Friday, November 13, 2015

Pilgrims not settlers

Moving seems to be tied in to God's purpose for us. The people of Israel had to go on pilgrimage three times a year to the Temple. In the life of Jesus there is constant travelling. Even after the Resurrection, Jesus meets the disciples first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee, and finally back in Jerusalem - all in 40 days. And it's all on foot! (Not to mention the walk to Emmaus.) Often there is cause to travel in the stories of the Bible. Abraham, the Exodus and Elijah spring immediately to mind. But for our generation we often want to stay put in one place for as long as reasonably possible. We go away on holiday, sometimes very far away from home, but we fly. There are long distance paths and pilgrimage routes, but trudging days are largely over.

The title of this post was the title of a book that challenged our team in the late 1980s. God wants us always to be ready to move. It is unhealthy for us to so identify with a place that we call our own that we become one with it. If place enters our soul rather than being external to us, we are in danger. And it is that readiness to move that is part of the makeup of the missionary.

I moved two months ago, and I still feel a bit unsettled. I like this place and this town, but I know it is temporary. "On this earth we don’t have a city that lasts forever, but we are waiting for such a city." (Hebrews 13:14) This was modelled by Abraham par excellence. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. . . .
 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16)

So missionaries have to be ready to leave home, family, familiar food and culture, and even the weather to go to tell people something about God's love for them. They may have to learn a language with very little help. But despite the enormous challenges God meets such people. I once asked a Scotsman I met in Indonesia whether he felt homesick. No, was his honest answer. He had just had a real pang when he heard the sound of Big Ben on the radio at his first New Year out there. But God had made a home for him there. 

Read about the stories of such people in our books. I recommend On Giants' Shoulders by Patrick McElligott, the story of a poorly educatd boy from south London who became a PhD in Japan, God's Needle by Lily Gaynor, a Liverpool nurse who went to work in one of the poorest places in Africa, Untold Stories of Missionary Yoo, the first Korean missionary in WEC who went to west Africa, or Going for God (free e-book) about Bessie Brierley, pioneer in what is now Guinea-Bissau.

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