When I think of a few generations back and what it took to be a missionary, I think today we have it easy in comparison. Reading missionary memoirs and biographies might tend to glorify the lives of missionaries, but if you’re careful to read autobiographies and real stories, you find that your heroes deserve to be heroes.
- David Livingstone, after his wife died, rode thousands of miles on horseback, suffering from bleeding, malnourishment, and malaria while befriending chiefs and leading many to Christ.
- Scottish Olympic champion Eric Liddle was separated from his family and later captured by the Japanese and kept in a prison camp. He used the opportunity to teach people about the Lord. He also started children’s sports teams in the camp, and all while suffering terrible headaches from a brain tumor. He died in captivity, not ever seeing his wife and daughters again.
- William Carey nursed his wife, who was mentally ill, while working on translations of the Bible into several languages in India. He suffered from opponents, fire (which burned about three years’ work), and he kept doing what he knew the Lord called him to do.
Just getting to the mission field killed many willing servants. Long ocean voyages, overland portage, disease, parasites, fatigue, heat, and poor medical care doomed many aspiring missionaries before they even made it to their target field.
Opposition came. Because of lack of experience and information, supporting churches and organizations back home didn’t have a point of reference. Even though missionaries tried to tell the truth—while softening it—they weren’t believed. People back home were shocked. How could the mission field be that bad? How could sin be so prevalent? How could our proper missionary even mention these subjects? The home base didn’t understand.
I think of Elisabeth Elliot’s biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die. Amy was a Victorian lady in every sense of the word. She was single and probably very naïve, yet God gave her a burden to rescue children who were used as sex slaves in Hindu temples. Amy sensed in her heart something awful was happening. She might not have understood the facts of life, but she knew those children needed help, and she risked her life to save them. Her orphanage gave hundreds of children the opportunity to hear the gospel in a safe, loving atmosphere.
Today, travel and field conditions are much better. We even have Skype and Facetime. Missionaries can email their home pastor in the time it takes to type out the message. We (usually) have electricity, water, and mail service. We enjoy a few prepared foods, even in the most primitive places. Missionaries have house help or machines. Life is different.
Yet, the battle is the same. Most missionaries live in societies that have gone more and more amoral. Most minister to people who either serve false gods or no god at all. They are either slaves to traditions or slaves to sin—or both. There’s a prevalence of vices. On some fields, it’s alcoholism. On others, it’s drugs. On most fields, it’s immorality, including pornography. And, then there are the diseases. Aids, STDs, dengue, cholera, malaria, parasites, and others are all around us and can threaten our families. Those in earthquake and volcanic zones often wonder if this is “the big one.”
And they serve.
Missionaries do things for people that few could even comprehend. They cut old ladies' toenails, bathe children, rock HIV positive orphans, and pull folks out from the rubble of their homes. They make meals, clean churches, teach Sunday school, take care of children, and organize neighborhood outreaches. They distribute tracts, give oral witness, and homeschool their own children. They faithfully keep in touch with churches that never contact them.
They serve every day.
Missionary women are as much a part of missions as their male counterparts. Singles, married, and widows all contribute to the strong witness that goes out from their ministries. Without them, missions would be different—and not nearly as effective. I believe God enables each ministry team to use its gifts together for evangelism and edification.
What does it mean to be faithful? I don’t think we can box it up, put a ribbon on it, and say voilà, here it is, wrapped up in a neat looking package. Let’s see what the Bible says about faithfulness.
First, God is faithful.
- Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9)
- God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9).
- Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
- But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
- And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness …. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood (Revelation 1:5).
- And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11a).
The Bible is faithful.
- Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful (Psalm 119:138).
- And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful (Revelation 21:5).
The Bible lists people who are faithful. I’m surprised how many there are!
- Moses (Numbers 12:7)
- Hanani (Nehemiah 7:2)
- Shelemiah, Zadok, Pedaiah, and Hanan (Nehemiah 13:13)
- Uriah and Zechariah (Isaiah 8:2)
- Lydia (Acts 16:15)
- Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17)
- Paul (1 Corinthians 7:25)
- Abraham (Galatians 3:9)
- the saints in the church at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1)
- Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7)
- the brethren in Colosse (Colossians 1:2)
- Epaphras (Colossians 1:7)
- Onesimus (Colossians 4:9)
- Moses (Hebrews 3:5)
- Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12)
God requires faithfulness. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2).
God actually says the saints—that’s us, ladies!—are faithful. Of course, it’s only in Jesus that we are anything at all. He is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful (Revelation 17:14b).
God rewards faithfulness.
- O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer (Psalm 31:23).
- His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matthew 25:21; also Matthew 25:23 and Luke 19:17).
May we be found faithful!