Just when we thought that missioning was all fairytale adventures and warm fuzzy feelings, reality reminds us that there is another side. The character of this breaking-in kingdom, this good story, this freedom tale is humility. But, like most worthwhile things, it comes with a price. Humility is not free, you see.
This reality cuts, it burns, it refines by bringing humility out of weakness. My friend, this being humbled is painful. Not at all like the triumphant tales of Saint George slaying the dragon. One of the hardest things about being a missionary is coming to terms with how incapable we really are and having the world witness that truth.
And, so, you come into a culture that is not your own with intentions to bless, to work, to teach, to rescue because that is your calling. Along the way, you discover that you skipped a vital step, spoke the language incorrectly, missed a cultural cue. Made a mistake. Maybe big. Maybe small.
Suddenly, Lazarus has stopped dancing. In the middle of a beat, right before the apex of the jig, he just turns his head and looks at you with disappointment rolling through his eyes.
‘Live missioning’ you say? I just want to crawl into a hole somewhere and hide.
The brutal truth, if you want it, is that the people you are called to serve with are, well, people too. Even Believers have baggage. The people that you have grown to love can sometimes hurt you. And, sometimes you hurt them. It is the underbelly of ministry. The tale of which we seldom speak. The side that stinks. The reality that drives fairytale seeking servants to pack up and go home.
The truth disturbs, for it is where the dreams of heroes end and the hard, bare bones, ‘grit my teeth through the tears’ begins. This humbling is not easy. This ‘live missioning’ looks nothing like I expected.
We took classes and learned formulas. We studied how to be culturally sensitive learners: the theology of wholistic, humanizing hospitality. But, humility; beautiful, life giving humility comes through pain. Can you still serve a baba (granny) who just called you fat? Can you serve a brother who chastises your attempts to speak his language? Do you have the broken strength of will to serve though you burn with embarrassment?
Throughout the story of the Gospels, this is what draws me to Jesus. This humble servanthood makes me dwell in deep depths because Deity sheds his royal robes and puts on the chains of skin. He limits himself, separates himself, and enters a stinking stable; helpless, naked, dependent, poor. Humility, it seems, costs something regardless of who you are.
Today, I post from Chishenau, Moldova. A spot on the continent of Europe where every kind of vulnerable lives. The addicted. The trafficked. The impoverished. The marginalized. The helpless and the homeless and the hope-less. We are all here.
And, I have a choice. Be discouraged. Be angry. Be bitter. Be stubborn. Be difficult. Or be humbled.
The greatest agent of change that our world will ever know? He was born, not from a place of power, not in a king’s palace, but in a stable, chained to stinking skin. Vulnerable. Like us.
You see, we thought we came to save the world but learned that it is a God-job. We read books to determine excellent missiology but found our self-centered reflections staring back through the mirror. We imagined that God would use us but discovered that He really wanted to transform us. How do you spin that story from newsletters and pulpits and blogs where a $3 donation can save one helpless human? Who wants to hear that today, the missionary’s soul had to gulp a breath of kingdom air to make it through the day?
This is not the stuff of fairytale hero-missionaries. This is not even the stuff of suffering missionary servanthood. This is simply the Gospel exhaling today on a stinking pin-prick of a planet, google-mapped to a pixelized Moldova where a missionary sits on a bench spinning a story.
Until we learn that the broken, victimized, prostituted, addicted, dependent, victims AND victimizers is WE not THEM, God can do very little with us or for us or through us because the story that we tell the world is a myth, at best.
This freedom story out of Egypt, across a desert, through a sea is our story, not just theirs. The sitting in the darkness with blood dripping from the doorway while the death angel passes is our story not only theirs. This vulnerability. It is a WE story.
How much pain do chains of skin bring a king?
How much brokenness can a Jesus-man carry on his back?
So, this is the un-fairytale that we live. Skin does not get prettied up and dance away the night at a ball. Skin takes a look at the rotting flesh, the jaggedy edges of sin, the oozing welts of tightly wound grave clothes, and exhales one final, desperate kingdom-coming breath.
‘LAZARUS come forth.’ And, the dead man does a jig by a bonfire do celebration. His death and his new life, they are born out of pain; vulnerability.
We live out of a core of shared recognition that we are all vulnerable.
We live by remembering our slavery.
We live remembering
Or we die in a fairytale of our own creation.