In 2009, my wife and I looked around and saw nothing but lost people, millions of them. We were in Mosul, Iraq, and the reality of the gospel was pressing in on our hearts like never before. We didn’t know what we were going to do, but we knew we needed to do something. The Lord called us to the Upper Amazon Basin.
After three and a half years of service, we decided to come home from the mission field without having completed the mission. The people group we set out to reach with the gospel of Christ is still unreached. They are still dead in their sins and in great need of a Savior. We were broken; absolutely crushed. It feels like we’ve failed.
No one will write a book about us. People will not tell our story at missions conferences. We likely won’t be invited to go and share at churches or speak to future missionaries about the keys to success on the frontiers. We are going home, settling back into a normal routine of work and life — and licking our wounds for the foreseeable future.
We gave everything to the mission. I won’t go into details here, nor will I make us out to be martyrs. I will simply say that we have counted the cost of missions as a family in every conceivable way, from finances to our health (physically, emotionally, and spiritually).
Was It Worth It?
I ask myself, “Was it worth it?” My theology says, “Yes! Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!” The Scriptures tell me that:
I have to lose my life in order to find it. (Matthew 16:25)
I have to count the cost of serving him. (Luke 14:25–33)
Success isn’t always what we think it is, and seed-sewing is just as important as watering and branch-pruning. (1 Corinthians 3:6–9)
Pain is temporary, and is nothing compared to glory. (2 Corinthians 4:17–18)
God’s word will not return to him void, but always does its work. (Isaiah 55:11)
But in the midst of this brokenness, the ability to believe these things in the depth of my soul is not what it should be. Sanctification, at the heart level, is learning how to believe with our hearts the things that we know to be true in our heads. It’s easier to do that when God is giving us great peace, joy, and success. But when he’s using us for his glory by making us conduits of brokenness, the theology-reality connection may seem to fade into oblivion.
God Will Complete His Mission
I’m thankful to be a member of a healthy church that will remind my family and me of that truth. As Christians, the presence of the body is crucial during times like these.
We need to be hugged, cried with, preached to, and resourced to help us start over again. This is why Christianity is not a journey to be taken alone. This is why Jesus saves us as part of his bride.
The more the church cares for my family, the deeper the grief we feel for the peoples of the Upper Amazon Basin who still don’t have one. But the more we look into God’s word, the more confidence we have that God’s mission will still be completed, even though we now know that that means that this particular initiative will be completed without us.
The Already/Not Yet of Missions
We know that God will gather all of his children to himself and they will dwell with him forever. We know this. And as is the case with many other aspects of the Christian faith, there is an already/not yet reality at play. The book of Revelation shows us what that “already” looks like:
They sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)
Do you see? It’s done. It’s finished. The death of Christ on the cross that atoned for our sins is our guarantee that the mission is complete. We believe this promise because it’s grounded in nothing less than the very heart of the gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The “already” is there, and it’s glorious. The “not yet,” however, is typically much messier. There is malaria. Children die. Bank accounts bottom out. Health fades, emotions are strained, depression sets in, and sometimes it looks like success is a million miles away.
But even here, God will be glorified. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him — in the midst of loss, not prosperity.” Because we believe in the “already,” we can more readily and joyfully accept the messiness of the “not yet.”