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Preparing for Missionary Work

Lisa Barry: When you talk about missionary service these days, you'll get a thousand different reactions. Some people can't even imagine such a life, others see it as the ultimate spiritual experience. But regardless of your exposure to missionary life, there's a lot to be learned about it. Just how does one prepare for such a life?

Elisabeth Elliot answers that question and more as she continues reading letters from listeners all this week. And now, let's get started with this Wednesday 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, talking with you today about how to prepare for missionary work.

I get many letters from young people who are very eager and interested in missionary work. There are thousands of young people these days who have done short-term missionary work, which was something that really wasn't happening back in my day. When we went to the mission field it was generally assumed that you would go for at least five years before you would come back for a furlough. I don't think anybody had thought about short term for young people.

But I do get very many letters from young people who are eager to hear what I have to say about preparation for missionary work. So I have had to resort, of course, to some canned replies as it were from time to time because it's really just getting impossible to keep up with all the correspondence otherwise.

Please understand if what I have to say now doesn't exactly answer your question. You can always write again and see if you can get a better answer from me. But one of the most important factors in my desire to be a missionary began when I was very young. I think I was probably four or five years old when I made up my mind that I wanted to be a missionary. One of the main reasons that I wanted to do that was because our parents had been missionaries and because we had very many missionaries visiting in our home.

Now if you don't have the privilege of having missionaries in your home, remember that there are hundreds of wonderful missionary stories, books. So missionary books would be the second thing that galvanized me to want to be a foreign missionary. And I devoured books by Hudson Taylor, for example. Amy Carmichael, Russell Able of the South Seas, several different people that we had known from Africa who also wrote books, I think there was a book about Dr. Virginia Blakesly. And, of course, Corrie ten Boom. She was not exactly a missionary. She became a missionary in concentration camp, but her testimony was a very important one.

Of the books that I have written which touch on missionary work, there are: Through Gates of Splendor, which tells the story of five American missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians back in 1956. One of those, of course, was my first husband Jim Elliot. Then the biography of Jim Elliot is called Shadow of the Almighty.

Then the Lord gave me the privilege of going in to make contact with the Auca Indians a year and a half after Jim died. It was through two Aucas coming to live with me that I was enabled in 1958 to go and live with the people who had killed my husband. That book tells the story. It's called The Savage My Kinsman.

I won't list all the rest of them, but to go on to give you some suggestions if you're thinking about missionary work. Your children will be best prepared for their new life by seeing the enthusiasm and godly trust of their parents. People always worry so much about children's adjustments but I'm convinced that young people make adjustments much more easily than adults do. They quickly pick up a negative or fearful attitude if their parents reveal such. Let them know it will be a wonderful adventure with God. God has called you and your husband, therefore God has called them and He will care for all of you.

You'll need to seek God's guidance about education if you have children. Of course, I'm speaking to single people, and married people, and some, who have children. You've asked me for advice, so I must say that I'm strongly against sending children younger than high school age away to boarding school. That used to be done routinely a hundred years ago. English missionaries who went to all the corners of the earth were very frequently required by their mission boards to send their children back to England. That was a terrible wrench for both parents and the children. It was taken for granted that that's the way it had to be.

Now, of course, there are a good many good Christian schools on the mission fields. I homeschooled my daughter for three years. She and her husband, although not missionaries, have chosen homeschooling, convinced that children do better psychologically, educationally and spiritually if they're not placed in peer groups earlier than the age of let's say ten or so.

Now the best thing that I took when I went to Ecuador as a missionary was a tiny wood-burning cook stove, which I bought from Sears and Roebuck for $17. This was cast iron. It was big enough to bake two loaves of bread in the tiny little oven. It had four lids on the top and a pipe. That was by far the most useful thing that I took to Ecuador. I doubt that such a thing is manufactured anymore.

I also took a little folding organ because I do like to play the piano. I can't really play a real organ, but a little folding organ I took along. Foam mattresses, which were pretty hard to come by way back in those days. Now days I suppose anything can be bought almost anywhere. By all means take books, music, a microscope, binoculars. I lived for years without a refrigerator in the tropics. We didn't have electricity. We didn't have running water. We never had any plumbing problems. We didn't have a washing machine.

In my situation we were living with jungle Indians who were very glad to have what I called work. To them it was so simple that they thought it was ridiculous to call it work. Housework to them was nothing compared to the very rigorous hard kind of work that they usually had to do. So I sometimes hired them to wash and to cook and to clean house. These things depend on the situation where you'll be.

Now we get down to some really important things, of utmost importance. You have to face missionary work with the spirit of servanthood. Read John 13 over and over. For a preview of coming attractions, study Matthew 9:35 through chapter 10 where Jesus is explaining what the disciples can expect, also John 15 and 16 for some crucial principles for service. The conditions of discipleship, Matthew 16:24-26 and Luke 14:26-33.

It's very important that you remember that you're a foreigner and you will never be anything else no matter how warmly you are received. You are the one to do the adapting. Ask the people to correct your language, your pronunciation in other words of the language that they are teaching you. Don't be timid about asking the people, "Did I say it right?" I find that generally speaking they're very ready to correct your language, but not ready if you are not willing.

I remember hearing a friend of mine tell about an older woman who'd been a missionary for umpteen years in Africa. She absolutely murdered the language that those people had been trying to teach her. She thought she was doing a wonderful job. One day a young African man had the temerity to correct that lady's language. She drew herself up to her full height and looked up at this tall Nuer man. He belonged to the Nuer tribe. She said, "Young man, I was speaking this language before you were born."

Don't follow that woman. Ask the people to correct your language, your manners, your way of life. Because there will be all kinds of new manners that you're going to have to learn. Identify with them wherever possible in order to eliminate distractions. Try to become as much like the people there, as possible. Of course, I am tall and white and blond and blue-eyed. The Indians of the jungle of Ecuador were not tall or white or blond or blue-eyed. There wasn't any way that I could change those things, but in every way that I possibly could I tried to identify myself with them. And the first thing that I did was to wear Indian dress, which was a simple navy blue skirt and a checked blouse. That was the Quichua costume.

When I went to live with the Aucas, of course, I can assure you that I did not adopt their manner of dress because it was merely a string around their hips. I don't mean a G-string, I mean a string. If they wanted to be very dressed up they would sometimes put a string around their upper arm or perhaps around their thigh. So, you can decide what your costume should be, but make it as much like the people's as possible.

It's your job to give them the Gospel, but it's the Holy Spirit's job to show them how the Gospel is to change their lives. Deuteronomy 31:8 was one of the passages that my father gave me first of all when I went away to boarding school and then when I went to Ecuador as a missionary. This is what it says, "The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." This will hold you when the going gets rough.

May the Lord give you grace to seek His face regarding whether or not He wants you to be a missionary.

Lisa Barry: And with that we need to bring today's program to a close. But as we do, I hope you've been challenged by the life-changing experiences of listeners. This is why we do what we do. It's so heartwarming to hear about a change someone made in their conduct because of something they heard Elisabeth say. On the other hand, it's also a sobering thought to realize how many more people could be helped who aren't being helped simply because Gateway To Joy isn't on in their area. That's where you come in.

Gateway To Joy is a partnership effort. It's not just radio people making a lot of noise in a community. It's really about people like you who want others to benefit in the same way you have from the teaching you get here. You'll never know who those people are, but your financial investment makes it possible for Gateway To Joy to reach people all across this country and even overseas. Now doesn't that seem like a worthwhile investment? I hope we'll hear from you today. Here's our address:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE 68501. Or, toll-free 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Or, dial up our Web site at gatewaytojoy.org.

Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible. Be with us again tomorrow when Elisabeth talks more about what it takes to be a missionary. That's next time on Gateway To Joy.

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