Or both. Even the Apostle Paul had his days of discouragement, despair and failure. Just read his letters. A sign of growth for a believer is living like a missionary more days than you live like an imposter.
One of the great things about being around Christian mission work — or a good church, for that matter — is associating with people who are more faithful, more committed and more passionate about serving God than you are. They are a “cloud of witnesses,” as Hebrews 12:1 describes the saints of old, who motivate the rest of us to pursue a higher calling.
Anna, a 98-year-old lady in my church, participates in multiple ministries during a typical week. Recently she spoke at a women’s detention facility and 14 inmates gave their lives to Christ. Anna has a great sense of humor, too. No one can top that! But we can listen to her wisdom, learn from her life and follow her example with God’s help.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, faithful is as faithful does.
Sometimes being faithful to God means being too stubborn to quit in the face of indifference, inertia, bureaucracy and human nature. Medical missionary Jennifer Myhre calls it “push.” Anyone working outside the developed world will instantly recognize what she’s talking about. “Cope vs. Hope,” an excerpt from Myhre’s blog, appeared in the April 24 issue of WORLD magazine (http://www.worldmag.com/articles/16626).
“Much of life as a missionary and a physician in a rural, poor, marginal and probably corrupt place involves push,” writes Myhre, who serves with an evangelical mission at a hospital in Uganda. “By this I mean the extra effort required to make the system work the way it should. One could simply go to the hospital, do what one can do and throw up one’s hands about the rest. Which is, after many years of stress and defeat, the passive way that many of our colleagues cope. And me too, some days.
“But not today. As soon as I walked on the ward, I found out that my newest admission had died at 2 a.m. This was an extremely ill child with sickle cell disease and severe acute malnutrition, who had come on death’s doorstep. Worrisome, but we’ve seen many similar kids revive. Only this time, the person who promised to bring the blood needed for transfusion never showed up, and no one noticed or did anything about it. I called him today, and he said the district had refused to pay for his transport, because all its funds were frozen due to failure of our entire district to pay taxes for who-knows-how-many years (and who-knows-where that money went).”
She could have cried, yelled at the people who let the child die, or raged against the machine in general. Maybe she did all of those. But she didn’t quit. She got on the phone to cajole, beg and plead with various officials (already overwhelmed with other issues) to fix the blood transport system — at least for the next delivery.
Meanwhile, another child arrived mid-morning with severe malaria and sickle cell disease, needing a blood transfusion. But the child survived the day and even sat up after receiving a liter of IV fluid. Another kid in the ward, a 5-year-old with tuberculosis, smiled and chased a ball after a week of therapy. Twins, and an abandoned 1-year-old girl whose mother was convinced to return for her, went home healthy.
“Very little of my effort today involved specific medical knowledge,” Myhre admits. It involved a few basic resources — and a lot of determination. “People who work in settings like this need prayer support, to not give up, to believe that a little more push is worth it. I know I do.”
Reminds me of Tom Thurman, perhaps the greatest missionary I have known. He carried other people’s suitcases and called himself a “barefoot boy from Mississippi.” But Tom and his wife, Gloria, spent more than 30 years loving and serving the people of Bangladesh — years that included massive cyclones, famine, civil war, the bloody birth of a nation, more human suffering than most can imagine.
“One of the beautiful things is the resilience of the people here,” Tom once said, looking out over the Ganges at dusk. “They just keep trying, against all kinds of odds — winds, storms, cyclones, floods. A farmer will lose everything he has and say, ‘Well, maybe it will be better next year,’ and plant again. … We’ve just walked along the road with them and helped them carry their burdens.”
A close Bangladeshi friend once walked with Tom for many hours on a ministry errand. Looking down, he noticed the missionary’s shoes were bloody. Tom just kept walking.
That, friend, is push.