When a cross-cultural worker moves to a different country and a very different culture, as well as experiencing many benefits, they will also inevitably give up a great deal to do so. The things that they have to give up may be financial (a well-paying job), relational (family and friends) or just simply the comfort of knowing what to expect when living in one’s own culture and speaking one’s own language.
When moving overseas it can be easy to focus on the things one has given up, feeling like we are suffering a great deal for God and his work. “We had to give up so much in order to move to this country”, or “my life is difficult but God needs me here” can be common sentiments among cross-cultural mission workers. In this situation I can also deceive myself that I am vitally important to God’s work, and that I deserve to be in charge and making the strategic decisions since I have invested “so much”.
But one day…
While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.” (Luke 21:1-4)
At times I can be so focused on my own status and what I have given up that I don’t even look up to notice the poor widow right next to me who is dropping two small coins into the collection box, giving up all that she has. Or the father working day and night to provide for his family, but still fasting and praying and giving his all to share God’s good news with those who are lost. Or the pastor and his family who left their home with very few possessions to start a church in a different part of the country, welcoming strangers into their house at all times of the day and night (even ministering to a demon-possessed man at 4am).
Suddenly the things I have given up don’t seem so significant.
As a footnote we also notice that the irony in Luke’s account of the rich people and the widow is in the previous verse:
“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.” (Luke 20:46-47)
It’s likely that those who were cheating widows out of their property were the very same people who then went into the temple and “generously” put part of their acquired wealth into the temple collection box. When we take a look at the history of colonialism and slavery over the past 300 years, and even the present-day economic injustices that are maintained by the rich against the poor, it is striking to see the parallels between us modern western missionaries apparently giving up some of “our” wealth and comfort, and those in Jesus’ day who got rich by cheating the poor, and then made a show of giving away some of this wealth.