As I prepare to go back to the field later this summer, I am finding more and more people who want to talk with me about missions. They ask about my struggles and tell me about theirs. I’ve had many of these conversations before, but I still enjoy sitting down and chatting with folks about it.
I encounter people who have experienced some sort of call, but have a litany of reasons why they can’t do it right now. They have reasons for not contacting the IMB, not filling out an application, not bothering to take even the slightest step towards fulfilling that call. I’d like to take a moment to address some of the reasons that come up most frequently. Remember: I’m painting with broad strokes here, speaking in generalities. Specific cases often require grace and flexibility.
The IMB has policies that make me uncomfortable. There are a number of policies out there that put people’s teeth on edge. Alcohol, divorced applicants, baptism rules, private prayer languages, restrictions on the size of missionaries’ homes…name a policy and I am sure it will upset someone. Tell you what: if you agree with 100% of rules and policies at your current job, you can use this excuse. However, if you manage to keep your job now despite your disagreements, then I think this particular reasoning falls apart. I’ve said it before: the IMB is an inherently flawed organization because it is, tragically, filled with people. However, it is also an organization with a noble and divine goal. If you can tolerate weird rules in your job as teacher, accountant, or IT geek, you should be able to manage the IMB’s policies as you pursue missions.
We’re waiting until the kids are a little older. If you have to firmly declare your family’s radical moving plans, to who would you rather make that declaration: a toddler or a 12-year old? If you were concerned about the difficulty of moving, who will forget about their last home most rapidly: a baby who doesn’t really have friends, or a fifth-grader who has never moved in her life? There is a reason the IMB has guidelines on sending families with older children to the field. Like any company, the IMB studies their loss patterns, and their experts have found that older children tend to struggle with the transition to the field more than younger ones. And when I say “struggle” I really mean “drag the family through the kind of turmoil that leads to marital strife and child rebellion on par with anything you’ve ever read in the Old Testament.”
I have or had diabetes/hypoglycemia/herniated disc/multiple sclerosis/neurofibromatoma/ leukemia/high cholesterol/high blood pressure/visual problems/hearing loss/erectile dysfunction/bad knees/depression, so…” In case you are wondering about my list here, yes, it is indeed a run-down of many of the medical issues that my colleagues have experienced. The IMB does try to ensure that their people are healthy so they can minister in a variety of locations without the benefit of nearby medical care, but it would be a mistake to use just any medical condition as a reason for not even trying to apply with the IMB.
I’m overweight, and the IMB has weight limits. I’m just not comfortable with that sort of thing. First off, I would suggest that for many people, the real discomfort might boil down to two things: we don’t like anyone calling us overweight, and we certainly don’t want our employers establishing a connection between weight and employability. The IMB does indeed have weight standards, but they are not etched in stone; neither are they arbitrary or outdated. They use the BMI as well as overall fitness and other health factors; I’ve been overweight for years, but I am otherwise in excellent health and I run half-marathons. You see, what they really want is for their workers to enjoy good health. Please don’t associate “weight standards” with those horror stories about companies who require all their women to be a size 2 and all their men to have 28-inch waists. No one will single you out or fire you if you gain two pounds during Christmas.
There are enough lost people in the US to fill your time. There certainly are, so why don’t I take on Malaysia and you tackle Suburbia. Sound good to you? Seriously, if my wife and I, just the two of us, go to some far-off land in order to learn the language, immerse ourselves in a culture, and share the gospel, we’re leaving behind 187 church members who can surely manage the task of evangelizing in their own language and society. Right? Or was I the one person who could reach our hometown?
I really don’t feel qualified to do this sort of work. I understand (truly!), but if this particular excuse didn’t work for Moses, a prophet unlike any other, then I doubt it is going to buy any of us a free pass.
My parents are getting older, and we really want to be here for them. This one is hard. Sooner or later, all missionaries seem to face the need to head back to the US in order to care for their parents. The reality is that we cannot use our families to put off God’s call, yet we must also find room to provide for our parents as they age. It is something that must be handled with grace and honor, yet too many use this as an excuse never to go. Didn’t Jesus say something about putting our hands to the plow while looking back over our shoulders?
We’ve got a lot of debt right now, and we’d like to settle it before we leave. This just opens the door for all kinds of monologues about American spending habits, but I’ll limit myself to this: debt happens for lots of reasons, good and bad. If you are facing a call to missions, make the sacrifices needed to pay down that debt to a reasonable level. Don’t make the mistake of acknowledging your debt and then stop short of making the sort of commitment needed to get it under control. Let me ask you this: on the field, would you buckle down and learn a language? Ride 12 hours in the back of a truck over dirt roads in order to dig wells in a village? You’d make those sacrifices? Yes? Then I think canceling the cable and eating at home here in the US are reasonable debt-canceling sacrifices.
I am needed at my church. If you, in obedience, take off for the mission field, then I am sure the other 187 church members can, in obedience, manage the house of God in your absence.
We just bought a house/got a new job/got the kids in school/paid off the car. Please.
I’m determined to be stubborn and disobedient to God in this particular case. I’ll just pray for forgiveness. OK, so no one has ever said that to me… at least not in those exact words.