Sunday, February 18, 2007

Real Missionaries

A few weeks ago, while waiting outside of our Church for Josie to arrive with Dietrich so that I could help her up the stairs with the stroller, a man who attends our Church engaged me in conversation. He is not a "baptized member" of our Church, regularly refuses to actually enter the room where our Church meets, and under no circumstances receives Communion so, without inquiring, I've come to assume that he is a seeker. Alex and I started out talking about a friend of his who moved to America several years ago. This friend initially sent money back to Ukraine to support his family and friends but, as he began to make more money, he sent less and less home. Alex wanted me to tell him why. With no answer to give to such a particular and relative question, we moved on to his questions about why Hollywood always portrays Russia as the enemy and so on.

At the very end of the conversation, however, Alex broke down as he expressed his appreciation that we would make the sacrifice to move to Ukraine and to learn the language and culture in order to serve the people here. He said he didn't understand why, but he appreciated it — and he walked away with tears in his eyes. In spite of the discouragement that comes when you have a hard time understanding and/or communicating with someone, moments like these are used by the Spirit to encourage and remind us that God is using our efforts and sacrifices to impact peoples lives.

But those efforts and sacrifices seem particularly small when compared to the sacrifices of the early American Evangelical missionaries. Having just finished the Spring 2006 issue of Christian History & Biography, focusing on Adoniram and Ann Judson, it seems wrong to consider myself a missionary. It takes us about 24 hours, doorstep to doorstep, to get from our apartment in Kyiv to the home of a loved one in America. It took the Judsons four months. We are learning Russian with the help of endless resources, teachers and locals who know English quite well. The Judsons had to learn Burmese from scratch, develop a usable grammar and translate the Bible themselves. We are serving a Church and a seminary that are primarily run by Ukrainians in a country with 2,800 Evangelical Churches and several hundred thousand Evangelical believers. When the Judsons arrived in Burma, there were no Churches and no believers. We communicate with our family and friends regularly, via telephone, e-mail, blogs, CDs and DVDs full of pictures and videos, and visits from home or to home when possible. The Judsons had to wait for the rare occasion when a tradesman who could hand-carry their correspondences back to America would pass through, and they rarely visited home or received visitors. We have a wonderful missionary sending agency that takes care of us very well and has been around for decades. The Judsons were sent out only two years after the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was founded; they were among its first missionaries. Our life seems pretty good by comparison.

2012 will mark the 200-year anniversary of when the Judsons left for Burma. Incalculable progress has been made in the quantity and quality of missions and in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. I consider it a divine privilege to be part of the missionary endeavor of the universal Church and particularly part of the heritage of American Evangelical missions that began with the Judsons. And I thank our many, many supporters for making it possible for us to serve in Ukraine – even if, by comparison, we don't seem like real missionaries.

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