Trouble That Goes with Us to the Mission Field :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Trouble That Goes with Us to the Mission Field

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What should I pack? Twelve bags later, my husband must have thought that we could and probably should revisit that question (though he graciously never voiced this). After watching my husband and our traveling companions wrangle those bags through airport security and customs, I wondered about my choices. I am a “baby missionary”; I haven’t even been on the field for a full twelve months. Hopefully, I’ll learn to pack better for our future travels!

There’s one thing I wish I could have left behind. It wasn’t on my packing list, but it managed to travel across the ocean with me. I didn’t stuff it in any of my bags, but it stuck close beside me all the way through security, customs, flight changes, and the transition to our new home. 

This item has caused so much grief and trouble. It has affected my fellowship with the Lord, my marriage, my parenting, my ministries, my friendships, and my outreach opportunities. What am I talking about? My sinful flesh.

“Aren’t missionaries beyond the common struggles with their flesh?”

“Sure, missionaries aren’t perfect, but their flesh shouldn’t bother them much.”

“Surely, if I become a missionary, my flesh will become more sanctified.” 

Let me tell you the truth. Yes, I went from “normal, ordinary Christian” to “missionary deputee” to “missionary.” My “titles” changed, but I did not change. When I stepped off the airplane into a world of unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, those new things did not change my flesh. I was the same me. 

In fact, if anything, the different, the strange, and the unusual have the potential to irritate and stir up my flesh in new ways.

In America, I struggled with oversensitivity to what people thought. I now live in the middle of a very relational culture. Personal interactions that would be “no big deal” in America are significant here. It’s really easy to read into things and get offended… or cause offense!

In America, I struggled with giving the Gospel faithfully to unsaved people around me. Now I am in the middle of a religious culture that I do not understand; there is enormous potential for miscommunication. The political situation here is hostile to missionaries, and the opportunities are limited in this sensitive context. How do you think my flesh naturally responds to that?

In America, I struggled with “time-wasters” (entertainment and social media). Here the temptation is much stronger. All day long, I am confronted with the unfamiliar and exhausting, and it’s such a relief to look at something familiar. It’s easy to lose track of time when I “take a break.” 

I could keep going, but I think you probably get the point!

Yes, even as a missionary, I live with an enemy inside me. A traitor who will never repent and change its mind about God and what He says. My flesh “does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7, NASB). 

Why am I sharing this with you? 

1. Think realistically about the mission field.

Are you praying about serving the Lord in this way? Have you thought something like… “If I go, surely I will figure out my spiritual life. Surely, I will no longer face THAT temptation. Missionaries would never face the temptations of a ‘common Christian.’” No, my friend, the mission field will not “fix” you. Don’t come to the mission field because you think that sacrifice will convert your flesh. A change of scenery will not change you. Confess your sin today (1 John 1:9). Put on the armor of God now (Ephesians 6). Learn to depend on the Spirit (Romans 8).

Perhaps, you are facing a different objection to the mission field. “I am not sure that I am good enough to be a missionary. I am still fighting against temptation every day. I should probably wait until I have conquered my flesh.” My friend, every missionary you know is also fighting temptations. My pastor once said something like, “The problem comes when you STOP fighting.” 

2. Pray realistically for your missionaries.

Please don’t think that we have attained a level of spiritual perfection that soars above common temptations. Please do pray for a faithful time in the Word (Psalm 1:2). Pray for our marriage (Ephesians 5). Pray for our parenting (Ephesians 6). Pray that we would love the people around us (Romans 13:10). Pray that we would work diligently (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Pray that we would reject the unbelieving voice of our flesh (Hebrews 3:12-13). Missionaries face temptations to all kinds of sin—doubting God, selfishness, laziness, lust, anger, gossip, envy, and the list could go on. 

Oh, why couldn’t I leave this traitor behind? Surely, the work here demands a fully perfected, sinless Christian! Why does God allow this troubling enemy to reside in me even as I try to serve Him? Why do I have to keep on fighting and fighting and fighting? Why doesn’t God deliver me now? 

In the words of Paul (the missionary!), “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24, NASB). Perhaps, Paul’s next words give a clue for what the Lord is accomplishing in us as we face temptation. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25, NASB) What a triumphant shout of praise! The victory comes “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What a joy to be compelled to cling closer and closer to the Lord Jesus! Does not our struggle force us to our knees? Don’t we feel our great need for fellowship with Christ through the Word of God? And isn’t the cross of Christ sweeter and more precious to us as we see our sinfulness? In Christ, we have been saved from the penalty of sin. In Christ, we are being saved from the power of sin. Someday we will be delivered from the very presence of sin because Christ has conquered sin and death. Praise the Lord!

3. Understand that consecration is continual, even for the blameless.

Mission boards, sending churches, and prayer warriors have EVERY right to expect that they are sending consecrated men and women to the field. Missionaries ought to be "blameless... vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity... not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:2-6, KJV).

My desire in this article has been to point out that a person with this character and testimony will continue to face temptation. That temptation will not be merely external; something inside us (our flesh!) will argue against the Lord and His Word. This is why GFA strives to know their missionaries well; this is why accountability is crucial. Praise the Lord for a mission board that takes this seriously!