Irving Hetherington, Self-Pity and Service

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Founder & Teacher,

Self-pity in suffering is the taste left after your sacrifice goes unadmired. So there are two ways to get rid of it. One is to make sure you get admiration. The other is to make no sacrifices. Or could there be a third way? Like seeing the sacrifice in a new way? I think so.

Take being a pastor, for example. Are there sacrifices? Is there any suffering? Well, that depends. Let me tell you a story that has punched the remaining air out of my moderate self-pity.

Irving Hetherington was born July 23, 1809 in Scotland. He became a preacher in 1835 and felt called to leave Scotland for mission in Australia. But would his fiancée go along? Jessie Carr said, “Where you wish to take me, there I wish to go.” They sailed for Sydney on the John Barry, March 24, 1837, immediately after their wedding.

In the first week of May Jessie got a sore throat, then the dreaded fever. “Have you no fear of death, Jessie?” Irving asked. “No, dear.” “And how is it that you are not afraid to die?” “I have long taken Christ for my portion, and set my hopes on Him.” Irving wept. Jessie died that night and in the morning they “buried” her at sea.

In Sydney alone, Irving Hetherington was assigned to cover a district 50 miles long and 30 miles wide. He rode a horse to his little groups of believers in rain and heat. And when the drought weakened the horse, he would walk. He tried to study on the way and get his sermons ready. Listen to an excerpt from his biography:

One Saturday night he had to walk thirty miles; and, after climbing a hill, and while resting on a log at the summit, the idea of ministers in Scotland complaining of being Mondayish after two services, and without other fatigue, struck him as so ludicrous that he could not help bursting out into a loud “guffaw” of laughter, which sounded strange in the darkness and loneliness of the bush.

What this little story did for me was to put the pressures of my ministry into missionary perspective. How easy it is to begin to assume that I should be comfortable. How quickly I can start to expect ease and hassle-free ministry.

But I tell missionaries just the opposite. Life is war. Life is stress: the language is stress; the culture is stress; the food is stress; the kids’ education is stress; relationships are stress. Get ready for incarnation and crucifixion.

But here (where everybody speaks English and eats pizza) I start to bellyache over an extra meeting, an ill-timed hospital call, and too many choices. Then I read of Irving Hetherington. And I think of “normal” missionary life. And I see my “sacrifices” in a new way. And “self-pity” goes up the chimney.

And in its place? A passion to have the mind of Christ. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).


Pastor John