So I just read an awesome blog entitled, Things I Would Not Say to a New Missionary, and let me just tell you that the post was so wonderfully accurate. I laughed so hard because I knew exactly what this lady was talking about. Her post inspired me to get real about a few “missionary misconceptions” that I’ve struggled with in my own life. As I have said so many times before, I am not a “cookie-cutter Christian,” nor am I a “cookie-cutter missionary.” I don’t ever want to fit into a stereotypical Christianese box – it limits God and it limits me. So, I realized that it might be time to demolish a few stereotypes and send some encouragement your way.
First things first, I need all of you to know that after one year of being a missionary… I still have no idea what the heck I am doing. No, you think I’m joking, but I’m so serious. This is a very important fact because before I became a missionary, I thought that I needed to have my perfect, holy, and blameless life together before I could go out into the world to serve God and others. I was so wrong. When I read back through God’s Word, I quickly discovered that not a single person God chose to use for His glory had their lives in order. In fact, most of them screwed up before, during, and after they were called and sent out to serve and love God.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 that, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”
Is Sam foolish? Check. (Just ask my parents, I make dumb decisions all the time.)
Is Sam weak? Check. (Especially when it comes to keeping my thought life clean.)
Is Sam unable to boast about how fantastically holy and perfect she is? Quadruple Check. (I am constantly in repentance mode like every five seconds.)
Well, now that we’ve established that… I hope you feel more qualified to do big things for God because as I’ve discovered over the course of these past few years – my “success” as a missionary is not dependent on my abilities to maintain a perfect track record or get an entire country saved. (Because honestly, sometimes I can’t even muster up the energy to take a shower or do my own laundry.) My “success” is entirely dependent on God’s ability and His desire to use a broken vessel like me. God only requires me to be available and to be willing to move my feet (and to perhaps open my mouth when the time is right). If His light can shine brightly through my cracks and flaws, then I’m a happy camper.
I’ve had so many people tell me that I am an inspiration to them, and I think that’s a very beautiful thing. But I really want to stress that I am no different than anyone else. I am not more holy, more perfect, or more qualified. Fun fact: Even while I was in South Africa, I sinned. I know, I know, whip out the holy water and get your pointer finger of shame and judgment ready…
Just kidding about the holy water, but I wasn’t kidding about my sin. I have never done this “missionary” thing before. I am learning every single day what it looks like and feels like and sounds like to be a follower of Jesus. I love Him with my whole entire heart, and I need Him desperately every single day, but that doesn’t mean that my life will be a perfect one. However, it does mean that it will have to be a dependent one. That was a huge and humbling lesson that God needed to teach me while I was in South Africa last year.
The standards that I had for myself were “Jesus Standards of Perfection.” Which, incase you didn’t know… are unreachable standards. I didn’t cut myself any slack and I really struggled with my own guilt and unforgiveness because I was so fearful of letting everyone down: God, my family, my church, my friends, and anyone else that knew about my journey. I had to learn that God loved me before I even knew who He was. He called me to go and love the girls who were (and still are) fighting against the same struggles that I’ve had to fight against, because they need to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven – just like I needed to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven.
I have a bad habit of making some of my sins appear worse than others on my “God Scale of Wrath.” I seriously need to throw that thing away, because it’s totally unbiblical and unbalanced. For example, I’ll pray for a long time about my lustful thinking and how I need to stop cursing in front of my little brother when I drive in Miami’s ridiculous traffic, but I won’t spend much time praying about my pride or my jealousy towards another girl. In God’s eyes, it all separates me from Him and it’s all equally wrong. So when I feel like a failure for one “seemingly big” sin in my life, God looks down at me with compassion and says, “Sam, crazy girl, if you think that’s bad, wait until I show you the rest of the junk that’s hiding in your heart. There’s stuff deep down in there that you don’t even know about yet.” YOH. Ouch. But it’s a holy and purifying ouch, so I dig it. Because just after the rebuke, comes God’s reminder that I shouldn’t feel shame or guilt or resentment – but instead, I need to remember that He has already nailed all of my sins to the cross. They are dealt with, it is finished. He already knew about all of the mistakes I was going to make, and He sent me and called me to be a warrior in His army anyways. His patience and love and grace know no bounds. If I am willing to bring Him all of my “junk” and lay it down at His feet, then He will always be willing to deal with it for me. Without condemnation. Without hate. Without disdain.
In fact, I think God gave me this job of serving His people because of all of my junk. I had to walk through some crappy and embarrassing and hurtful things in my life, and those things have given me a heart that is so full of compassion and love and understanding. When I see someone else struggling through what I experienced, I can look them in the eyes and genuinely sympathize because I’ve been there. That’s a gift. Because of my junk-filled past, I get to share a hope-filled future with the people I meet all over the world. All a missionary really is – is a person who loves Jesus that decides to walk out of their front door and into the world with faith instead of being bound up in fear. It’s that simple. I may be living the Christian life in South Africa, but that doesn’t make being a missionary in your backyard any less significant. All lives matter, everyone deserves the opportunity to receive love and hope through our actions and our words. Compassion is contagious. (It’s scientifically proven. Don’t worry, I checked.)
So this blog is just a little reminder that we are all equally imperfect, but we are also all equally valuable and useful to God (in the little things and in the big things). The purpose and the power remain with Him, but the choice to step up and walk in faith remains with us. So don’t fear failure, instead, have faith. And if (and when) you make mistakes, run back to God and let Him cover you in His grace.