Elben M. Lenz César
Tanslated by Marta Carriker
Without diminishing the importance of other types of pastoral care missionaries should receive, I firmly believe that their personal relationship with God is of utmost importance. In order to find spiritual peace, a productive ministry, good family relationships and even physical and emotional health, missionaries really do have to be like trees planted ¨by a spring¨ (Gen 49:22), ¨by streams of water¨ (Ps. 1.3), or ¨by water (Jer. 17:8). Drawing from this beautiful image of a tree growing by a waterfall, it is clear that missionaries should always be as close to God as possible. The convincing reason is one and only: God is the fountain of living waters (Jer. 2:13). All the effort and time spent striving continually to approach him will prove to be extremely fruitful.
WITHIN THE IRON GATES
If I were to help missionaries who, once in a while feel the same suffocating sensation with what the psalmist experienced when he said ¨I am confined and cannot escape,¨ (Psalm 88:8) I would sit beside them and present them with many options that might help them.
I would not deny that there are indeed many situations that are difficult for missionaries and for anyone else. But I would also emphasize that God´s deliverance is usually experienced precisely when doors seem to be closed.
In fact there are huge and threatening iron gates in time and space. They stand between good and evil, between vices and self control. They separate wrath from love, sadness from joy, discouragement from hope. They are between sickness and cure, between war and peace, and above all, between death and resurrection.
After confessing ¨I am confined and cannot escape¨ (NVI), the psalmist, in spite of it, lifts his voice to God saying: ¨I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you.¨ (Psalm 88:9). And help will come in God´s appointed time.
In the life of Israel – when Egyptian troops were coming behind them and the Red Sea stood as a barrier before them – God parted the sea, opening a dry path so that His chosen people could cross to the other side (Ex 14:10-31).
In Jonah´s experience — when the prophet goes “down into the deep, at the roots of the mountains, whose bars closed upon him forever” – God spoke to the fish and it promptly spewed Jonah out upon the dry land. (Jon 2:5-10).
In Peter´s experience — when the apostle was in prison in Jerusalem guarded day and night by four squads of soldiers – God released the chains that bound him to the sentries and opened the iron gate that led into the city (At 12.1-19).
In Paul´s experience — when the ship in which he and 275 other people (a mix of sailors, prisoners, guards and passengers) wrecked on the coast of the island of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea – God protected and saved all of their lives. Not a hair from their heads was lost (Acts 27:34).
In John´s experience — when history came to a standstill, not advancing, while nothing happened, there were no surprises, good news were not forthcoming and prophecies seemed to fail, because there was no one either in heaven or on earth worthy to open the seven seals of the scroll – suddenly the Lamb of God, who was dead but now is alive, approached and opened one by one the seven seals, unleashing the events that culminate in the fullness of salvation (Re. 5:1-14).
I am sure that after this time of sharing together reflecting on these experiences the missionary with whom I would be sitting and talking would not blurt out without giving it a second thought “I am a prisoner without hope” (Psalm 88:8, translated by CNBB)!
WHEN RESULTS ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN
If a missionary came to me to unburden himself because his ministry seemed to bear no fruit, because few people accepted the Gospel and when they did, conversion seemed too slow, I would read to him or her the shortest of the 52 chapters in Jeremiah.
This chapter mentions Baruch’s moaning and the Lord´s comfort. Baruch was Jeremiah´s assistant, scribe and friend. It was he who wrote the first and second editions of the scroll that registered everything God had spoken to Jeremiah about Judah, Israel and other nations, starting on the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign (626 B.C.) extending to the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s (609 B.C.) The prophet would dictate and the scribe would write it down.
After finishing his work of writing and after reading the scroll twice, the first time for the people which had gathered in the temple for fasting and later for a selected group of leaders in a more reserved place, Baruch broke down emotionally: ¨Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.¨ (Jer. 45:3).
It is known that emotional exhaustion (of the mind) is more painful than physical exhaustion (of the body) and that spiritual exhaustion (of the soul) hurts more than emotional exhaustion. In some cases a person can suffer physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion at the same time. A case in point was Job.
Baruch cried because he had the same expectations for the results of his reading that God and Jeremiah had. He expected that people would have a chance to turn from their wicked ways and then receive the Lord´s forgiveness. But events took a different turn. When the book was read for the first time before king Jehoiakim, in his winter apartment, ¨each time Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe´s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire¨ (Jer 36:23-24, NIV). Similar pain has come upon many people, including Jesus (Mat. 23:37-39), Paul (Rom. 9:2), Jeremiah himself (Lam 3:48-51) and numerous missionaries and pastors.
In Baruch ́s case, the crisis led him to prayer, prayer to get all that happened off his chest, which is precisely the type of prayer that is prescribed in cases of exhaustion. When we open up to God in prayer it is like a drainage which our tears can flow through. Missionaries are not alone in the exhaustion caused by difficulties and problems on the mission eld, which includes persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom. It is estimated that between 200 and 250 million Christians are persecuted and another 400 million live under various restrictions.
The Lord´s comfort came over Baruch as it will come over anyone who cries real tears in the presence of God.
IN THE MIDST OF PERSECUTION
If a missionary in countries that are extremely closed, where the government will expatriate, arrest or mistreat Christians would approach me in tears about his or her risky situation, I would wrap my arms around him or her and do my best to speak comfort and courage to his or her heart.
Perhaps I would begin by reading the last beatitude: ¨Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.¨ (Mt 5:11). I would tell them that Peter not only heard these words from Jesus but mentioned them in his letter: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rest on you.” (1 Pe. 4:14).
I would certainly spend more time, however, explaining to him or her how time and again Jesus referred to the abuse that he and his followers would suffer from the civil and religious opposition on account of the spread and keeping of the faith. In the parable of the man who planted and rented a vineyard, the tenants seized his servants, ¨beat one, killed another and stoned a third.¨ (Mat. 21:35). When the owner sent two more servants, the tenants repeated the atrocity. When the owner sent his own son in the hope that this time they would respect him, the same tenants ¨took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him¨ (Mat. 21:39). In the parable of the wedding banquet, the same thing happened: the guests seized the servants of the king, mistreated them and killed them¨. (Mat. 22:6). Well, the “servants” of both the owner of the vineyard and the king whose son was about to get married are none other than the missionaries in the dispensation of grace, yesterday and today.
I would remind the missionary that the son of the owner of the vineyard in the parable, who was beaten and killed, is the Son of God! As a matter of fact, I would insist on reading the words of Jesus himself about the suffering that awaited him in Jerusalem: ¨…they [civil authorities] will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified” (Mat. 20:19, NLT).
Jesus did not fail to mention the suffering that those who are sent would undergo: ¨Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.¨ (Mat. 24:9, NIV)
I would advise the missionary to be cautious but not fearful, brave but not careless, strong but not provocative. I would assure him (or her) that before he is mistreated or even martyred God’s grace would come and surround him much more effectively than my hands on his shoulder!
WHEN GOD FROWNS
If I were to dedicate my ministry to the pastoral care of missionaries I would teach them to undo God´s frown. My approach would be to quote the moving call that is found in Jeremiah: “Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD…” (Jer. 3:12, ESV). But, instead of using this version, I would use the NIV version that says: “Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD, I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,” declares the LORD, “I will not be angry forever.”
Whenever we misbehave and do something that is displeasing to the Lord or grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), he “frowns” at us. (It could also be interpreted as ¨God scowls at us in anger¨). Considering that not only gross mistakes will annoy God, none of us escapes displeasing him in one way or another. John himself admits: ¨My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father.¨ (1Jo 2:1, NLT).
There is an honorable way out for the missionary who needs to change God´s frown. And it is not complicated in the least. All it takes is to admit one’s mistake, fall or sin, taking full responsibility for it, and to confess it before God with a contrite heart.
About this, the most encouraging biblical passage is “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo 1:9). I would remind the missionary that this promise is
Conditional: “If we confess…”
It takes honesty: “If we confess our sins…” (not somebody else´s sins).
Trustworthy: “He is faithful (to fulfill the promise made) and just” (he extends it only to him who confesses).
Double: “To forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (true confession provides both forgiveness and cleansing, it removes both the unbearable guilt and the unpleasant sensation of moral uncleanness).
In order to change God´s indignant face or his scowl, the missionary must consider how far he or she has fallen (Rev. 2:5) so that confession can be made. Confession must be made so that he or she will no longer remember. Only then is God´s frown removed completely! And the sins that motivated God´s frown are “swept away like the morning mist” (Is. 44.22, NIV) or as everything that is hurled “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).
WHEN THERE IS MISUNDERSTANDING
If a missionary bashfully told me in secret that he or she has a difficult time relating to his or her colleagues on the field, missionary agency or his or her church members, I would not be surprised. However, my advice to him or her would be to continually overcome this problem, for the benefit of mission and not to grieve the Holy Spirit. And also to promote his or her emotional health and that of others, considering that lack of harmony between those who live or work together takes a toll on all involved. On this issue there is no middle ground: either people live in harmony or they do not.
It would not surprise me because the relationship between two or more people is always complicated due to our “Adamic” heritage. Was it not in the very beginning of human history that somebody let jealousy grow in his heart towards another, a jealousy developed into wrath, wrath that found its expression in murder? Was not one the other’s brother? Was Abraham’s and Sarah’s, Isaac’s and Rebekah’s, Jacob’s and Rachel’s marital life not tumultuous? Was the relationship between parents and children, son-in-law and mother-in-law, daughter-in-law and father-in-law, brother and sister, brother and brother not turbulent in the first three families of God´s chosen people? Was the friction between Mary and Martha not ugly? Was the fight amongst the apostles to know who was the greatest of them all not scandalous? Was not the misunderstanding between Paul and Barnabas after the first great missionary journey in history and immediately before the second not unpleasant? Was the relationship between the members of the church in Corinth not chaotic?
Because we have different temperaments, different histories, different backgrounds, different focuses, different reactions, different defects and virtues, different gifts – relationships are not automatic, they are not without effort, not without crucifixion.
A good relationship for missionaries depends on some obvious virtues. He or she should know, understand and respect the other. He or she should love and forgive the other. He or she should be tolerant and patient towards the other. He or she should have wisdom and receive orientation on how to live together with the other. He or she should be humble enough not to seek his or her own glory at the expense of the other’s . He or she should hate competition, comparison, or rivalry. He or she should erase from his or her memory any negative memory of the other. He or she should ask for and offer forgiveness. He or she should dialogue, talk, and open his heart to the other. He or she should avoid any opportunity to upset the other. He or she should intercede for the other. He or she should pray to God for these virtues.
The ethical and spiritual effort to protect good relationships is much smaller than the effort to withstand grievances.
IN THE MIDST OF EMOTIONAL UPS AND DOWNS
If I met a confused, tormented missionary who is upset about his or her own emotional ups and downs I would feel at ease to help him or her. When this situation is not caused by sin or by any difficulty related to mental health, it is something normal in anybody’s life.
In the experience of David, for instance, there were ups and downs. In one of his Psalms, the sensitive poet of Israel says: “In peace I will lie down and sleep” (4:8). In another that comes right after that one, David confesses: “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” (6:6). If in one Psalm he affirms that the Lord makes him lie down in green pastures and leads him beside quiet waters (23:2), in another he declares: “My soul is in deep anguish” (6:3). Another example of David’s emotional alternation can be found in Psalm 21 (“The king rejoices in your strength”) and in Psalm 13 (“How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?”) (NLT).
There is no contradiction in David. He is sincere when he says he is happy and when he says he is sad. But he does not affirm both things at the same time or under the same circumstances. One evening the psalmist might be very well and depressed the next.
That happens to everybody. No one is always very well. No one is always depressed. We all have days that are happy and days that are sad. All of us encounter favorable circumstances and unfavorable circumstances. And we all deal with comfortable situations and uncomfortable situations.
There is joy that comes easily and joy that comes with difficulty. One of them is spontaneous joy, the other is conquered joy. The joy that comes easily depends on good physical conditions, it depends on a beautiful day, it depends on the absence of adversity, and it depends on the calm between two storms. The joy that comes with difficulty depends on the closeness to God, it depends on the acceptance of certain needs, it depends on our learning that is sometimes long and slow in coming. That was the experience of the apostle Paul: “I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances.” (Php. 4:11) (BSB). Naturally conquered joy is worth more than spontaneous joy because there is price to be paid for it.
I would strive to make it clear to the missionary that joy does not always last a long time but that neither do tears. It is David himself who reminds us: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (ps. 30:5, nlt).
UNDER THE PRESSURES OF THE FLESH
If any missionary came to me to complain about the huge pressures of the flesh, I would easily understand him or her because I am also under the same pressures. I would encourage them to pray as explicitly as I do. Since we are all prone to sin, it is very healthy to pray short and precise prayers, dealing straightforwardly with basic issues. These are not exactly desperate prayers, but they are prayers that openly call for deliverance. Besides supplications that can be graciously answered by God, this type of prayer produces emotional relief on those who pray.
Some ever present pressures of the flesh and of the Devil are so strong that the missionary should pray more or less like this:
Oh, God, protect me from the power of the air and from myself!
Oh, God, sanctify me, draw me closer to you, correct me, and heal me!
Oh, God, set me free from any conscious or unconscious increase of vanity, set me free from any euphoria or flirtatiousness, set me free from self promotion and most of all from the equivocal, wrong, disastrous, and harmful overestimation of myself!
Oh, God, conquer me, cure me, dominate me, subject me, and crush me!
Oh, God, take away from me rash judgment, envy, jealousy, impatience, lack of love!
Oh, God, help me with my old, historical, personal, insistent, constant needs.
Oh, God, help me when I am afraid, anxious, hesitant, cowardly, unbelieving.
Oh, God, forgive me the lack of innocence and spontaneity toward sex, set me free from evil, malice, lack of shame, lust, from the adulterous heart and the adulterous eyes!
Oh, God, take away from me the fixed idea of sin, give me balance, wisdom and the power to do what is right! Amen.
WHEN THE HEART IS BROKEN
If I am called to deal with the chronic or accidental sadness of a missionary, I would help him to cast away sadness and to replace it with joy. That is a possible exercise.
First I would tell him that joy is not an option for a missionary or for anyone for that matter. It is an order from above that should be obeyed. The commandment to rejoice is spread all over Scripture: in the Pentateuch (De. 16:11), in the Psalms (Ps. 30:11), in the Prophets (Zek. 9:9), In the Gospels (Lk. 10:20), in the Epistles (Php. 4:4) and in Revelation (Re. 19:7). The best known text comes from Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always: Again I will say, rejoice.” (Php. 4:4).
Secondly I would say to him or her that the main source of joy is the presence of God in our daily life, as we read in the Psalms: “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11). Missionaries should pray the prayer of Moses frequently: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Ps. 90:14). That is why Paul emphasizes that we are to rejoice “in the Lord.”
Thirdly, I would say to him or her that joy should not depend on circumstances. It should rather be independent of them. This is an art the missionary must learn. He or she will have to soar above the situations of sadness, depression, melancholy, estrangement etc. The first and the most notable Christian missionary does not hide that at first he did not know how to do that, but that he eventually learned “to be content regardless of his circumstances.” (Php 4:11). Another example set by Scriptures comes from the prophet Habakkuk “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines. Though the yield of the olive should fall and the fields produce no food. Though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls. Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” (Hab. 3:17-18, NIV).
Fourthly, I would say to him or her that not all sadness should be expelled from the heart. There are some special occasions in which sadness becomes a virtue and joy becomes inappropriate. Paul shows his virtue when he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart” because of the unbelief of his brethren and kinsmen. (Ro. 9:2). There are both the exhortations to “Rejoice” (Ze 9:9) and “Do not rejoice” (Ho 9:1). The former is for what God has done (Ps 118:24), the latter (“do not rejoice”) is for the wrong that is done by people (Jas 4:9).
Rew. César is the Founding Director of ULTIMATO, Brazilian Magazine, for more than 40 years. He is an emeritus pastor in Presbyterian Church of Vicosa, Minas Gerais, Brazil. He is an Honorary President of Centro Evangelico de Missões (CEM). He served the Third World Missions Association as Vice-Chairman from 1991 to 1994. firstname.lastname@example.org