Worth the Cost
By Jeff Hartensveld
Dec. 2, 2012
In December 2004, the countries of South Asia were sent reeling by a devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. I was asked to lead relief efforts in some of the hardest hit areas of Indonesia, where my family and I had served as missionaries since 1989. The devastation was more than the relief team could handle, so a number of local people helped us hand out food and blankets to the suffering. In the middle of the chaos, one of those helpers, Echo, made a comment I will never forget.
After a long day of relief work, Echo and I decided to walk down to a beach area for a little peace and quiet. The shore was deserted because all the houses had been swept away. No one wanted to go near the ocean, but we were eager to get away from the demands of the day.
As the two of us sat quietly in the sand, Echo suddenly spoke. In Bahasa Indonesia, he simply said, “You’re the first American I have ever met.”
I didn’t respond since it wasn’t a question.
A moment later Echo said, “You’re the first Christian I have ever met in my whole life.”
I decided to keep quiet since the conversation was turning in the right direction without my help.
Echo’s next comment amazed me. “And everything I’ve ever heard about you has been a lie,” he said.
In the short time we had spent working together, Echo concluded that he really didn’t understand what it meant to be a Christian, and he was hungry to know more.
In missions circles today, a lot of time is spent discussing methods of world evangelization. But nothing compares in importance to missionaries who are willing to be incarnational — like Christ — by living within a different culture and taking time to understand the nuances of that culture. They learn not only the language, but also the unspoken meanings behind the words.
This deeper understanding doesn’t come after being in a country two weeks or two months — or even two years. But over time, a missionary will understand more than what a person says: He will understand why the person says it. When that happens, real conversation can take place about life, its challenges, and its true meaning. At that point a door opens to share Christ, even with those who are resistant to the gospel.
To reach that point, costs must be paid — time spent in preparation, leaving family behind, relinquishing all that is familiar, battling sickness, and everyday annoyances. But the reward of spending time with a family and sharing Christ with them for the first time is well worth the price.
The Great Commission is at the heart of everything a missionary does. Jesus’ command in Mark 16:15 to “go into all the world” means more than sharing the gospel with our neighbors, as important as that is. It involves giving a witness to every ethnicity and every place where people have never heard the gospel.
My favorite moments in Indonesia were when I found myself in an area where Christians had never been. I walked on ground that had never been trodden by anyone bringing the message of Christ. At those times I was reminded of what it means to be a missionary — someone who is sent.
Christ left the glories and splendor of heaven to live here on earth — a place filled with hardship and inconveniences. He adapted himself to the human race in order to understand humanity. Missionaries who follow His example must adapt themselves to new cultures, relate to people’s needs and, like Jesus, become incarnational through their attitudes and character.
The world is in desperate need of people who are willing to give their all to be examples of Christ in places where the gospel is not known. We call these the “hard places” of the world. They may be remote and primitive. They may be spiritually hostile to the gospel. But the Lord compels us to take the message of salvation to those people because they have never heard.
Reaching these hard places comes at a price. Those who go must be willing to lay everything on the line for the sake of the gospel.
Before my wife, Liz, and I went to Indonesia as missionaries-in-training, we held a garage sale and basically sold everything we owned. I remember selling my snow skiing equipment — a prized possession — for $5. I got rid of my boots, skis, poles, ski suit, everything. I said, “I won’t be skiing in Indonesia; it doesn’t snow there.”
Liz and I put everything we owned into six suitcases and left for Indonesia.
“What are we going to do?” we asked each other. “We’ll live simply and God will provide.”
That experience was the beginning of many lessons that taught us what it means to be willing to lay everything on the line for the gospel. Without that mindset, we probably would have packed up those six suitcases and headed home shortly after arriving.
The hard places of our world are calling for people who are ready to lay everything on the line for the gospel. Consumed with a desire to reach the lost, they willingly give up their material possessions, sell what they have, and go where God has called them.
As I visit U.S. churches, my trumpet call is this: “There are people groups in this world who have never once heard a clear witness of the gospel. We need men and women who will lay down their lives and live among them. Listen to the call of God on your life and fulfill the dream He has put on your heart. Be willing to give your all to follow Him — whatever the cost.”
JEFF HARTENSVELD is director of AGWM Mobilization.
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