No, this has nothing to do with taxes or the military. The “law of unintended consequences” is a concept that’s been around a long time. It happens in government, science, engineering, and just about every human endeavor. No matter how well something is thought out, no matter how good the intentions are, there always seem to be unanticipated results. And when God calls us away from home to serve Him overseas, there are always surprises. Some are pleasant and some are not. Bilbo Baggins wisely advised his nephew, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” I would add, though, that if God wants you out on the road, it’s a lot more dangerous behind your door than beyond it. Nevertheless, we cannot anticipate all the consequences of our acts of obedience. Maybe that’s a good thing.
I recently had an email conversation with a missionary friend in the Czech Republic. They are roughly the same age as we are and, as a result, have faced stresses and issues similar to the ones Mildred and I sometimes deal with. She mentioned that lately she has been pondering sacrifice. Not the sacrifice missionaries make when they leave behind family, friends, and country to follow God’s leading to another country, language, and culture, but the sacrifice we force upon our family and friends when we do so – whether they want to make that sacrifice or not.
I had been pondering the same notion, especially with Mildred’s dad’s final days being nearly upon us at the time. I don’t think any missionary ever forgets that when we follow Jesus to another continent, we not only deprive ourselves of the physical presence of most of our loved ones, we deprive them of ours. If we are not careful, those feelings of guilt that occasionally creep up on us can rob us of our joy in serving.
Many (if not most) missionaries don’t see what we do as a sacrifice. Back in 1847 David Livingstone expressed his thoughts on so called missionary sacrifice better than I could. “For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”
Sometimes we feel a little sorry for ourselves, but it quickly passes in light of the satisfaction of doing what God wants us to do in the place He wants us doing it. It might look like a sacrifice as we head into it, but as long as we stay submitted to Christ it becomes joy once we are fully involved. Obedience to God, no matter what the command, is never a sacrifice.
But our families sometimes don’t share the same view. Some might think we are being a bit extreme. There are those family members back home who might complain that their missionary loved one has done them a real disservice. They probably would not say it quite that directly, but they make their feelings known. That has never happened to Mildred or me but some very good friends recently had to go back to the States, not because of any problems with their ministry – in fact their ministry was amazingly effective – but because of unmerciful, unrelenting pressure from one side of their family. The folks back home were dealing with a tragic and extremely difficult situation, so their desire for help was understandable. But suppose these friends of ours had been dead or otherwise totally unavailable. What if they had never been born? The family back home would have found some way to cope. They laid such a load of guilt on this couple that they brought an end to the amazing help these folks had been to countless people, especially to those with at risk marriages. God will still use their servant hearts and hands just as mightily in their new location. And the whole thing was no surprise to Him. But I suspect it was a disappointment.
I am grateful that Mildred’s family and mine have never put any pressure on us to return. Once in a while we get asked when we think we will “retire.” I guess with the big SIX-O coming up for me next May, that’s only natural. I sometimes wonder about that myself!
I’m sure that our move to Honduras put a big hole in quite a few lives. We aren’t there to help with family emergencies or help celebrate holidays and birthdays like we used to be – like we often wish we could be. I know Mildred wishes she could be there with her mother to help her into this new phase of life without her dad. When we followed God to Roatán, the friends and family we left behind made a sacrifice as well – one they didn’t choose to make, but it’s one that I think God will reward, especially since they have been so gracious about it.