This is it. We've given all we have for the sake of Christ.
I couldn't help but think this as my family watched from our window while stacks of boxes were picked up by a local thrift store. It's one thing to declutter your home and get rid of excess belongings. It's another thing to whittle down all you own into eight suitcases. But for us, there was no option.
It was 2015, and my wife and our two children were moving to Mongolia to serve at a Bible college. So we had to fit all our earthly possessions into the airline's baggage allowance. And those bags had to be under 52 pounds!
Is this scale broken? Why does it always read 56 pounds? If we bring the kitchen items we can't get in Mongolia, do we have to leave behind our toddler's new birthday present?
Relatively small sacrifices like these can lead some Christians to treat missionaries as though they're holier than other believers. In our saner moments, Christian missionaries know that's not true. But we can also be tempted to believe the lie. We can look at our sacrifices and think we've somehow arrived. However, moving across cultures doesn't make you a disciple. It doesn't prove you love Jesus. Being a faithful witness and pleasing God requires more than making sacrifices.
Jesus makes this point in Matthew 23:15. It appears that the Pharisees themselves sent missionaries. But Jesus rebukes them for crossing "land and sea to win a single convert" only to "make them twice as much a child of hell as you are." According to Jesus, missionary sacrifice doesn't necessarily honor God.
“According to Jesus, missionary sacrifice doesn't necessarily honor God.”
This truth became real to me while living in Mongolia. One day, another missionary approached me. She didn't speak English, so we communicated the best we could in broken Mongolian. She handed me a pamphlet in the local language that explained the Bible and asked, "Do you know God?" The brochure depicted biblical scenes. Then I saw pictures of aliens. She was a missionary from a Christian cult.
Just like the Pharisees, missionaries from cult groups make sacrifices to move overseas. And while we have a more accurate understanding of the gospel than Jewish Pharisees or Christian cults, a subtle danger remains for evangelical missionaries: it's a misunderstanding of the nature of Christian discipleship. Missionaries are tempted to take pride in their sacrifices and think, perhaps subconsciously, that they have arrived. But there are two truths that guard against this danger.
1. Becoming a Disciple Is a Process, Not a Status
Becoming a missionary isn't like joining a frequent flyer program. You don't get preferred status in the kingdom based on the number of miles flown, the difficulty of the mission field, or how much you've given up. Jesus's call to follow him challenges such an assumption: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). The call for Christ's disciples—even for missionaries—is to daily surrender. No matter what sacrifices we've made in the past, none of us have arrived.
In our case, getting rid of our belongings back in 2015 was only the beginning. Departing Mongolia in 2019, we left behind household treasures and children's toys. Now, we're doing it all over again. Waiting in New Mexico to move to Liberia. Giving away our stuff. Saying goodbye. These are the difficult moments that every cross cultural missionary knows.
This may seem trivial, but the transitioning from Minnesota to Mongolia to New Mexico and now to Liberia has been difficult for us. On paper it seemed manageable, reasonable, and achievable. But daily sacrifices feel hard. Giving up your belongings to follow Jesus across the seas can be exhilarating the first time. But by the fourth or fifth, it can be exhausting. This is especially true when you realize that whenever you leave behind your stuff, you don't necessarily leave behind your sin. Missionaries constantly carry with them the fleshly desire for comfort. The fight for contentment never ends.
This realization ultimately leads me back to what it means to follow Jesus. It reminds me that becoming a disciple isn't a one-time decision or a status we achieve. Instead, it's a process of dying to self and living to God. And, as our family has found, Jesus doesn't only lead us. He walks with us every step of the way.
2. We Are Unworthy Servants with an Unfinished Task
Yet with each daily sacrifice missionaries make, the temptation to act as though they've arrived can resurface. Pride can make missionaries feel entitled. As they count all the sacrifices they've made, missionaries can feel like their job is done. They deserve a break—perhaps a respite in the preferred status lounge. After all, when they compare themselves to others, they might assume they've worked harder and sacrificed longer than many of their friends.
But Jesus challenges that idea in a parable in Luke 17. In it, Jesus compares his disciples to servants who have plowed all day in the field. But a day of hard labor doesn't mean a servant's work is finished. The job isn't done. When they return in the evening, servants don't immediately get to sit down. Instead, they go inside and prepare dinner for the Master.
This is what God expects of the laborers in his harvest. And Jesus says that his followers, after they have completed all the work he has commanded them, will simply respond, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17:10).
My family's move to Liberia is fast approaching. There have been moments when I've felt like I've already finished a hard day's work in Mongolia. Now I can sit back and rest. But the task is unfinished. I must go inside and prepare dinner.
The time for rest is coming, the day when the faithful missionary will see Jesus face to face and say, "We are your servants; we've simply done what you asked." And he will then respond, "Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master's happiness!"
At that time, the missionary will never again face another transition. The baggage of sin will no longer be carried along. The process will be complete. They will have finally arrived.