Feeble Knees

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I Love Missionaries

At one point in my church experience, I realized I liked missionaries a whole lot better than most Christians.

There's something about your average, sincere Jesus-loving missionary that I adore. Of those I've had the pleasure to meet, there seems to be a genuineness and authenticity that transcends churchiness. Perhaps its because these people often step out in faith and fly without a proverbial net in the form of a local, established church. They seem to be the sort who don't get caught up in the Western church's tendency to major in the minors. Some can be downright wild and wooly, a characteristic I personally love.

Several times representatives from Wycliffe Bible Translators came to my old church. Now, these were people I could dig. Their whole mission is to go to the far corners of the world and provide translations of the Bible in the language of a particular people so they can read it for themselves. From the Wycliffe FAQ:
Our staff are not pastors; they do not organize large-scale evangelistic meetings or seek to start churches. However, they do review translated Scripture with people as a part of their work, and they often hold Bible studies or teach literacy with Scripture materials as well. God uses these efforts and the witness of translators' lives to bring people to Himself.

In my mind, next to just plain talking about Jesus, this is one of the most beautiful things a person can do. In some areas of the world, Wycliffe translators live in a community for years while they attempt to learn and codify the language of the people. They develop a written alphabet and language for tribal peoples, and teach them how to read and write it. This takes my breath away. It can take ten to twenty years to translate the New Testament. This requires living side by side with these people, daily striving to learn from them in order to give back the greatest gifts imaginable - scripture, literacy and hope. To me, this is how it ought to be done; give someone the Word to read and let them draw their own conclusions.

I guess the thing that makes me really love this whole idea is that they're not just trying to herd a bunch of confused people into a tent, preach stuff at them they don't understand and then slap a conversion brand on them at the first sign of any kind of emotional response. They set out with the understanding that it may take years to see any kind of discernible "fruit". That kind of faith and dedication to a very slow, gradual process floors me. I can't commit to doing anything consistently for more than a few weeks it seems. Yet these folks labor for years, trusting God that their efforts will bring fruit. Contrast that with the last evangelistic outreach you've attended. Perhaps the results of Wycliffe's work are slower to be seen, but I have a hunch they're a heck of a lot more lasting.

By singling out Wycliffe, I don't mean to ignore the efforts of other organizations. I did want to highlight Wycliffe because their particular mission demands a unique amount of patience and faithfulness that seems so absent from Stateside evangelistic efforts.

Reading TulipGirl and JoeMissionary's blogs have reminded me again the deep affection I have for folks who willingly forge out into the wide world to fulfill the Great Commission. Missionaries leave the comforts of home and church to be challenged by unfamiliar cultures and languages. They provide what is needed and often employ great ingenuity to reach the hearts and minds of the community. One missionary I knew who was dispatched to post-war Kosovo was struggling with figuring out how to make herself and her team useful in the midst of total destruction. She rolled up her sleeves and started an effort to help clean up all the rubble and spent mortar shells in her town. The worked just to help make their city livable again, and in so doing help ease some of the horrific memories of destruction and death. I have such a deep respect for that.

In the West, our priorities often get all screwed up. We build big superchurches that require $1000 monthly just to light, because we just have to put in the fancy pretty hanging sconces. We buy multimedia equipment the price of which would feed and immunize child in Africa for a year. I'm not against multimedia or nice-looking church buildings. But I guess that just isn't where my heart is.

Today I am thinking of missionaries everywhere, especially those in South East Asia and praying for them. I'm praying that God protects them and their families physically, spiritually, and emotionally; praying that all their needs are met abundantly; praying that they would be strengthened to the tasks they've been appointed.

I'd been planning to write about missionaries for a couple of days. I note with a bit of amusement that as I set out to write this, Joe's post for the day is Finding the Christmas Booger and TG is rockin' to U2.

You see what I mean about wild and woolly?? I *love* these crazy people.

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