Passion

I believe that “lostness” is a dangerous motivation for missions, but so too is the common concept of our “passion.” I remember the first time we spoke in a church after our appointment with the International Board. I asked the pastor what he thought his church needed to hear from us as we shared about the exciting things God was doing around the world. His response was, “Son, just let them see your passion.” Since that time, I’ve seen the word become a vital part of the missionary’s vocabulary. “Passion,” once a word closely associated with carnality, is now used as definitive proof of one’s calling. (“I can tell you’re called to missions- we can just sense your passion for the lost.”) But what about our passion for God Himself? Can we safely replace our First Love with a passion to do His job for Him?

If we allow our “heart for the unreached” to guide us, what happens on a day where we just don’t feel much passion? Not to say that God can’t give us passion, or even use that to place His very call on our life to full-time service. But as a motivation for our work, human emotions can be pretty unsteady. Desire, love, compassion, and guilt are all emotions that come and go. It seems that a heart sensitive to the will of the Spirit of God would be much more dependable than a heart for a people group. Such a motive then frees us from the pressures of human-centered plans. Instead of asking God, “Give me a heart for this person,” or “Help me to reach this people group,” we would ask Him, “Please guide me in this conversation,” again allowing Him to dictate the strategy and the audience.

When we first arrived in Western Europe, our passion for ministry was quickly replaced by fear and frustration; obviously, neither were from God. I know that people are people wherever you go, but these people seemed so… so… foreign. They were totally oblivious to the people around them, customer service was a joke, and they bought food in the grocery stores that looked just as it did when it was alive. They seemed backward and stubborn and worst of all, they didn’t seem to appreciate that we had left the comforts of suburban California to come share with them the most imortant thing they could ever hear. I’m not sure passion even made it past the airport.

What if God’s missionary calling isn’t to a people group or a job or a position, but to an ongoing, total step-by-step obedience to Him? If that were the case, the “Unfinished Task” isn’t finishable at all. Could it be that our task is not to reach the unreached for God, but to be obedient to Him as He reaches them? The difference is more than semantic. The task, then, would be to remain so plugged in to Him, so in tune with His Holy Spirit, that we would go wherever we are called and do whatever we are led to do. Instead of limiting the number of missionaries we’ll send to Africa, we could post every job request and let God call His workers to where He’s working. What if, rather than sending any and all willing persons to the mission field, we closely examined God’s call on their life and how he has equipped them to fill that role? Then God would determine the strategy. We wouldn’t have people who don’t really know what God wants for them going to China just because that’s what we tell them to do. We wouldn’t have people focusing on the Muslim world just because there aren’t any churches, and no missionaries to India just because they felt sorry for the people starving there. We need to be careful that we don’t get ahead of God in our zeal for what we think He’s doing.

The Culture Barrier

We need to understand that there is more than just a language barrier between us and the people to whom we minister. Cultural differences make relating to others very difficult- first, we need to recognize our own culture, then we need to learn a lot about theirs, and then we can begin to understand what translation would involve. Think of Lottie Moon, a great missionary to China in the 1800s. She recognized that her typically American way of being direct and confrontational was offensive to the Chinese. No one would listen to her message because they were offended by her delivery of it. Lottie, realizing the necessity of relevance, immersed herself in the culture. She gave up her western clothes and started dressing like the Chinese. She learned the language- not just enough to get by, but well enough that her accent no longer distracted her Chinese friends from what she was trying to say. For some reason, we see it clearly in the cases of the heroes of international missions, but we are blind to the cultural differences around us. Out of fear or pride we retreat from the world and create our own cultures and subcultures. Within these circles, it takes no time at all for us to lose the ability to relate to those around us.