The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14
Jesus the divine Son of God, the logical principle which governs the universe, broke into our dimension, entered a womb, was born, lived, and died as a man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Incarnation was the longest missionary journey ever undertaken, the most extreme cross-cultural interaction ever experienced. It is the lifestyle model for all missionaries, and all Christians.
“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” -Charles Spurgeon
For me, I’m “home”–back in the town I grew up in, anyway–after spending 10 months as a missionary in Honduras. God taught me there about missionary life, and about the paradigm for life that the Incarnation creates.
He taught me that this is a missionary’s heart:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… To those under the law I became as one under the law… To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… To the weak I became weak… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
He taught me that missionaries are lots of things, especially foreigners, students, advocates, and prophets.
They are foreigners. Naturally, they do not share all the thought patterns, habits, interests, or customs of their target “people group.” Since they are coming in from the outside, many things do not captivate them in the same way as they do for those from the foreign culture around them. That is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9 when he said he was “free from all.” Because Christ’s gospel defined Paul’s fundamental sense of himself, he found himself completely spiritually free from every sub-culture with which he interacted. Jews under the law, pagans outside it, rich and poor, weak and strong–being none of them in any fundamental sense, he could be each of them fully, while maintaining an underlying detachment from all the groups in their particularity. He remembered what Peter called all Christians:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles… 1 Peter 2:11
Missionaries are students, by necessity. They are learners of new languages, cultures, societal systems, lifestyles, mindsets. Good ones never stop trying to understand their people groups better, by studying them. Better understanding, better parroting, makes for better communication, and missionaries know they are communicators of a foreign message–not from another nation but from another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. Missionaries experience their host culture not as passive consumers but as active students. They analyze everything that comes at them: automatically, because everything is different, but also studiously, so that they can be “all things to all people.”
Missionaries are advocates for the overall well-being of their people group. They resemble Levitical priests, bringing people before God and God before people. Sometimes they defend the well-being of their people group to oppressors or to people in power, and sometimes to the people themselves. They advocate for justice on behalf of their people even when those people do not know what that means, being devoted to a God himself profoundly passionate about justice. They pray like priests, interceding for the people, and they think like prophets, strategizing for the renewal of every aspect of their people’s life.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9
Finally, they are prophets. That is, they are voices of God’s truth–and praise be to God, the truth about God is that he is full of grace. God told Jeremiah the prophet, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak… Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:7, 9). God equips missionaries in the same way. They are vehicles of communication for heaven’s proclamations. They are otherworldly message-bearers. Paul said in the New Testament, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). And what is “God’s appeal”? The next verse tells us: “Be reconciled to God!” That is the essential prophetic message missionaries communicate with their lives and voices.
Consider these things. Jesus sends all of us out–to our campuses, workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, and to all the nations and tribes of the world–just as his Father sent him.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21