“…The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;” Matthew 9:37
I am writing this the day after our Mission Conference here in San Cristóbal. It seems a fitting time, while my heart is still full, and feeling challenged to do more for missions this year than I did last year, to write a devotional that has been buried in my heart for several months now.
Last year, an epidemic called Swine Flu swept through the country of México as well as throughout many other countries around the world. January 10-16 has been chosen as National Influenza Vaccination Week, encouraging people to continue vaccinations beyond the holiday season. Whether or not you decide to be vaccinated, the fact still remains: our country has experienced the effects of an epidemic.
The dictionary defines epidemic as widespread, wide-ranging, general, sweeping, prevailing, rampant, prevalent, rife, pandemic The epidemic that weighs heavily on my heart is not in the area of disease. It’s a spiritual epidemic, and I pray that by sharing one of the greatest burdens I have ever felt, you will not only help me to carry my burden, but also someone will be able to help.
I wrote a secret list of seventeen missionaries and their wives, who are no longer on the mission field. They are in the USA, and no longer serve on the field where God called them to serve. These are not missionaries I’ve read about, or heard about. These are people whom I know personally, and whom I love with all my heart. Besides these seventeen couples, another couple who was on deputation, discontinued their preparation, and are in the USA. The husband now works in a secular job. An older couple, still on the mission field, is preparing to return to the USA to head up a missionary training center. They are leaving a large, thriving work in the hands of a younger missionary couple.
Missionaries are dropping like flies all over the world…in epidemic proportion. And it’s breaking my heart. I have put off writing this for a long time, because I never want to judge, or tell people how to run their lives. I would never reveal these names, but I feel at liberty to share some observations about these people.
Causes for leaving the mission field: immorality, returning to USA to pastor churches, family problems, discouragement, following advice received from pastors to discontinue deputation, or to return to head up training center.
Observations: 11 of these 17 missionaries left large, strong works. Four left for purposes of immorality.
As far as I know only one of the seventeen couples is doing deputation, and will soon return to the mission field.
I don’t know if I have ever heard a sermon encouraging “drop-outs” to return to the mission field. We don’t seem too concerned for them. In fact, it is my observation that there is a strong endeavor to encourage these missionaries to pursue ministries in the USA, almost to the extent of feeling a certain pride for “rescuing” those who no longer serve on the foreign field, by placing them in unique ministries which enable them to use knowledge and experience acquired on the mission field. For example, teaching Spanish in a Bible Institute, starting ministries which target ethnic groups from the missionary’s former field.
I pray this prayer every morning for each of these missionaries, as I call them by name: “Lord, help them to return to the mission field where they belong.” I know there are sins we can commit which disqualify us from certain areas in the Lord’s work. We must use extreme discretion, and wisdom in handling disciplining, and I thank the Lord He made me a woman, and has put that task on the shoulders of men. I thank the Lord for pastors who are firm in their stand, and strict in separation and clean living. We should never be guilty of smoothing over sin, as though it only deserved a slap on the hand. Immoral living in the ministry should be dealt with.
But in their zeal to purify the ministry, I fear we are losing quality workers…men and women, and consequently children, who have mastered the language of their field, who have learned customs, and even in some cases, feel more at home on their mission field than in their own native country. I often wonder how many “drop-out” missionaries have children who, if they had continued their service on the mission field, would have children who would someday follow in their parents’ footsteps. What better missionary candidates than those who grew up on the mission field, speaking the foreign language as well as their native language! That’s what happened to me 44 years ago!
I am a missionary. My surrender to the mission field is as personal as my surrender to the Lord when I was saved. I feel highly honored, and at the risk of sounding proud, I consider myself special to have been chosen by the Lord to serve as a missionary. In my way of thinking, it is the highest calling a person can receive.
I often wonder in the early hours of the morning, as I prepare my heart to serve another day on the mission field, “How would I feel if I were suddenly advised to return to the USA to teach in a Bible Institute, or to be dorm mom to college girls? What if someday my children decide I’m too old to function as I did when I was younger? Will health problems ever demand my living out of my beloved home, far, far from my México?”
What an emptiness, what a sadness that brings to my heart, to even contemplate the thoughts of ever, ever leaving the mission field where God called me 44 years ago, and where I have lived for almost 50 years! I believe the Bible teaches “Once saved, always saved.”
And I believe with all my heart, “Once a missionary, always a missionary,” and don’t ever try to convince me otherwise. And my loving advice to you, if a woman even dare to give advice to the man of God is, “Except for immoral issues, don’t ever take a man or woman off the mission field. You can take the boy off the mission field, but you can’t take the mission field out of the boy…nor out of the girl.”
And to you missionaries out there, you know who you are, if you know me. And even maybe others I don’t know, I know you’re not happy. You don’t feel fulfilled, if you were ever really called. No matter how nobly you are serving in the USA, no matter how much the Lord is blessing your ministry, go back…GO BACK…How can you make an appeal to young people to surrender to the mission field, if you have left the one where you left your heart? Do the people you pastor know they’re not your first love? Do they know they were your second choice? You’re not happy, no you’re not!
I sit here writing with a broken heart, and through tears…not as a judge, but as someone who knows you personally. I love you, and as only a friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth: go back…GO BACK! Go back to where God called you. Go back where the blessings are. Let USA pastors train men from their own works to take over their church when they’re gone or too old to pastor. But you go back where you belong, and stay there until God takes you Home.” That’s what Tom Sloan did!...
…and that’s what I plan to do!