There's a special aspect to being a missionary in the Christian world that many missionaries don't share with others. In fact, we often don't talk about it between ourselves, or even spend time thinking about it privately.
It's the consideration of other people's opinions.
This is present in all of our lives, whether we are missionaries or not, but a missionary has a special relationship with the opinions of others. That's because missionaries typically rely on donations from partners to fuel ministry and fund their livelihoods. As such, reputation and opinion seem even more important than for the average person.
You'll notice that I say "seem".
That's because this is a lie.
As Christian missionaries, we are recipients of charitable donations made by dozens, if not hundreds, of people. However, the lie comes in when we begin to think of who is receiving these donations. Though we may be their beneficiaries, we are not the recipients. God is the recipient. God is the one who stimulates the hearts of His people to give, and God is the One they are giving their money to. He, in His grace and mercy, redistributes it to us.
When we allow ourselves to think that we are dependent on the good opinions of others for our ministries, we become fearful. We lose our boldness. We begin to engage in "poor talk", which is a weird form of Christian martyrdom that exults all that we have given up for Jesus and takes the focus off of Him and His glory. In the end, poor talk actually ends up diminishing the glory of God because it falsely advertises that God lacks the resources and power to take care of those who serve Him.
Sometimes, I think that we as missionaries tend to put more pressure on ourselves than other people do. When we elevate other people's opinions, and imagined opinions, to guide our behaviour and decision making, we are actually replacing our obedience to God with obedience to an idol. Our partners can become our idols.
With my mum in the hospital, well on her way to passing away, Peter and I had some big decisions to make. Would we come back to Canada to take care of our family and say goodbye to mum? Or, would we do the "good missionary" thing, and stay on the field, serving Jesus, and sacrificially giving Him the last of our relationships?
But hold on.
What if that's not required?
What if the "good missionary" thing to do is not good at all? What if it's not at all what God has expected or asked of us?
The post I originally wrote was much too long, so I've broken it into parts. Next time, we'll talk about some of the mistaken mentalities missionaries engage in when making decisions about their families.