By now many of us have read the tragic news of the Southern California pastor who committed suicide due to an overwhelming sense of depression and loneliness. My heart weeps for his young wife and children who can never truly understand why, his church that is reeling from the sense of loss and confusion, and even this young man who saw death as less painful than the ache that was in his soul at the moment. Contrary to many, his action was not an act of selfishness but of desperation. His act was one of crying out for help but no one heard his cry. No one knew his desperation. No one knew his pain … more than likely because he rightly believed no one truly would understand or empathize.
My father was a Baptist pastor until he died on 4 July 2000. He did not commit suicide. He did not end his life. In fact, he passed from an abdominal aneurysm but he managed to get from the living room to the bedroom so that he could pass into eternity next to the woman he had loved for thirty-nine years. However, nothing will not convince me that he was not “killed” by the friendly fire of being a Baptist pastor. He had been stabbed in the back more times than he could count by deacons and church members who promised him unwavering support even while they were having secret meetings about him and his family. His spiritual knees were worn to the bone from praying for those he had prayed with and for at all hours of the day and night. His feet and hands were calloused because he lived out the Scriptural truth that feet could only be called beautiful if they shared the Gospel with anyone who needed to hear it. His heart had been broken only six weeks before he died when a church fired him for refusing to cover up sins by members. Yes, an aneurysm burst in his intestines and ended his earthly life; however, Jack Downey had been decimated by so many churches that stabbed his soul one too many times for 27 years that when the blood began to leak from his intestines he seemingly had only one thought – “Let me reach Barbara before I go because she is my home.”
Therefore, I do understand why this young pastor was afraid to share his desperate fears and loneliness. I also understand the pain of this young pastor because as a missionary/ evangelist to the Jewish people this has been the loneliest twelve months of my life. I have struggled as I have watched the focus of Christians, churches, denominations veer away from TRUE and eternal evangelism to temporal politics that will change with every election cycle. I have become overwhelmed with fear as I have observed good Christians forget that missions began with the Jewish people and that Romans 1:16 is still true. One pastor told me that they could not consider Jewish evangelism because they were focusing on Jehovah’s Witnesses right now … SERIOUSLY. I still have the email. Other churches and individuals have dropped their missions support from Tzedakah Ministries for a variety of reasons but yet Jewish people are still going to Hell of one every 4 minutes. Yes, the fear overwhelms me and I do not know how to make it stop.
Yet … it is the loneliness that grips my soul during the darkest hours of the night and sometimes during the brightest moments of the day. It is the loneliness that prevents my mind from shutting off and allowing the peace of sleep to overtake my body. It is the loneliness that whispers in my ear – “Why bother, no one cares. Give up. No one will blame you.” The loneliness whispers even while I am reading Luke 9:62 because it senses that this is when I am weakest.
Lottie Moon, to whom Southern Baptists are still seeking “to repay for allowing her to starve to death in 1912,” once wrote, “I pray that no missionary will ever be as lonely as I have been.” However, you never hear about missionary loneliness, do you? We are not supposed to admit that this happens. Our missionary prayer letters foremost are supposed to be about successes so that you will continue to support us. We might be allowed to write about opposition and attacks occasionally because that might pull in more donations but loneliness … that makes us sound pathetic and weak. Well, I need to be honest with you that missionaries are and should be pathetic and weak. We have to be in order that we can be the vessels that God can use for His Kingdom purpose and design. If we were strong, self-reliant and able in our own power, God could not use us. This is why Paul wrote what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12 which, incidentally, is one of my least favorite Bible passages but the one that God used to call me to missions.
I weep more than I laugh. My failures haunt me daily. I hate my character flaws because I am so fearful that they will draw people away from God instead of towards a saving relationship in Messiah Jesus. I am afraid to show people who I really am and ergo I am lonely because of it.
This is my confession. This is who I am. I am not writing this for pity. I am not writing this so that people will write, “Praying for you.” I am not writing this to make myself feel better for a few days and then later I will return to my lonely state of fear, sadness and being overwhelmed. I am not even writing this to guilt you into financial support and/or allow Tzedakah Ministries to come to your church but, yes, we will not say no if you want to help us Give Messiah Back to the Jewish people. I want to tell you why I am writing this … it is hopefully to impact Christians and churches.
Do you really have a sense of where missionaries are in their hearts and spirits? Do you really have a knowledge of their depth of loneliness? Do you really care? We are drowning. We are overwhelmed and smiling faces in our prayer letters will not cover up the tears that we shed at night and when no one is looking.
I am going to share one more truth with you, and I doubt I am the only missionary who hears these voices. When I can’t sleep, I hear voices. Not voices telling me that death would be easier. Not voices telling me to hurt myself or anything that would have you worry about us. I hear voices of Jewish people asking me, “Do Christians really care? Is Jesus really the Messiah of us? Who will be beautiful feet for us?” This is why I choose loneliness. This is why Luke 9:62 overwhelms loneliness but Lottie Moon’s prayer was not answered.
Dr. Amy Downey is a graduate of East Texas Baptist University, two-time graduate of SWBTS and a PhD from Liberty. I am a member of Needham Road Baptist in Conroe, Texas, and the president/director of Tzedakah Ministries.