Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reflections: Respect for a Fallen Comrade

Yesterday I read about a colleague who passed away in Ethiopia of malaria.  Though I didn’t personally know him I had heard of him, first, as a missionary in South Africa and more recently his plans to serve in South Sudan.  His death hits close to home as we share similar experiences.

Malaria is one of those viruses that have consequences like having a bad flu.  A mild case makes you feel terribly uncomfortable, burning up with high fever yet with chills, or, as in this case, can kill you.  I’ve known several East African missionaries who have contacted malaria and many of my Kenyan friends have died of complications of malaria.   I have been hospitalized twice with the bacterial virus caused by mosquitoes.   When I heard this morning that he was very ill I could empathize. 

This colleague was one of those guys who, evidently, weren’t content with status quo, and adventure, which is common among many of missionaries who work on the African continent.  With an open door of working in the newly formed country of South Sudan, this brother was looking for new frontiers.  One can only admire such a spirit.  In an age when career missionaries from the West are fewer than anytime in modern missions, we all feel a loss of great magnitude. 

Rex was 61 years old, just a few years younger than myself.  At that age one thinks, not about retirement, but how many more years you have left before the inevitability of a decaying body can withstand the rigors of working overseas.  The end of Rex’s journey came sooner than he expected, and causes those still in the trenches if we will finish the race in old age or go out while still actively doing the things we love for the One whom we love. 

My heart goes out to Rex’s wife and family.  The loss is only tempered with the assurance that the God he served, for whatever reason, took him in according to His purpose.  For those who serve our Lord on a foreign field there is a bit of admiration for guys like Rex.  We all know the dangers of disease, conflict and persecution, and we know, too, that risk management is a thing we should pay attention to but there are neither guarantees nor avoidance of danger.

Words of consolation are futile at this point.  But my respect for Rex and many more just like him is immeasurable.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Is There A Special Call To Missions?

People seeking God’s will for their lives often ask, “How does one really know for sure if God is calling them into His service?”  The short answer is, “I don’t know?”  As I review those early years of my journey, it seems to be more of an accident than a well thought out plan.  However, I believe the principles regarding how God uses a person, whether they are in the ministry or not, are consistent.

The first principle is that you must surrender to God’s leading in your life and love Him with all your might (Mt. 22:37).  Though I fell into my career path by default and decree from my pastor, my heart was in the right place.  I gave my heart to Christ years ago as a kid at Vacation Bible School, and that salvation experience was real.  Though I had lived the life of a prodigal, I never doubted that I was child of God—not even when I openly denied Him.  In my deepest moments of despair and debauchery, I had a secret longing to return to the One who loved me and gave Himself for me.  My resignation to giving my life completely over to him that February night was genuine.  Had I become a football coach (which was actually my lifelong dream), a farmer, or a clerk in a store, my life would have been just as fulfilling because I was committed to Him.  I have never believed that being in ministry was a supreme calling—noble, yes, but no nobler than any other career where one is doing what God has gifted them to do. 

There are some in the church who insist that there is a special call into ministry, and they use Bible personalities from Abraham to the Apostle Paul as their proof-texts.  I concede that God did, and probably still does in rare cases, call out people for special tasks.  I do not believe, however, that a special call is a pre-requisite for all who enter fulltime service.  One needs to be gifted for any task they pursue; but God’s special hand is not on every pastor, missionary, or evangelist.

The ministry has always been on a volunteer basis.  Most who volunteer are people with a deep desire to give their life to Christ to such an extent that they take on ministry as a career (1Tim. 3:1).  To seek a career in ministry, rather than being called to be a pastor, youth director, professor of Greek, or missionary, is not demeaning; in fact, it is pleasing to the Father that His children, through their own free will, desire to serve Him.  

In many ways, the teaching of “a special call for ministry” has been harmful to the church.  Some have abused the call by assuming a position that is not to be challenged--all the while claiming they are chosen by God.  The church would be better served if we abandoned the notion of the call and just accept it for what it is: a profession born out of a desire to serve Him.

(Excerpts from The Journey of a Post Modern Missionary now available on Kindle.