Brittany Tedesco (CAM) / 02 DEC 2014 – Tears came to my eyes as I spoke with a native ministry leader visiting from Jordan where he, his wife, and sons are surrounded by destitute refugees with terrible stories. He told me about how he’d held a baby, racked by disease, in his arms. The medicine she needed for her rare condition was impossible for her family to obtain. They’d left everything behind to flee from ISIS. The ministry leader recalled the baby girl, struggling through her pain, to mimic his smile. She would die soon, and her crying had quieted, as if in resignation.
His wife, who is a counselor, hears as many, if not more, horror stories than he does even though he’s out in the “field” day in and day out. He’s concerned for her emotional health, but they both know her services are invaluable to these poor, desperate souls.
“How do you keep going?” I asked him. “Sharing the message of Jesus Christ is the greatest work on earth,” he answered. “How could I not do it?”
I’d met him years earlier, before this crisis began. His eyes look different now—more somber. He’s a man of resolve. Regarding his risky work among Muslims, he’s not afraid to die. “It only takes one bullet to kill me. If I was afraid to be killed, I’d never leave my house,” he said.
I have to admit, I don’t understand that level of sacrifice. As we bowed our heads to pray, it was my tears that fell to the floor. He kept it together. Or, more accurately, God has held and is holding him together. “In Him, all things hold together,” the Bible says about Jesus (Colossians 1:17). The same God that holds together every molecule in the universe, holds my dear brother in Christ together.
After every interview with a Christian Aid Mission-supported missionary, I experience the same sense of awe in the level of servitude they display. And, yes, it does cause me to observe how differently my life looks in comparison.
These missionaries have what theologian, Miroslav Volf, calls a “richness of being,” in contrast to the “richness of having.” They’ve understood well what it means to be “complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10)—so thoroughly, in fact, that they are able to consistently, unreservedly, and generously pour out their lives for others.
We in the West understand well the “richness of having.” In comparison to these native missionaries, we most definitely “have.” We’re also taught the “virtue” of working and striving so that we can have more. Because we deserve it. Because we have the freedom to pursue our own happiness.
What we don’t realize is that the ultimate freedom is freedom from self. Therein lies the “richness of being” that enables a person to pour out for others.
My Western mentality has been shaped by beloved platitudes like “believe in yourself,” and “you can do anything you set your mind to.” Is it any wonder these sentiments have seeped into Western Christianity? The gospel of “me” is on full display in prevalent Christian books and devotionals that feed self. They teach self-improvement, self-fulfillment, self-analysis, self this, and self that.
And I wonder why I seem to be missing something those missionaries have grasped. Perhaps, they’ve simply grasped the Bible, unfiltered by Western ideology, which says things like, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight!” Isaiah 5:21. And: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” Romans 12:3.
While the Bible says “Do not love the world nor the things in the world” 1 John 2:15, Western Christianity teaches that Jesus’ job is to make us wealthy and comfortable.
What kind of weird theological cocktail are we drinking? And why are we exporting this strange brew overseas?
The Insider Movement (see previous three posts), which originated in the West, involves self-preservation. Here we go with more self. To secure your survival in a place, it teaches, don’t be too bold, don’t share the full message…participate in the religious practices of the locals.
In contrast, Isaiah tells God, “Here am I, send me,” to a seemingly fruitless assignment which would end in martyrdom. Paul said he’d rather be thrown into hell for all eternity than for the Jews to suffer the same fate for their rejection of Christ.
They, like the native missionaries who are following in their footsteps, poured out their entire lives for others.
Could it be these missionaries have fully embraced the biblical paradoxes that we haven’t? Ones that tell us that the person who wishes to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for Jesus will save it. Or that we must give away to gain; that in our weakness, God manifests His strength; that we can experience joy in suffering; that the first shall be last and the last shall be first; that life is found through death (to self).
How can a society that worships the self (wait just one second while I take a selfie and caption it “Blogging about not being preoccupied with self. Lol.”) understand the concept of death to self?
We’ve been told that the worst thing that can happen to a person is to be constrained by the demands of someone else.
Even some Christians hesitate on the question of whether or not an abortion is an acceptable response to a rape. Because anything—even the killing of a child—is better than the mother having to rearrange her life and change her plans to care for someone else.
States Peter H. Gilmore, the High Priest of the Church of Satan: “Satanism is an atheist philosophy using Satan as a symbol of pride, liberty, and individualism.”
But, but—those three things are practically the holy trinity of the Western way!
Satanism involves pentagrams, graveyard séances, witchcraft, black magic, sorcery. Obvious stuff like that. Right?
According to Gilmore, anyone can espouse Satan’s philosophical perspective—whether or not they consider themselves Satanists.
Alissa Wilkinson, professor at The King’s College in New York City, summarized Gilmore’s statements: “Adherents to the Church of Satan doesn’t [sic] worship a transcendent being called Satan who is the dichotomous opponent of God (Gilmore calls that a ‘Christian mythology’)—rather, they worship the self, the individual, whose pleasure ought to be pursued above all others, so long as it doesn’t cause major problems for the pursuant.”
Do my actions align more with God’s Truth or the Satanist’s philosophical perspective? What an entirely uncomfortable question…but one that just might hold the key to why it seems people in the West aren’t hungering for what we have.
Christian Aid donors, Dot and Mark Davis, recently drove all the way from Colorado to visit us. When I asked them about their interest in world missions, they commented to me that they wanted to give to a region of the world where people are hungry for the gospel, “unlike here, where people seem to reject it.”
The native missionaries we support in the Middle East report that multitudes of Muslims are accepting Christ every day, in large part because they watch these missionaries daily pouring out their lives in service to them. What they don’t see is self-promotion and self-preservation. It’s as if these missionaries have all but forgotten themselves.
If only we (if only I) could do the same. What kind of cocktail are we drinking?