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 snaking its way through the thick jungle surrounding the city of Iquitos, Peru. It was a familiar sight that I loved. The pilot landed the large jet on the small strip of concrete. Stepping out the door of the air-conditioned plane, the also familiar oppressive heat and humidity coated 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 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)But 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 Foreign Missionary. Having traveled to Iquitos more than a dozen times between 2002-2009, including three eight-week summer stints hosting and 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, sad, excited and all the other things you feel when you say goodbye to one season of life and hello to the next). Suddenly I wasn't really sure what it meant to be a "missionary," but according to my job description that's what I was.
I spent the next three and a half years deepening relationships with pastors, their wives and congregations, doing women's ministry, volunteering in an AIDS hospice, hanging out with people on the streets, and learning how to live daily life as a foreigner in a familiar land. I talked about Jesus to anyone who would listen, prayed with people on their deathbeds, and made friends with as many locals as possible in an attempt to love and serve them as God had called me to do. In spite of everything I was doing I felt an overwhelming 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 wasn't seeing people come to Christ on a regular basis because of my dynamic declarations of Jesus' love for them, or sharing with my supporters how many people had been baptized as a direct result of my evangelistic efforts. In fact, I wasn't seeing much of anything happen. In time, I learned that it wasn't about anything I was doing, but what God was doing in and through me. It also became clear that being a missionary always involves faithful sowing and planting, but does not necessarily include harvesting.
I didn't start being a missionary when I moved to Peru,
nor did I stop being one when I returned to the U.S.
The bigger truth I learned is that I didn't start being a missionary when I moved to Peru, nor did I stop being one when I returned to the U.S. In fact, the moment I accepted Christ as my Savior I became his representative - a missionary, if you will - carrying the light and good news of the gospel everywhere I go. The same is true for you. We are all missionaries, every single moment of our lives. First and foremost in our homes with our families, then in our jobs and our communities. The place we find ourselves today, right this very moment, is the mission field to which God has assigned us. Whether we earn our paychecks as church pastors, foreign missionaries, corporate CEOs, grocery store cashiers, doctors, coaches, or janitors, we are charged with putting the gospel on display in all that we do and say - all day, every day.
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 some for vocations in various ministries, but missional living does not hinge on them. Isaiah 6:8 and Matthew 4:19-20 show us that the only real qualifications necessary are: 1) willingness and 2) action. God is looking for ordinary, everyday people with willing spirits and obedient hearts. 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 new cities, states or perhaps foreign countries. But for most it will mean getting out of our offices and into our break rooms, 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 the least of these and going to those society labels as undesirable to do life with them too. It means fighting through frustration when we've invested significant time and energy in people, but aren't receiving the benefit of immediate, tangible results. 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.
- Are we willing to let the world see our faults, frailties and utter brokenness so that God might use us to draw others to Himself?
- Will we drop what we're doing and follow Him - out of our comfort zones (because that's where He plans to take us)?
- Do we understand that a life of loving Jesus is not easy, but IS so very worth whatever it costs us?
- Are we ready to be everyday missionaries?
"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)