The High Calling of Being a Missionary :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

The High Calling of Being a Missionary

Alan Patterson
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These are words I heard many times from Dr. Dreisbach, my mentor at GFA and the missionary hero of numerous missionaries and hundreds of God’s people. No one who knew him questioned the reality of his passion. While he loved reading about missionaries from every era and in every kind of setting, he made it perfectly clear that his own missionary hero was David Livingstone, a man of great conviction, compassion, and deep love for the lost.

Say rather it is a privilege

To Livingstone it was almost sacrilegious to talk about missionary “sacrifice,” for in his estimation missionary service was the highest earthly honor. He argued, “If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?” He elaborates on his view of missionary service:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.[1]

If you knew the satisfaction ... you would have no hesitation in embracing it

Livingstone was sometimes challenged about the wisdom of his living such a rugged missionary life. To those who questioned he answered: “If you knew the satisfaction of performing such a duty, as well as the gratitude to God which the missionary must always feel, in being chosen for so noble, so sacred a calling, you would have no hesitation in embracing it.”[2]

The worth of souls, the pleasure of the work itself, and the increase of the Redeemer’s kingdom are motives sufficient

Livingstone was not the first to have this high view. He followed in the footsteps of William Carey, who is considered the father of modern missions. Carey describes his resolve and pleasure in the work, and in words that he wrote early in his ministry when there was “little success”:

I am, notwithstanding the little success we have had, far from being discouraged; and should I never succeed, yet I am resolved in the strength of the Lord Jesus to live and die persisting in this work, and never to give it up but with my liberty or life. The worth of souls, the pleasure of the work itself, and above all the increase of the Redeemer’s kingdom are with me motives sufficient, and more than sufficient to determine me to die in the work that I have undertaken.[3]

She had it in her heart to do something for the heathen

Missionary men reveled in the honor of serving the King of Kings, and missionary women also shared this view. Harriet Newell and her husband, Samuel, joined the Judsons as America’s first official foreign missionaries. Harriet was the first to die on the foreign field, passing into glory on the Isle of France at the age of 19. Her husband wrote back a message for her mother about how Harriet looked upon her calling as she was dying: “Tell her that dear Harriet never repented of any sacrifice she had made for Christ; that on her dying bed she was comforted with the thought of having had it in her heart to do something for the heathen, though God had seen fit to take her away before we entered on our work.”[4]

My highest desires gratified

Ann Judson and Harriet Newell were close friends, and they shared the vision of finding the richest enjoyment in life from being a missionary. Ann wrote: “Oh, if it may please the dear Redeemer to make me instrumental of leading some of the females of Burmah to a saving acquaintance with Him, my great object will be accomplished, my highest desires gratified, I shall rejoice to have relinquished my comforts, my country, and my home.”[5]  

I cannot thank Him enough for the honour

Like Harriett and Ann, Mary Slessor extolled the missionary life. Writing near the end of her amazing ministry in west Africa, she exclaimed: “Mine has been such a joyous service. God has been good to me, letting me serve Him in this humble way. I cannot thank Him enough for the honour He conferred upon me when He sent me to the Dark Continent.”[6]

God had an Only Son, and He was sent to the habitable parts of the earth as a missionary physician

Livingstone’s view of the missionary role was not his alone. All those called of God in this special way are part of that privileged multitude. To cement his conviction that it was the greatest possible honor to be a missionary, Livingstone often focused on the truth of Jesus’ role in coming to earth. He marveled that God sent His own Son as a missionary: “It is something to be a missionary. The great and terrible God, before whom angels veil their faces, had an Only Son, and He was sent to the habitable parts of the earth as a missionary physician.”[7]

I was a missionary!

Reader, what is your view of being a missionary? Livingstone considered it an “unspeakable mercy to be permitted to engage in this most holy and honorable work.”[8] Who can doubt that now in heaven all these men and women, along with a myriad of others, glory in this thought—“I was a missionary!”

Will you join their ranks?


[1] W. Garden Blaikie, The Personal Life of David Livingstone (Barbour and Company: Westwood, New Jersey, 1986), 243.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Terry G. Carter, The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey (Smyth and Helwys: Macon, Georgia, 2000), 69.  

[4] Harriet Newell. The Life and Writings of Mrs. Harriet Newell. Rev. ed. (American Sunday School Union: Philadelphia, 1831), 246.

[5] Arabella Stuart, The Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons (Particular Baptist Press: Springfield, Missouri, 1999), 30.

[6] W. P. Livingstone, Mary Slessor of Calabar (Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1917), 322.

[7] Blaikie, 493.

[8] Blaikie, 154.