*“You know what I think is wrong here?”
The question startled Ward. He was sitting on the porch of his house looking out at a beautiful view from the top of a hill. He and his visitor both had glasses of iced tea. They had just finished a wonderful meal. He had enjoyed showing his guest, a “retired” missionary, around his station. He didn’t see anything wrong.
“Wrong?” he asked. “I think things are going rather well.”
“Yes, I suppose they are, in a sense.”
Ward had a great deal of respect for his visitor, and wasn’t going to miss out if there was another sense in which things weren’t so good. He smiled. “I’m guessing there’s another sense,” he said.
“Yes, there is. I think, perhaps, you should try to look at this situation through Jesus’s eyes.”
“I thought I had. I’m here far from home, serving people in need, and doing a rather good job of it. I don’t want to boast, but we’re caring for more people, seeing more of the local children in our school, and we have more people in church than we ever did under any of my predecessors at this station.”
“Yes, I saw all that. I read the reports. The mission board likes reports. Actually I don’t have anything against reports myself. It’s just that something about this whole scene seems wrong. I think we need to look at it through Jesus’s eyes.”
“OK, you keep saying that, and I know you wouldn’t say it idly or without having something specific in mind. But you’re going to have to say a few more words. I don’t get it.”
“I’m thinking of John 20:21. ‘Just as the father sent me, I’m sending you.'”
“Yes, but are you forgetting you’re talking to someone who already answered the call to mission service?” Ward couldn’t quite keep the impatience out of his voice.
“Yes, you’re a missionary. But are you going out in the way that Jesus went out?”
“Well, I left my home and gave up a lucrative career. I came over here and gave it all up. I think I’ve been sent.”
“And here you are, suffering for Jesus.” The words had a sharp edge, but the tone was very, very gentle.
“Is it that you think I’m not suffering enough? Do I need more trials and tribulations? What?” Ward again sounded a bit impatient. He felt pretty good about the things he had given up.
“I don’t know about suffering. Willing to suffer, yes. Actual suffering? That’s up to God. But let me give you a few phrases to consider. ‘It was fitting that God … should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings’, ‘all have one Father’, ‘Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,’ ‘like his brothers and sisters in every respect.’ All of those come from Hebrews 2:10-18.”
“I’m familiar with the passage,” said Ward.
“But are you willing to apply it?”
“Again, I think I’m not getting your point.”
“We’re sitting up here on a hill, looking down on the village where the people you serve are living from a nice house. How many of them have the food you have? How many of them can enjoy a relaxing evening like this?”
“I would guess none of them.”
“Your children go to the American school. Your wife drives them 20 miles one way, twice a day. I don’t think I’ve seen them in contact with the local children since I’ve been here.”
“I don’t think it’s wrong to want the best education for my children.”
“No, it’s not wrong. I’m not judging you for any particular thing here. I’m asking you to consider a pattern. How close are you to being ‘just like the brothers and sisters’ you’ve come here to serve?”
“I think I’m pretty close. I don’t think protecting my children from local diseases and bad influences is a bad thing.”
“I suppose there are no bad influences or diseases at the American school in the city. But I’m not certain what your choice should be in each case. It’s the pattern. For another example, I’ve never seen you eat with any of the local people.”
“I do, though not often. My wife would prefer not to.”
“I wonder why that is. But it’s just a piece of the pattern. I wonder what it is that the people here see in your mission. Is it the spirit of Jesus? Is it the call to service? Or is it the benefits of being connected with the American missionary with the nice house?”
“You surely don’t think I should fail to provide what I can manage to provide for the people?”
“I think you’re still missing my point. It’s the pattern. I can’t say precisely what you should or shouldn’t do. What I do see is a pattern that separates you from the people you serve. Rather than helping them also become servants of Jesus, they’re becoming your servants, earning the benefits you can provide.”
“Ward, I’m talking to you this way because I respect you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to report to the mission board that you’re a failure or that you aren’t doing your job. This isn’t about mission boards. It’s between you and me. You’re sent as Jesus was sent. Do you think you have done everything to go out into the field in the way that Jesus went out?”
Ward looked down from the hill toward the village that had gathered around his clinic. Was it possible that he was making disciples for himself, and serving himself, in spite of what he had given up?
“I appreciate your willingness to be honest,” said Ward, and as he said it, he found it was true. “I’ll think and pray about what you’ve said. It bothers me. It seems extreme. But in another sense it rings true.”
“Thinking and praying is all I can ask.”
*This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events are products of my imagination. Copyright © 2010, Henry E. Neufeld