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FIRST-PERSON Like Jesus, missionaries leave home to dwell among strangers

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The dispatch arrived after Christmas last year from a missionary couple struggling to learn how to live on a tough new field.
“Electricity and water are not dependable,” they reported. “Our computer, water heater and camera broke … . (T)his first Christmas was an undecorated one.
“The streets are lined with beggars who are blind, lepers, amputees, polio victims. Only a third of the children are immunized and 20 percent die before age 5. They have only 2,000 doctors for 60 million people.
“The home remedy for my neighbor’s baby’s cold included cutting his uvula (in the back of his throat), shaving his head and making a poultice for it of greens and rancid butter, and tying a dirty amulet bag around his neck.”
This couple, missionaries with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, had freely chosen to come to a place of suffering, to learn a difficult language — all in order to communicate God’s love to a people group barely touched by the gospel. Now they were beginning to realize just how hard their task would be. Yet they also were discovering little signs of God’s grace:
“A couple flew from (the capital), bringing a complete Christmas dinner for us. We also found a tiny place called ‘McDonald’s’ and ate a tasty hamburger served on oval buns, wrapped in toilet paper.
“But most special of all are the friendships God has given us. When water went off for three days, a neighbor walked across town bringing us five gallons of water strapped on her back as a gift. Daily I am humbled by the people’s generous spirit, even in the midst of their poverty.
“We have things to teach, and much to learn.”
We often think of Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, as the first truly cross-cultural missionary of the New Testament era. Not so. The first Christian missionary was Jesus Christ himself, the Light of the World, Immanuel — “God with us.” He undertook the greatest missionary journey of all by crossing from his culture of light into our culture of darkness.
It may seem presumptuous for us to compare our pitiful efforts to Jesus’ earthly life. Yet it is he who has chosen to continue living — and touching others — through us. Missionaries wavering on the edge of despair because of their own weakness and inadequacies, or the seeming impossibility of their task, are often reminded of the simple power of presence.
A terrible meningitis epidemic swept through West Africa earlier this year. Southern Baptist missionary nurse Susan Tidwell took meningitis serum to mountain villages to pray for and treat the sick. Her account of the trip:
“We arrived at Yelu in late afternoon. It was so pleasant … . I thought how nice and cool it felt standing under the mango tree with its ripening fruit hanging like green and gold Christmas ornaments. But I wondered where all the children were.
“‘They’re all dead,’ the village chief whispered. ‘There is one still sick. Will you see her?’
“I went to treat the girl and drew serum into the syringe as I asked one of the village men accompanying me, ‘Is this your daughter?’
“‘Yes — the only child I have left,’ he said quietly. Another man said, ‘I lost all of my children within 36 hours.’
“I sat in stunned silence. Somehow ‘I’m sorry’ seemed too trite to utter.
“‘Will you save my daughter?’ the first man blurted into the silence, his face twisted with grief.
“‘Jesus will heal your daughter,’ I said gently, taking the feverish little hand in mine. ‘Let’s ask him now.’
“A few days later, two men from Yelu greeted me. They said the little girl was well. They also came with requests from neighboring villages for Bible studies to be started.
“‘Why the sudden interest in Christianity?’ I asked them.
“‘Because you cared,’ they said. ‘You came and treated and healed the sick. And when you could do nothing else, you mourned. Now they want to know more of the one you call Jesus.'”

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges