|I AM WITH YOU|
Elisabeth Elliot: You who long for the salvation of people you love and have tried to lead to Christ, do you live in such a way, act in such a way, love in such a way as to draw them? Would they want Jesus, unless they see in us, His representatives, a truly, shining, loving life, utterly different from the life of the world?
Lisa Barry: Those thoughts are bitter for me when I think back on the place I worked when I first became a Christian. I was learning so much, and at the same time feeling convicted about so many things. Things like sharing my faith with coworkers, trying to challenge them to heed the same lessons God was showing me. I was quick to speak and slow to listen. I hadn't learned to live out what my mouth was saying. Do you know the proverb that says, "It is not good to have zeal without wisdom"? Well, that was me in a nutshell. Today on Gateway to Joy, Elisabeth Elliot continues to reveal our misconceptions about missionary work. I think you'll find many parallels in your own life. And now let's get started with this edition of Gateway to Joy.
Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, continuing my missionary musings today. I've been reading from the letters of my dear friend, Eleanor Vandevort, whom I've always called Van, written to me back in the days of the 1950's and '60's when she was a missionary in the Sudan with a tribe called the Nuers. They were a very tall, very proud, totally naked people, except for the married women. She described them as being beautiful, black and proud of it.
"Nakedness comes easily to them," she said. "Men need never wear clothes. Married women must wear a loincloth or a skirt of grass cords. That's all. Beads and bracelets are their decorations. Nuers don't hunt much. Their spears are for dancing and fighting one another. Before the Britons came in, they were feared by all the surrounding tribes because of cattle raids and warfare, but they have been greatly subdued by the British. They are not hunters, but fishermen. Cattle are not primarily for food, but are for sacrifices and marrying. They are aristocratic. They have not the least desire to be anything different. The word progress is archaic to them. They arrived long ago.
They have very little art. Most of them draw pictures of cattle, just as a little child in kindergarten in our country will usually draw a house or a person, but they draw cattle. Their reactions to us and to our ways and things, their blunt, frank questions and answers, their empty stares and obvious confoundedness upon seeing us for the first time, indicate a complete inability to understand us. Of course, we have no ability to really understand them. Salvation is God's business. We can only offer."
That's Van talking, but I have been asked by several, "How many Indians did you convert?" My answer is that I never converted any. All I can do as a missionary is to offer them the truth of God. Then it's the Spirit of God who converts them.
Back to Van's letter. "We are instruments. God alone saves." In Jeremiah 31:18,19 we read, "Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall, to stand against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you, declares the Lord." That was a promise that the Lord seemed to give to Van. "They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you."
She goes on to say, "God convicts of sin, a man repents and then we try with the help of God to instruct them by life and by word." Which do you think is more important? How we live or what we say? Without any question, it's how we live. What we say is going to mean absolutely nothing if we don't live according to what we say.
Amy Carmichael, Irish missionary to India, wrote forty books. She wrote some little booklets also. One of these is still in print. It's called GOD'S MISSIONARY. I would like to read you a couple of pages from that.
"It was convention week in a hill station in India. The afternoon meeting was just over. A few Christian station people, some English-speaking Indian friends, and the seventy missionaries who had been listening to the Bible reading, were hurrying out to get a cup of tea before the evening meeting.
An Indian lady lingered in the empty hall. The writer, seeing her alone and thinking perhaps she had no friend at hand and might be feeling lonely, sat down beside her. Conversation turned upon the Bible reading. The Indian lady's face darkened and she said bitterly, 'What is the use of such meetings? You missionaries say one thing and do another.' It was easy to see she had been wounded and soured. But not knowing her history, I could only urge that the meetings were held just because we felt our need of being better than we were. But this did not satisfy her. In quick, eager sentences, she began to explain herself.
She said that her people had noticed that when a missionary came out first, he was usually warm and loving and keen to win souls. Then gradually, she said, it was noticed that he cooled. 'Who can say,' she concluded with an intensity that went through her hearer, 'who can say you missionaries lead especially holy lives? We Indian Christians observe. We observe you, not only when you are at work, but when you are off work, too. Is there anything remarkable about you? Are you burning hot people? We look to you to show us patterns, and you are showing us crooked patterns.'
The words scorched, discount what we may because of some inward hurt or warp. Granted, thank God, the picture painted thus is not wholly true. But there was enough truth left to lay at least one who listened low down in the dust. This writing is not meant for old, experienced missionaries who long ago have made up their minds concerning the questions discussed. It is only meant as a little word offered in all humility to younger fellow missionaries who have not made up their minds.
Comrades, in this solemn fight, this awful conflict with awful powers, let us settle it as something that cannot be shaken. We are here to live holy, loving, lowly lives. We cannot do this unless we walk very, very close to our Lord Jesus. Anything that would hinder us from the closest walk that is possible to us, till we see Him face to face, is not for us.
We need to be sensitive to the first approach of the hindering thing. For the sake of the souls that may be stumbled if we turn even ever so little aside, for the sake of our Master's glory, dearer surely to us than all else, let us ask Him now to show us whether in any wise we have been showing crooked patterns.
If this message should reach a new recruit, one would say the same word, only turning a little. Will you not wait upon your Lord before you come out and every day thereafter, from the first hour on board ship onwards, asking Him to keep you as we ask Him now to keep us from showing crooked patterns?"
It cuts deep, doesn't it? Amy Carmichael has a way of cutting very deeply, and making me, for one, very uncomfortable. "You who long for the salvation of people you love and have tried to lead to Christ, do you live in such a way, act in such a way, love in such a way as to draw them? Would they want Jesus unless they see in us, His representatives, a truly shining, loving life, utterly different from the life of the world? Are we lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation?"
Hear what Paul says in Philippians 2:14-17. "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life, in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you."
I'm not sure I'm willing to be poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service that comes from your faith. I often wonder in those wee hours of the night, when I lie in bed and ponder things, should I continue speaking on Gateway to Joy? Are there those with hearts open, minds prepared to listen, wills who want to run in obedience? I'm sure there are. Don't worry. I don't intend to quit, not unless the Lord says, "Quit." Or unless the Lord withdraws from me the power to do what I do.
But I ask you to pray for me. I need your prayers. I need your encouragement and I want to thank you again for your letters. You have no idea how much those letters mean to all of us. They get read by several people in Lincoln, Nebraska. Several hardworking people open all the mail, people read the mail, people answer it, people send the things which are asked for. Then the stuff is sent to me. Great, big, thick packages. I read and I pray over your letters, your requests, your sorrows and your sufferings. Thank you so much for the privilege that you give me to speak to you. Remember that every experience, if given to Jesus, can be your Gateway to Joy.
Lisa Barry: If this program has been helpful to you, why not take 15 minutes and tell us how? So often your story will be just the thing that another person needs to hear. Your letters also help us to know you better, to know your interests and what topics reach out best to you. When you write to us, you might also want a copy of this two-week tape series entitled MISSIONARY MUSINGS. The cost is $13. You can send that, along with your request, to Gateway to Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or call 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Our Internet ministry address is gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway to Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible.
Elisabeth shares more excerpts from missionary letters next time, so make it a point to join us for tomorrow's edition of Gateway to Joy.