It was early June in 2009. After flying over the white-capped Andes Mountains, we descended through the clouds, which gave way to a breath-taking view of the Amazon River and its tributaries snaking their way through the thick jungle surrounding the city of Iquitos, Peru. It was a familiar sight, one I loved and had enjoyed numerous times over the past seven years. The pilot landed our large jet on the small strip of concrete and I stepped out the door of the air-conditioned plane onto the movable staircase, the also familiar heat and humidity coating my face before quickly beading up and turning into a dripping, running sweat that made my tired, travel weary eyes burn. Pulling my carry-on suitcase behind me, praying my trembling knees wouldn’t fail me, I made my way across the concrete to the covered shelter that housed the luggage carousel. I was scared to death and I felt grossly inadequate and unprepared.
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’
Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.'”
Isaiah 6:8 (ESV)
There I was. An 18 year veteran high school English teacher who had recently turned 40, quit my job and packed up my stuff to trade in my teacher title for that of resident missionary, leaving no doubt in the minds of family and friends that I was in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Having traveled to Iquitos more than twelve times since 2002, and having spent three whole summers there working with mission teams, I was absolutely certain that God was calling me to live in the Peruvian jungle and I was eager to go (albeit nervous and sad and excited and all the other things you feel when you say goodbye to one season of life and hello to the next one). I wasn’t really sure, however, what that word – missionary – meant, but I knew that it was weighty, and I knew I didn’t measure up.
I spent the next three and a half years doing what came naturally to me: sharing the gospel by building relationships with pastors and their wives and congregations, volunteering in an AIDS hospice, hanging out with people on the streets, and learning how to live daily as a foreigner in a familiar land.
I felt the weight of my title and a subsequent sense of failure, because my life in Peru didn’t look anything at all like what I imagined a real missionary’s life to be. (I now understand that most people have a completely warped view of what a foreign missionary’s life looks like, but that’s another blog post!) I wasn’t seeing people come to Christ daily, or even weekly, because of me (complete with a white robed rendition of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’). I wasn’t writing newsletters to my supporters that shared how many people had been baptized that month as a direct result of my evangelistic efforts. In fact, I wasn’t seeing much of anything happen.
In time I learned that carrying the job title of missionary and actually being a missionary are two completely separate things, and sometimes the being one involves sowing and planting, but not necessarily harvesting. The bigger truth is, being a missionary didn’t begin when I moved to Peru, nor did it end when I returned to the U.S. Being missional isn’t a job, it’s a way of life!
“And he said to them,
‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’
Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
Matthew 4:19-20 (ESV)
In fact, the moment we accept Christ as our Savior we become his representatives – missionaries, if you will – carrying the light and good news of the gospel everywhere we go. Notice in the scriptures from Isaiah and Mark that the only qualifications necessary are:
The propagation of the gospel doesn’t require a seminary degree, church internships, missions certification or any other specialized training. These are all wonderful things that prepare us for vocations in various ministries, but missional living does not hinge on them.
When God calls He is looking for ordinary, everyday people with willing spirits and obedient hearts – not those who hesitate, paralyzed by fear, needing to calculate the cost first. He’s searching for those who are begging to be sent and who will drop everything and actually go. For some that will mean relocating to foreign countries. For most it will mean getting out of our houses and into our communities, diving head-first into the messiness of real life with our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers alike. It means searching out and going to those society labels as undesirable and doing life with them too. It means vulnerability and transparency and allowing others to see us as we really are, because only then can grace take its rightful place in the spotlight.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly,
since love covers a multitude of sins.”
I Peter 4:8 (ESV)
And that, my friends, is the definition of missionary. . .
- Are you willing to say, “Here I am! Send me”?
- Will you drop your net immediately and follow Him?
- The world is longing, aching, and crying out for us to be everyday missionaries.
We would love to hear your comments.
We would love to have you attend our first annual Women’s Conference on June 24-25, 2016 with special recording artist Mike Weaver from Big Daddy Weave.
Be sure to get your ticket and come to be encouraged on this journey called life!
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