The Secret Life of the Cross-Cultural Missionary
Adam Gabriel Cavalier currently serves as cross-cultural worker in southeast Asia. He holds a Masters of Theology (ThM) in pastoral ministries from Dallas Theological Seminary. His ministry focus is college students and young professionals, and he has a deep passion for historical theology. His blog, www.fromcajuntoasian.
blogspot.com, is filled with his thoughts on what he’s reading to what’s current in culture, society, and theology alike.
With an empty, oversized black duffle bag and an envelope full of foreign currency, I found myself a bit surprised at how far I was from the solace and cheer of home. I was waiting in a public place ready to receive a load of illegal contraband from a complete stranger I had only heard about from a friend. On the one hand, I felt the thrill and excitement of the potential danger of a Jason Bourne lifestyle (minus the wit and brilliance in close-combat training). On the other hand, I felt nervous and apprehensive, like a jittery patient in a dentist’s waiting room.
I was waiting for Bibles. The distribution of Bibles is illegal where I live (at least Bibles that don’t match the difficult to understand, more palatable, government sanctioned translation). Can you imagine that for a second? It puts the battle for things like prayer in public schools into perspective.
Many people believe the age of the life-long, cross-cultural missionary is dead. I wholeheartedly disagree. With the rise of modern technology and short-term trips, this trend has caused some to think the long-term, sold-out, cross-cultural missionary is obsolete and passé. Certainly, it has changed the dynamics of the process (missionaries being able to return home once a year, regularly contact family, etc.), but it is absolutely not dead and gone.
In the contemporary evangelical church, we are encouraged to go (cross-culturally) when we read books like Radical or Let the Nations Be Glad. Hopefully, many pastors and church leaders will encourage you to go. But many people want you to stay. We are called to go where we are not welcome and not to expect or demand a pat on the back (Col. 3:23-24).
Cross-cultural missionaries that live in closed countries are not seen by the church. Without improperly glorifying the lifestyle or being self-serving, the cross-cultural missionaries are the “Navy Seals” of the church. They are small in numbers and do some of the most difficult and important work imaginable in the church. And it is all done without much individual publicity.
I guess one of the glaring differences, though, is that we aren’t super-Christians. There is nothing fundamentally extraordinary about us. We are just normal people. Many don’t have seminary degrees or extensive theological training. You hear a lot about us but never hear from us. This is due, in part, to security issues.
There are no “celebrity” cross-cultural missionaries. You may know a missionary or two from your home church that serves in a closed country. But I bet you a nickel that you can’t name me the author of a book who currently serves full-time in a closed country. Or an active blogger. Or a person whose podcast you listen to. When something big happens, there are books and fanfare, but that is always years after the fact.
The overwhelming majority of gospel-centered labor is hard work and grinding. This, however, doesn’t make it any less sweet. When comfort is minimized, joy in the Lord is maximized. You could go so far as to say that cross-cultural missionaries are simply pleasure seekers (somewhere I hear John Piper saying, “Amen!”).
2 Biggest Obstacles
Well-minded evangelicals typically dismiss cross-cultural missions as a reality when they think of some seemingly unconquerable roadblocks. Just as quickly as the thought enters, the thought is dismissed due to the two following reasons:
- Family - I’m not sure if I can directly speak to your situation, but let me appeal to a greater authority than I. Jesus once scandalously said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). I don’t mean to be unnecessarily provocative or offensive, but sometimes we need to refrain from the automatic tendency to neuter Jesus’ intentionally shocking statements. I’m not suggesting you ignore the wisdom of your God-given family members, but if you believe Jesus is wooing you to the joyous labor of the foreign field, listen to His voice above all others.
- Finances - I’ve always heard, if you really want to see what someone values, start looking at where they spend their money. In our world, money is king. My high school social studies teacher used to always say, “Money is power and power is money.” I’m not sure I always knew what he meant, but the older I get, the more wisdom I see in that short quip. Friend, do you really believe God is not in control of finances?
2 Biggest Motivators
- The glory of God - Our primary motivator should be the eternal weight of God’s glory amidst the nations. If this is His primary concern, it should be ours too (Ezek. 36:22-23).
- The sobering reality of the state of unconverted man - People right now really don’t have a relationship with God, and some people really will go to hell. And they will stay there forever in eternal, unfathomable sorrow. I’m not sure we fully understand that. My tendency is to want to put this one first, but that misses the whole point.
There’s a saying that if you drop a frog in boiling water, he will jump out. But if you put him in and slowly heat the water, he will stay there until he dies. The issue for believers will not likely be heinous, public sin. It will be gradually deviating from the course God has laid out for us.
All too often, we treasure our comforts above God’s purpose for our lives and we measure our effectiveness in God’s kingdom by how much praise we receive for doing our work. Seek His presence and approval over all things in life. If heaven is really eternal and ineffably glorious, the comforts of this world will be drastically thrust into proper perspective.
Yes, there will be a time when the honeymoon phase has ended. Funny foods will still be there. Everyone looking different and not speaking English will get old. Missing your family back home never gets any easier. But seeing people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ is well worth it. And more importantly, suffering through it and having Christ as your only treasure makes it all worth it.