It was 1982 and I was spending the week-long spring break of my sophomore year in college doing missions work in the inner city of a major American urban center. I joined three other college classmates, all Christians. Two of them had been on many previous short term mission trips. The third was like me, on our first missions trip. We were sponsored by a church located in the heart of the inner city.
From the time we arrived, things did not go smoothly. We were living in a men’s shelter and its current occupants definitely did not appreciate a group of privileged college students barging into their living area, forcing them to give up more space in already cramped living quarters. They were not all Christians and several of them were quite hostile to the Gospel. One remarked that we were there just to relieve our own guilt by trying to help the homeless. “Go back to your own homes! Why are you moving into ours?”
Perhaps the defining moment that crystallized the difficulties came when we were invited to dinner by one of the families in the church. Ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes-it was an amazing and extravagant spread. As the dishes were passed around, I was grateful for a seeming pause in the negativity we had received to that point. The respite was broken by the brusque statement of my classmate.
“I can’t eat that!”
He summarily declared as he pushed the bowl of biscuits away from him and proceeded to grab two pieces of lettuce and slapped a piece of turkey meat between it. We all stared in horror as he ate this odd sandwich, oblivious to his discourteous actions. It was only several years later when I was a medical student, did I understand that my classmate had a sensitivity to gluten, also known as celiac sprue disease. Unfortunately, this was 1982 and food sensitivities to gluten were not as widely known as today. The church family struggled between acting politely and not letting their resentment show toward him and our missionary group.
It was my first missionary journey, my first time living in the inner city, and my first encounter with gluten sensitivity. It was a mere two months after I first accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. What was I expecting? Wouldn’t God open every door on the missions field and allow me to triumphantly walk through them? Wouldn’t I be received with open arms by all whom I met? Wouldn’t I be motivated to become a missionary and change my career path? Unfortunately, this first experience tainted my impressions of missionary work for many years. I was a new Christian and my thoughts were still ringing with the charge of Jesus Christ and His Great Commission. Why did events turn out the way it did?
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
In the Great Commission quoted above, Jesus does not promise that everyone we meet will accept Him as Lord and Savior. He simply states to “go” and seek to make disciples of all nations. Regardless of the outcome, He is with us to the end of time. The great Saints of the Bible understood this and are praised for their steadfast faith, being committed to living a life that could look ahead to the promises of God that may not be fulfilled in their own lifetimes.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
Hebrews 11:13 (NIV)
It took me many years to learn this lesson. I was focused upon tangible results that our missions trip would bear, but this is not what God promises us. Jesus sends all of us as missionaries to bring light into a world of darkness. The light shines on everyone but not all are willing to accept it. I pray that God will continue to work in the hearts and souls of all who hear the Good News of Jesus Christ to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is the work of the missionary.
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.