Shepherd’s staff missionary, Julianne Heilman, transparently professes the missionary’s need for Christ. The title “missionary” sometimes gives people the impression that they are on a whole other level of spirituality. Julianne responds to this assupmtion with honesty and grace.
I have been reading the biography of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die. Her life is such a testimony of real life before the Lord. She saw things clearly as they were. She saw herself as she was and she never tried to soften the truth. At the beginning of her mission work, she served in Japan. And through that year she realized something very clearly.
She was finding at firsthand that missionaries are not set apart from the rest of the human race, not purer, nobler, higher. ‘Wings are an illusive fancy. Some may possess them, but they are not very visible, and as for me, there isn’t the least sign of a feather. Don’t imagine that by crossing the sea and landing on a foreign shore and learning a foreign lingo you burst the bonds of outer sin and hatch yourself a cherubim.”
And I am finding the same thing myself.
I am no more holy than I was when I left home 13 months ago. I have not had much more success in praying fervently. Sometimes I don’t want to sit through a church service. Sometimes I would rather sleep longer than rise to read my Bible in the morning. I still don’t know the proper thing to do when a child begs for money through the window of a taxi van. I still have a very human craving for chocolate and for chicken (but not together). It is still hard to take a cold shower in the evening, especially when I need to wash my hair. I get annoyed at stupid things. I misunderstand people. I say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I am as human as I ever was. I just live in Africa and work at a church of beautiful brown people. When I come home for a visit, you will find that I have not been miraculously transformed into a spiritual butterfly.
That does not come for anyone until the Resurrection and the coming of Christ.
But one thing the mission field does do to us, well, let me just speak for myself; it has opened my eyes to my own selfishness. It has caused me to see the difference between what has eternal importance and what is just temporary. I see that I am a weak vessel. I need the filling energy of the Spirit day by day, moment by moment. I need humility to ask for help and guidance from others. And most of all, I need the love of God to be poured into my heart so that it erupts as a fountain to those around me. I have no love worth giving from within myself.
I am not closer to being an angel than anyone else. I do pray that the Lord is sanctifying me more each day. But there is nothing magical about the red dust of Africa.