Another article on this practical and valuable series on missionary life, with principles which extend beyond the confines of only those who go forth to distant shores.
When God has confirmed His call to you, your assembly has commended you and the workers on the field have extended their welcome to you, the final preparations must be made. Days are often full, but there are a number of tests that God may allow you to pass through.
The Test of Delays
There are few countries today that rush to receive missionaries. Often, visas are required and sometimes a long wait of many months intervenes with frustrating delays that seem to increase by the day. Political instability, bureaucratic inertia and entrenched corruption in the foreign land can be responsible for these delays. One can only be cast upon God to sort out the details in His own time. He always has reasons for delays, even if we cannot now perceive them. And there will always be work to continue doing at home until the way opens up to go.
The Test of Family Ties
Not all parents, even believing parents, are willing to part with their offspring. Fathers and mothers may have already formulated their own tidy plans for their children and the futures. Such plans or hopes are not necessarily unspiritual, for most would wish their children to grow in God’s ways and be useful for the Lord. What is at issue is the cost to parents of relinquishing their claim to their loved ones. There may be a family business that the father had hopes of keeping as such. “Would you not think of staying at home, son, and serving the Lord here? You are going to be greatly missed in the assembly too.” No mother relishes the thoughts of her children moving far from home and some may battle with self-pity: “I won’t be able to see the grandchildren grow up. And there will be nobody to care for me when I am older”. Even without words, a look can say it all.
Thankfully, there are other parents who feel the loss just as keenly but who have a joy in their hearts that God has saved, kept, called and directed their children. They are glad to give back to God, as Hannah did, those He so graciously gave to them. Through the tears and heartache of the final farewells, they too share in the deep settled peace of submission to the Father’s will.
The Test of Being Misunderstood
Colleagues at work may question your sanity “Why forsake the security of a good job with prospects of promotion and a higher wage for the uncertainty of living by faith? Why leave home comforts and expose your wife and children to all the dangers and risks of a foreign land?” Most would not question a business executive moving himself and his family to another land where there is a prospect of greater riches. Such is the inconsistency of a worldly view. There is always spiritual treasure wherever God leads and whenever eternal investments are made. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (Elliot).
At last the date is set, the tickets purchased, the cases packed, and the final preparations have been made. God has removed any barriers, given grace to family and friends and given you a boldness to testify to the skeptical that there is joy in obedience. There is no safer place than the center of His will and “God is ready to assume responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him” (Andrew Murray).
It is of great importance that your own elders have already been in touch with those on the field and that there is a wholehearted commendation to the Lord and the word of His grace. The situation is somewhat different if you are moving out to a land where there are no other assembly missionaries but the same public commendation is necessary. Often, a special assembly meeting is arranged to officially bid you farewell.
There will be many other meetings as other assemblies express an interest in hearing of your call and exercise before you go. One of the hardest things is to bid farewell to aged or infirm family members. You cannot help but wonder if you are exchanging the words to one another for the last time upon earth.
An airport lounge rather than a dockside is usually the venue for departures these days. Poignant are the last moments together. With modern travel there are only a few hours between leaving the homeland and arriving on the field. It can almost seem unreal.
How reassuring it is to receive a genuinely warm welcome and the care and counsel of those with whom you will labor. They may have gone out of their way to make room for you in their own home or arrange for a place of your own. We should not overlook that some pioneers must arrive alone in a new land with no welcoming handshake to greet them, but whatever the case, the first few hours, days and weeks are memorable ones. Everything will seem so different even if you had been able to make a short visit previously. Many adjustments will need to be made and things are never as you imagined them to be. The different sights, sounds, smells and tastes can all be a challenge to your system. A strong stomach and a sense of humor help.
We rejoice in the bonds of love that bind together believers from all over the world. Although you may be a newcomer, you immediately feel at home amongst the local believers. You will learn much from them in the days ahead but initially there is a frustrating communication barrier if only the gift of tongues was still operative!