A blog conversation with Jordan at Missions Untold a few days ago got me thinking about what are the important characteristics of a missionary. Jordan was making the valid point that it is important for people to send and support “solid” missionaries who will be faithful to the message of Christ. But what exactly do we mean by that?
Often western Christians would be tempted to talk in terms of theological knowledge and experience in the church. We might look for whether someone has been to Bible college or has a background in theology, or has pastored a church or at least been involved in leading church Bible studies and home groups. We might want to make sure that people agree with and can expound at length various details of doctrine that we think are particularly important.
Once we are satisfied that they are suitable, the missionary then goes overseas to live with the people to whom he is supposed to impart this theological knowledge and experience, helping them to know and follow Jesus. He lives in a relatively large house, and employs a couple of people to guard the house and do some housework. He works in a local Bible college, teaching pastors what he knows about the Bible so that they can better teach their communities what it means to follow Jesus. This man drives a large car that allows him to access remote areas year-round to visit people and help them with access to clean water and medicines. He has money in his bank account in case he or his family has a medical emergency and they need to leave the country.
When he steps outside his gate he meets an old man who is almost blind. This man has very few possessions, yet he claims to be a Christian and to worship the same Jesus the missionary teaches about. He has struggled with alcohol problems which he still battles each day. He has no house to live in, but spends most of his time with traders on the street corner, watching the world go by, waiting, thinking, praying, wondering. This man has never been able to read so only occasionally hears the Bible, and has certainly never had any theological training. He has few relatives and so survives by trying to find things to sell and relying on the generosity of a few people at his church. Yet he speaks of the sure hope that one day he will meet Jesus who will put everything right in the world.
You might be hard pressed to find two more different people in the world, connected only by their professed faith in Jesus Christ. Which one truly knows Jesus? Which one really understands the reality of God’s Kingdom? Which one is the more solid missionary?
I don’t know.