Honey, I Shrunk the Missionary

Ok, missionary friends, let’s be honest here.

We’ve all done it. We’ve all told those shocking stories, the ones with giant spiders and malaria and chicken foot soup. We’ve all shown the gripping pictures of the dark-eyed babies and the work-calloused hands and the colorful city streets. And we’ve all expected appropriate oohing and aahing from the audience.

The stories and pictures aren’t a bad thing. It’s good to give our churches and friends a glimpse into a world they might not get to see otherwise.

What trips us up is why we share these things. It doesn’t take long for missionary newbies to learn what we missionary oldbies know intuitively: it’s effective and exciting to talk about the different and exotic. We get a reaction from stories that are outside the American norm. We feel like we’re doing something significant as we share facts about other areas of the world and ask people to partner with us in our work. And then after the presentation, as we shake hands and invite people to sign up to receive our ministry updates, a sincere fellow Jesus-follower says it.

“I could never do what you do. I could never be a missionary.”

Ack! No, no, NO!

There’s no bigger red flag than this that what we shared fell short. If what we said simply made us seem heroic, we’ve failed.

We’ve stolen a story that isn’t ours.

The community my family lives in is chock full of older missionaries, and some of them have lived stories that show up in Bible college textbooks. We’ve sat with some of these precious people, and our girls have heard, between bites of Saturday morning pancakes or Tuesday evening ice cream, tales of anacondas and witchdoctors and helicopter crashes. But mostly what they’ve heard is age-warbled voices saying again and again, “But God…” Our girls have had the privilege of witnessing the shuffling steps, the dropped spoons, and the teary-eyed conversations about failing health. These are very ordinary, very human people who serve an extraordinary God.

Yes, missionaries sometimes have remarkable stories.

So do pastors.

And fourth grade teachers.

And high school students.

And sanitation workers.

And stay-at-home moms.

All of us are no more and no less than a part of this epic story of God breaking the darkness and redeeming our mess. If our stories of victory just leave people feeling less-than, we’ve missed the mark. If we talk about adventures and people just walk away feeling unsatisfied with the life God has asked them to live, we’ve missed the mark. If we share our struggles and suffering, and people just feel sorry for us or are impressed by our strength, we’ve missed the mark.

When our stories lead people to focus on anything less than who God is and what He’s doing, we’re offering hollow, counterfeit versions of the truth. We’re cheating our hearers by gutting stories of their glorious core, the part that draws our hearts to worship the Author.

When Jesus came on the scene, some of John the Baptist’s disciples were concerned. They watched the crowds begin drifting away to be baptized by Jesus and complained to their leader. John’s response has echoed through the ages.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30 NLT)

John knew this story wasn’t his.

My missionary-ish friends, my fellow Jesus-followers in other professions, and mostly my self-glorifying self – our calling is to shrink.

In everything we do, our job is to fade into the background as people see Jesus and stop focusing on us.

Yes, let’s tell the hard stories, the courageous ones, and the miraculous ones so that we can say “but God…”

Let’s pour ourselves into ministries where we love and serve so others can see through us to the One who moves our hearts.

Let’s provide for our kids and guide them so they will transfer their dependence on us to their Heavenly Father.

Friends, let’s not plagiarize something that isn’t ours. We’re just feeble people who’ve been swept up into a story that’s too big for our hands to hold.

We’ve seen who God is and how He works, so let’s use our chapters of the story to lead people beyond ourselves to a deep well of glory, where He becomes greater and we become joyfully, gratefully less.

2 Comments

  1. Ellie Gustafson
    Jun 8, 2017

    An EXCELLENT blog, Beth! Yes, we want the stories, the flash, and are easily bored by faithful plodders who care and love and do the hard stuff. To them, the Lord will give his “faithful servant” speech, and I will respond with a loud AMEN.

  2. Joseph Arrington
    Jun 9, 2017

    Very good.

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