Sunday, January 23, 2011

Job Description of a Missionary

Men seem to be happiest when they get to follow their passion in life and devote their entire career toward that end. This doesn't always happen, and sometimes we have to learn to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves in, but I rejoice in knowing that my husband is able to dedicate his life's work to doing what he is best suited for, and he is truly happy with the job that God has given him to do.

Many people don't really understand what a missionary does. Often when the Spanish people ask what we are doing here, if you answer "we are missionaries" it brings a blank stare and perhaps a bit of misunderstanding. Most of the time I just answer that my husband is a pastor of an evangelical Baptist church here in Tenerife--if you say that then they have a little more sense of where you are coming from. Most of them have never heard of "Baptists" either--that is why we throw in the term evangelical, because they probably have heard that term before--in their minds most religions fall into two categories--catholic or evangelicals, which can include all types, unfortunately even cults.

So what exactly does a missionary do? I have come up with a few "job descriptions" that I can apply to my husband's work.

First of all, he is a fisherman. Jesus said "come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." When you come to a foreign field, after you learn the language and a bit of the culture, you start "fishing." A good fisherman knows where the fish are biting, what time of day to go out, what type of bait is effective with the type of fish he is trying to catch, etc. Sometimes you can toil all day and not catch any fish. You can't let this discourage you, as if you keep at it diligiently, eventually you will bring in a harvest, as God's word will not return void.

Many times, a missionary is a linguist/translator. He must learn languages, dialects, etc. and learn to effectively communicate with the people where he is called. Often missionaries go into regions that don't have the Bible or gospel literature translated into their native tongue. This requires a lot of patience. If you have studied a foreign language you can appreciate the hard work and hours of study that this involves. It can be very frustrating too, as often we struggle to put into words what we are feeling but don't have the vocabulary to express ourselves.

A missionary is a teacher. He trains others for the work of the ministry to be carried out among their own people. My husband loves to study the Bible and share what he is learning with others. He really gets excited about what God is teaching him and it gives him great joy to share that knowledge with others.

A missionary is a shepherd. He watches over the flock that God has given him, protecting them from wolves that would destroy them, directing and gently leading them into the best pastures where they can grow and prosper.

A good shepherd is a counsellor, servant, and friend. My husband spends many hours of his week talking with people who need help. Some are trying to overcome addictions, dealing with marriages that are failing, have financial burdens or are discouraged because they have no work, or perhaps they are physically sick and want prayer. People call and want someone who will listen to them. They need to know that their pastor cares and is someone they can confide in. The old adage is true, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Nationals will be suspicious of you as a foreigner, and it takes time to build their trust and respect.

A missionary is a builder. One purpose of a missionary is to start churches, and this may include building a physical building to meet in and have worship services. There is a great deal to know about building, especially on foreign soil and dealing with foreign laws and permits. He also is an administrator, and has to oversee the financial apects of the church. Spiritually speaking, he is building lives and administering the true riches of Christ.

Sometimes a missionary/pastor is a judge. He must mediate between brothers or sisters in a church who are at conflict with one another, and try to encourage them to settle their differences in a scriptural and peaceful manner. He must be impartial, and not listen to gossip, but direct them into reconciliation with God and each other. So often people want to tell us negative things about other people in the church, and my husband has to tell them to go directly to that person and try to settle the issue first, following a Matthew 18 principle.

Lastly, (I like this one best), a missionary is an ambassador for Christ. Maybe it makes me feel important ; ) but we represent the King of Kings here on earth. Every believer has this calling, and it is our duty to represent our Lord in a way that brings honor and glory to His kingdom. Everything we do and say is being watched by a world that doesn't know our God. We must endeavor to let them see God in us.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Does Forgiveness Have to Forget?

I have heard the cliche "forgive and forget." Sometimes I wish it was that easy. Sometimes I wish we could have selective amnesia--because part of the difficulty we face in forgiving others is releasing the anger, hurt, and betrayal we feel because of past wrongs they have done us. We like to nurse our wounds, and sometimes even use our hurt feelings as a way to manipulate another person by trying to make them feel guilty for the suffering they have caused us.

In the ministry, there will be ample opportunities to exercise forgiveness. We don't expect our fellow brothers or sisters to "hurt" us, whether intentional, or unintentional. Or perhaps you have been helping someone, bending over backwards to minister to them, and all of the sudden they just disappear from your life--or decide to attend a different church where "their needs are better met." This can really hurt if you don't keep your heart in the right place and learn to forgive.

If we are in Christ, God promises to remember our iniquities no more, and cast them into the depths of the sea. But He is God and we are human. I personally don't believe you have to "forget" to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice you will have to make, and continue to make when your feelings don't agree with your deliberate choice to forgive. We will be tempted to dig up the past, recall past injustices, and relive situations that have caused us pain. Forgiveness is a decision we make, but healing and restoration can be a process.

Over 20 years ago, I struggled for two years forgiving a person who had spoken publicly against my husband and his ministry, all of it untrue. Every day I would wake up with bitter feelings against this person, and would have to pray and ask God to help me forgive them. I don't know why I let it bother me so, but it seemed to be the focus of my attention. This man never asked for forgiveness; perhaps he never realized himself the hurt he caused my husband or us, his family.

It took a few years, but I can honestly say I hold no ill will towards him today. Every day for a few years though, I had to continually practice the act of forgiveness. When I was tempted to be angry or hold a grudge, I would tell the Lord about it and ask Him to help me forgive. I would quote scripture about forgiveness. Eventually the anger and pain subsided, and healed completely.

Realizing how imperfect I am, and how much the Lord has forgiven me, helps remind me that I need to forgive others as well.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up."

I don't know who said this, but there is an element of truth in it. As we begin a new year, I am reminded in my Bible reading to "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before," Philippians 3: 13

We can learn from the past, but there is a point where you have to quit dwelling on it. We often look back and wish we could do things over again, but we can't. Of course we have regrets.....if only I had done this, things would have turned out differently. That is where we have to come to terms with the decisions that we have made in the past, and trust God to work them out for good. Sorrow is not productive and will only drag us down.

Worrying is not trusting God with your situation and not believing that He cares for you, promising to meet every need. We are commanded to cast our cares upon Him. When you are tempted to worry, turn it into prayer and supplication.

Worry cares what other people think. We often spend energy worrying about what others will think about us if we step out in faith and do what God commands us to do. It might not be a popular decision. Sometimes it even goes against what our social circles expect. If you live your life worrying about what others think you will never have the freedom to obey God fully.

Worry also lives in the world of "what if." What if this happens......My dad always cautioned me not to worry about the "what ifs" in life that will probably never happen. As a little girl, I worried our house would burn up in the middle of the night, or a tornado would hit us. I worried that I would go blind after watching a movie about Helen Keller. I had a wild imagination, and even now as an adult, as I get older I find myself worrying about the future, such as getting sick with cancer, losing a loved one, etc.

While those things do happen to people in real life, we have to trust that God will give us the grace to face the specific trial when we need it, and only then. We have to trust that the same God who brought us through all the yesterdays will give us the grace to face all the trials in our tomorrows. That is faith that looks up. It also includes hope. We have the promise that God will never leave or or forsake us. He will never give us more than we can handle, although at times we seem to collapse under the weight of our burdens. His grace is sufficient.