact that we one sows another reaps, and back here in the support battalion, I think we’re mostly sowing – sowing into missions that are often hundreds of miles away through support that allows others to reap. This one of those situations where I feel like I should be honest and hope that I’m not incriminating myself – but in a nutshell, God has given me the task of sowing, but a lot of the time, I want to reap.
A friend who recently came back from a missions trip and was telling a story about a man he met in a hospital. The man had travelled to Uganda to earn money to send back to his wife in the Congo, but he was hit by a car and ended up in hospital. He had no way to contact his wife and no one to bring him food and water – which the hospital didn’t provide. My friend lent him 40 cents for a phone call. The man was able to call his wife. She sent a neighbour to the hospital in Uganda who looked after him till he was better until both were able to go home. Without that 40 cents the man would likely have died in a foreign country with no way to let his family know. In 20 years, that man may still be alive because of 40 cents. Listening to this story, I have to admit that I actually felt a small twinge of bitterness – if I’m being completely honest, I may have sat in the back row and cried. I’d recently been planning a massive fundraiser for Destiny Rescue. I had been running around for weeks doing promo, sending invites, writing media releases, getting permits from the council. Me, my co-organiser and my small moral support crew arrived at the park the morning of the event to set things up then we waited for people to start arriving. And we kept waiting. Ten minutes before the start time I told myself that the 50 people who RSVP’d would arrive at the last minute, but the last minute came and went. Only one person showed up.
My efforts haven’t always had quite such demoralising results, but I’ve never gotten to see a result like what my friend saw. Even on events that go well, the money is sent away and it has an impact somewhere around the world – but I don’t get to see the impact. That kind of result – to literally save someone’s life with 40 cents – comes from having both feet on the frontlines with the harvest directly in your field of vision. When you’re back here with the support crew, you don’t always get to see what becomes of all your hard work. There’s a disconnection here between the work and the impact of the work. Perhaps money you raised or donated has saved someone’s life. Sometimes you won’t know how God will use your efforts. In a similar way, I’ve known people to have spent a long time ministering to someone, investing in them, sowing into them, to have them be saved under someone else’s ministry – or sometimes to let someone go knowing that the results of their hard work may not come to fruition for many years, when they probably won’t be around to know about it.
Please don’t misunderstand me here – it’s not a bad thing at all for someone to reap what you sowed. I doubt that when we’re standing together on the last day we’ll be concerned with who gets the credit for each person. Sowing and reaping are pointless anyway if God doesn’t give the growth. This is an issue, not of credit, but of heart. It can be hard to stay encouraged without seeing the results. It can feel like you sow and you sow and nothing ever grows – but a seed planted here could spring up on the other side of the world. This entire post is basically to say – after having been on this journey of discouragement and disappointment, and wondering what my out of balance work:result ratio is even worth – that you can be of good cheer. That’s easier said than done.
Be aware that for those called to stay, discouragement and distraction are snares to be on guard for, but you stay for a reason. You may never see a harvest, but commit your sowing to God, trust him to grow it and when necessary, trust someone else reap it. In this way we don’t need to be discouraged. We can be happy for another’s good harvests knowing that our own will not be untended despite appearances, “so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together”.