Ironically, the longer one stays on the mission field, the more difficult it becomes to leave. Instead of “doing his time” and “getting it out of his system,” the missionary may very well find that the burden which brought him to the mission field in the first place has only grown stronger and is keeping him there. Being aware of a need is one thing, but to actually see it with one’s own eyes is another. It will change a person’s life forever. Any thoughts of leaving make the missionary uneasy and heavy-hearted. And if he stays long enough, he may find that he cannot leave. Is this a price I’m willing to pay?
Now that some may be questioning whether the price is too great, let’s consider the alternative. What if you never become a missionary? What price is to be paid then? While being a missionary is unquestionably hard, I sincerely believe that not being a missionary is even harder. Keeping the gospel to yourself is like trying to hold a live coal in your hands. Admittedly some have become so callused that it doesn’t bother them very much, if at all. However, if you have any appreciation for what the Lord has done for you and are the least bit concerned about the lost and dying world, how easy is it to sit idly by and do nothing? “O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace . . . . But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 4:19; 20:9b NKJV).
On the other side of counting the cost are the dividends of your investment. I honestly feel sorry for those who allow their fears and doubts to hold them back and never get to experience the extraordinary missionary life. I have met few missionaries who have regrets about what they have chosen to do. Surely one can stay home and avoid all the apprehension, anxiety, homesickness, frustration, culture shock, et al., but consider how very much will be forfeited.
Missionary work offers unique challenges that are hard to find in other professions, and consequently tremendous spiritual, mental, and emotional growth is inevitable. It has been said that the strongest trees grow in the wind, and the apostle Paul was almost certainly the caliber of man he was because of his missionary experiences (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7-18). It doesn’t take a spiritual giant to become a missionary, but it is nearly impossible to remain spiritually dwarfed on the mission field. This honorable, worthwhile, and rewarding vocation is anything but dull, monotonous, or boring. It is challenging, character-building, and life-changing.
On the mission field the Bible seems to come to life in a more vivid way than in other environments. I have met several people in the course of my missionary work who have reminded me of characters I’ve read about in the Bible. It is so amazing to encounter a modern-day Cornelius or Lydia or Timothy and to see the word of God transform their lives before your very eyes. Working with people for whom the gospel is new, fresh, and exciting has great rewards. There are no preconceived misconceptions about the church of Christ. Non-essential cultural baggage is more easily stripped away as the Bible is studied and applied afresh. Fundamentals are not taken for granted. Ethnic integration, a real family atmosphere among brethren, and even the inevitable problems are all reminiscent of the early days of Christianity.
Although “sacrifice” is viewed by many as a dirty word and as something to be avoided if at all possible, it tends to be blown way out of proportion. We live in a society that stresses comfort, security, convenience, luxury, and the accumulation of material things. People want to be happy and feel good, but they don’t want to give, to be inconvenienced, or to make sacrifices. That’s why so many end up miserable and discontent. Yet sacrifice is an integral part of being a Christian (Romans 12:1), and this is not because the Lord wants us to lose out on anything advantageous – to the contrary!
Those who tend to emphasize the sacrificial aspect of missionary work are usually the ones who have never done it. But often what may initially look like a sacrifice or a hardship turns out to be a doorway into a life of tremendous blessings (cf. Mark 10:30; Luke 9:24). While God is not primarily interested in our comfort and convenience, he is interested in blessing people through us, and consequently blessing us in the process. As a missionary I in no way feel slighted or deprived. I actually feel bad for those who have not had the same opportunities and experiences that I have been privileged to have. Any so-called sacrifices fade into insignificance when compared to things like close friendships around the world, souls won to Christ and headed for heaven, established and growing churches, new cultures, exotic foods, breath-taking scenery, and a multitude of priceless memories. To experience the Lord working in your life and in the lives of those around you puts the concept of “sacrifice” into a whole new perspective. You never have to be afraid of God or of what he will do if you unreservedly put your life into his hands.
To be a missionary or not to be a missionary, that is the question. There is a price to be paid either way. Wanting to make a difference in this world is a noble pursuit, but how much greater is the aim of making a difference in eternity. With the Lord’s help, the potential impact you can make, along with all others who are willing to take up the challenge, is unfathomable. “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).
--Kevin L. Moore
*Adapted from my book, The Single Missionary  77-85.
Related posts: Counting the Cost of Being a Missionary (Part 1)