As a new Christian I was obsessed with reading biographies about missionaries who went out to preach the gospel to distant lands. Some of my favourite biographies were of people like C.T.Studd, Jim Eliott, Hudson Taylor and Jackie Pullinger. Each one of them gave up everything to share the gospel in unevangelized areas. They were great sources of encouragement and challenged me to live out of my comfort zone.
The problem was that in my head I romanticised and sexed up mission work. I read the books with rose-tinted glasses and I saw the legacy, fame and accolades for doing this kind of work and wanted it for myself. This is a great danger amongst young people who have a passion to serve in ‘poorer’ areas. We look at the stories of the Bible like Acts or hear about missionaries preaching the gospel in distant lands and we think about the heroic natures of their faith and the success stories of miraculous conversions. And we think it must be so exciting to do this type of work. More than that, we make it about us. About our legacy, fame and accolades. Which misses the point entirely. Along with this, the reality is when people get into this kind of work they generally find two things…
Firstly, it’s not glamorous. Life is not made up just of 2 or 3 big moments of victory but 10,000 little mundane moments each day that are often uninteresting. In between the ‘success’ stories there is much prayer, contemplation, conversation, heartache and despair. I spend a lot of time sitting in the café that we run from our church talking to men struggling with alcohol, drugs, and general crime. The first time I spoke to someone about the Lord was exciting. I thought this is great. But it’s less exciting having the same conversation over and over again with that same person about the gospel. It’s disheartening when you sit with a guy plastered out of his head with alcohol slurring words at you for half an hour. Its dismaying seeing people accept the gospel and then simply throw it away and go back to their old lives even though it means misery for them. The ‘success stories’ don’t seem to flow quite so quickly in realtime.
Secondly, this type of work takes perseverance. Serving the ‘poor’ and vulnerable is long-term graft. Living in a McDonald’s generation we don’t like being patient. However in this game transformation is a long-term process. Let me give you an example – today I took two older gentlemen to get their various prescriptions (scripts for short). One of the men I took to get his script I have known for a year. He started coming to our recovery groups as he struggles with alcohol and heroin. He seemed to be getting the gospel and looked serious about walking with the Lord and battling with his addiction. We helped him clean up his house because it was an absolute mess and tried to give him support by way of meeting up one on one to discuss the Bible and talk through issues in his life. It all seemed to be going really well. However he slowly started missing our recovery course, stopped talking about serious things with us and slowly just went back into his life of lying and addiction. He lives by himself and is drinking himself to death. I see him everyday and hence why I was taking him to the chemists to get his script. Of course we will keep praying and I believe that God is miraculous and able to break into the situation but this is tough graft. It is hard investing your time in someone, praying for them, helping them out and then for them simply to walk away. It’s tricky seeing him each day and knowing what to say when he doesn’t want to engage or listen. It’s heartbreaking to see him drink himself into the grave and slowly lose his mind and ability to socialize. If you want to work in an area with social difficulties then you need to get ready for long-term slog. People’s lives are so chaotic, full of up’s and downs and life with them is demanding. The burn out rate for people working in this kind of area is high because it is tough!
Ministry with the ‘poor’ is by no means glamorous. My intention in writing this blog is not to put people off but to get them to understand the realities of life in this type of ministry. There are many joys but these joys are mixed with the sufferings of this sinful world. Jesus never said our walk with Him would be easy but instead we must pick up our crosses, deny ourselves and follow him. This will be the same wherever you go. The question is are you ready for it?