Despite the availability of books, conferences, mentors, courses, strategies, and technological advances, I rely daily on these three “tools” as anchors for my missionary life. The “preparation” never ends, especially if we have elected to follow the “downward mobility” (Henri Nouwen, The Selfless Way of Christ) of the hidden life in God which has borne so much fruit for the Kingdom since the time of Jesus:
1. Assurance of a calling from God. Most long-term missionaries can point to a specific point in time, an appointed moment, in which the Holy Spirit spoke a missionary call into his/her life. During times of testing before and during missionary service, remembering and reflecting upon this powerful encounter with the living Christ provides an assurance which is often more like Consolation: “Lord, You called me. My confidence is in You.”. I believe this assurance was offered to Peter by Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius when He asked, “Do you love Me?”. Calling cannot be negated or cancelled by failure or even by treasonous cowardice if we are willing to return to the feet of Christ and confess our love for Him by responding to the hunger of His people. The assurance of a call to missionary service places the ultimate responsibility squarely and finally in the hands of God, liberating the missionary to serve with faithful obedience to the Great I Am, Creator and Savior of everything which He Himself called into being.
2. A willingness to live a relinquished life. While it can be argued that the entire Bible is a missionary manual, there are certain passages which are popular in missionary circles, and without exception the common theme is relinquishment. The missionary must deny self, take up the Cross of Christ, leave family and home, die to the things of this world, give up earthly ambitions. While these Scriptures apply to all followers of Christ, the expectation in regard to missionaries is undeniably more pronounced, and it can be said that the missionary considers this commitment to relinquishment a necessary part of the calling. Relinquishment must be distinguished from resignation. Catherine Marshall writes that “Resignation is barren of faith in the love of God…Resignation lies down quietly in the dust of a universe from which God seems to have fled, and the door of Hope swings shut.”. Relinquishment, on the other hand, is the constant, voluntary struggle to have our will flowing perfectly into the will of our Father (Richard Foster, Prayer), and growth is dependent upon prayer, fasting, worship, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines. How this life of relinquishment is revealed through the life of the missionary is as unique as the missionary himself, but it is an essential characteristic of the life consecrated to mission. Leaving home is only a first step towards blending our will into the will of God. Each and every moment, we long to be like the Son, who “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant . . . and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2: 5-8), which leads us to our final point:
3. Humility. Missionary calling and a desire to relinquish personal attachments and ambitions flow from a deep humility which seeks to love and serve God and neighbor. The missionary is not called to help others from a position somewhere above them. The missionary must be guided by “disinterested benevolence” (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission), the awareness of a debt to those who dwell in spiritual darkness, a very true burden which is at once accepted from Christ and then offered back to Him on the heart’s altar. Gratitude for grace received provides a gentle fuel for godly humility, and indeed, enduring fruit is produced by the continual offering of a life poured out joyfully, sacrificially, and lovingly. The cleverest strategies and most advanced technologies will never replace a self-denied life, patterned after the One Perfect Life laid down by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. With Paul we proclaim that we “have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order to gain Christ and be found in Him” (Philippians 3: 8-9). Found in Him, we lose all desire for recognition, power, and earthly gain.
The missionary who lives in humble service to Jesus and to the people whom s/he has been called to love has truly been set free to fulfill his/her calling, faithfully and joyfully, glorifying God continually through a daily commitment to relinquishment, having abandoned all except that which Jesus desires. The preparation, then, is a process, and the process a sanctification, and the sanctification a love offering to Jesus and our neighbor.