Missionaries can find a lot to complain about. Going to a place that usually has less than before–less privacy, less amenities, less flexibility, less availability, less efficiency, less of everything!–makes it so hard not to be unhappy and discontent when the inevitable comparisons happen. “Ugh! In America…this wouldn’t have happened!” or “I miss…” or “Why does it have to be that way!”
Sometimes we even give ourselves the right to our grumblings–after all, we can only take so much sacrifice, right? Are we also supposed to be happy and thankful about things that we see as the obvious fruits of sin all around us? We may even be tempted to loudly complain, so that the nationals will “see things the way they ought to.” You know, help out their worldview issues.
I remember feeling this way on one harrowing occasion of trying to renew our visitors’ visas. It was one of the most stressful events in our ministry to that point, and I actually wondered if I would go nuts from worry. It was incredibly hard not to visibly lose my temper, even with a national in the room to check my emotions, when my husband came home with more bad news about the situation that year.
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings,” says Philippians 2:14 [“without grumbling and arguing”–HSCB].
And the opposite course of action is given in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
How many times had I heard or memorized those verses in my youth? But they seemed impossible on the mission field.
But a few years ago as I attempted to memorize the book of Philippians, I realized that the thought doesn’t end there. In fact, Philippians 2:14 is directly related to missions! Here’s the whole passage:
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life…”
When I made the connection between verse 14 and the following verses, the sword of the Word cut through all of my self-justifications for why complaining was allowable in my situation. Missionaries should not be given a pass on complaining. If anything, we should be more careful to guard our tongues and spirits from complaining, because complaining directly affects our testimony.
When we complain, we hurt our testimony. Complaining makes us so that we can’t truly be called “blameless and pure.” But if others see us in times of trial thanking and praising our God, with a spirit of peace and trust, then they can marvel–what is it that makes them able to respond that way? If you can keep yourself from complaining, you are helping the Gospel.
In fact, the inspired Word even admits that we are in the middle of a crooked and perverted nation. Those national sins and foreign factors that can be so angering and my-rights-destroying don’t give me an excuse to complain–just to vent and get it all out! No. Instead, they remind me that I am a STAR (as HSCB translates) shining in their darkness, holding out life to them!
Wow. I don’t feel like a star, do you? Too often the stress pot of life on the mission field causes my remnant sins and unaddressed temptations to boil over, and all of the blackness and poison still in my heart spills out of my mouth and on everyone else. But it’s true–like Galadriel’s phial in Shelob’s lair, we are supposed to be a rebuke–our brightness, a pain–to the darkness.
Let those sins and the frustrations that come along with the darkness all around you in whatever crooked and perverse nation you live in remind you–not that you deserve better, or once had better–but that the darker the darkness, the brighter you shine (a star!), when you live blamelessly in that darkness.