I posted the following at FoolishBlog tonight and thought I would post it here, too. The first paragraph is a bit redundant after what I shared here a few days ago, but the rest of it isn't. We title our posts over at FoolishBlog. I entitled this one "No Glamour Here."
I recently returned from a nine-day trip to Uganda, East Africa. I was invited by fresh-off-the-boat missionary Shannon Hurley of Sufficiency of Scripture Ministries to help teach at a training conference for church leaders. Because God is an incredible and gracious orchestrator of our lives, I was also blessed to be able to visit the Amani Baby Cottage, the orphanage that my wife and I are currently adopting from. If you're interested in more about the trip as a whole, you can read more about it here. For now, though, I'm interested in talking about just one aspect of the trip.
When I arrived, the missionaries I was serving alongside had been living in Uganda for less than two weeks. They weren't on their feet, they didn't know the culture, and they were still wrestling through all the transitional issues. Their forty-foot long container with all their possessions in it was still sitting on the Indian Ocean in Mombasa, Kenya; their new African food was still sitting in their stomachs attempting to wiggle its way through their American digestive tracts; and their vehicles were still sitting at a car dealership outside the capital city of Kampala waiting to be serviced by car salesmen who were trying to frustrate them into throwing money at the "problem." I'm not exaggerating any of this. And I could go on: families throwing up all night (and losing it out the back end when they weren't losing it out the front end), newly-bought vehicles breaking down, child safety seats (with children in them) slamming into the seats in front of them because of defective van seating, electricity going out every other night from 7:00-10:00pm, questionable businessmen charging thousands of dollars more than what was originally claimed, DSL costing fifteen times what it costs in the U.S., and language barriers that are low enough to toss simple English words over them but high enough to barricade you from any meaningful communication. And all of this while bearing the weight of providing for orphans, training pastors, loving and leading and protecting your family, adjusting to a ministry team, getting to know the nationals, stepping into a wonderfully diverse yet completely different church, leaving your own culture and all you've ever known as "normal," and tossing your life into the arms of God with a sure yet trembling hope that He will never leave you nor forsake you.
There is no glamour here.
I'm afraid that foreign missions, especially in third-world countries, is viewed by the average American Christian as glamorous. We read biographies of heroic missionaries, drooling over the trophies but ignoring the tears. We sing the praises of the Adoniram Judson's and the David Brainerd's and the Jim Elliot's and convince ourselves that being a missionary means hearing the same praises we're singing. We're not sure we want to give up what William Carey gave up, but we'd sure like to see our own biography on other people's shelves. We suffer from Missionary Hero Syndrome, and we suffer by choice.
Dictionary.com tells me that "glamour" is "an air of compelling charm, romance, and excitement, especially when delusively alluring." Indeed, with regard to missions, we are often delusively allured. We think of Africa and we think of cute black kids, viewing elephants and lions from the safety of a Land Rover, and long colorful robes. I love those things about Africa, and I think they're wonderful gifts from God. But that's not missions.
Jonah wasn't comfortable in Nineveh, Paul wasn't welcome in Lystra, and Jesus wasn't at home in Nazareth. When these men left home, they were embarking on an adventure that was risky and perilous and adventurous but was by no means glamorous.
I think that if I understood foreign missions better, I would pray more fervently for our missionaries, give more sacrificially to the cause of Christ both here and abroad, count the cost of true daily discipleship with more accurate calculations, and be more honest with my own sinful and lie-believing desires for Christian heroism.
Uganda is not Utopia. I loved it there, but the transition I watched the missionaries make wasn't easy. And it's not going to be easy. The fact that it was hard isn't wrong. It's reality. For first-world Christians to realize that would do a world of good for the cause of missions abroad and evangelism at home.
We do not do missions to get glamour but to give grace. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."