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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Myths Regarding Missions 4 The myth of the spiritual missionary

We have placed the missionary on a pedestal. We have admired his zeal, his courage, his dedication, and his humility. We have praised him for his spirit of sacrifice, his sense of duty, his willingness to take joyfully the spoiling of his goods and the destruction of his property. And the ultimate in self-sacrifice was his willingness to part with his children at the tender age of six in order to pursue a missionary career. To cap it all he lived by faith, looking to the Lord alone for the supply of his daily needs; and he did all this quietly and joyfully with no thought of reward.

We took for granted that anyone who could do all these things must be a spiritual giant. He must live always in fellowship with God. Prayer must indeed be his vital breath, his native air. Surely he must have achieved such a high degree of personal holiness as to be beyond the temptations that assail the common Christian. He must long since have gained the victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. Such a person, we concluded, must be a saint.

Well, we were wrong, and the missionary would be the first to acknowledge the fact. There were, and are, spiritual giants among them, but the average missionary is a man of like passions with ourselves (Ja 5:17). He is fashioned from the same clay and he, like us, has the treasure of the gospel in an earthen vessel (2 Co 4:7). He may have a heart of gold, but he has feet of clay. When he lets his hair down he looks very much like the rest of us.

He is basically a spiritual man, but he has his full share of idiosyncrasies. He has his headaches and his hang-ups, his blind spots and his pet peeves, his prejudices and his passions. He even has his doubts and fears. Touch him and he’s touchy. Cross him and he gets cross. There are limits to his endurance. He has cracked up physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually and has had to come home to an unsympathetic constituency devoid of understanding.

He has been known to fall into sin, including adultery, homosexuality, and suicide. Not all missionaries are happily married; they have domestic problems. Not all MKs turn out well. Some of them go astray. Some resent the fact that their parents are missionaries. Some become rebellious and join the hippies. A few have been known to end up as agnostics or alcoholics.

The missionary, like the apostle Paul, lives by the grace of God (1 Co 15:10) and cherishes the hope that by a process of divine alchemy the infirmities of his flesh will become an occasion for the manifestation of the power of Christ (2 Co 12:9). In and of himself he can do nothing (Jn 15:5). With and through Christ he can do all things (Ph 4:13). Others may have illusions about the missionary; he has none about himself. He understands all too well the truth of those lines by Henry Twells:

O Savior Christ, our woes dispel;

For some are sick, and some are sad,

And some have never loved Thee well,

And some have lost the love they had.

And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,

For none are wholly free from sin;

And they who fain would serve Thee best Are conscious most of wrong within.

J. Herbert Kane, The Making of a Missionary

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