I recently had a mildly heated disagreement with someone I love very much. It was about halloumi. Yes, halloumi, the squeaky Mediterranean cheese—whether or not it should be pre-fried before going inside a toasted sandwich. A few weeks before that, the same loved one and I had to carefully pick our way around a disagreement about whether or not a certain stump (which had dropped its bark as it dried out in my spare room) actually NEEDED to have bark on it. And just last weekend, I only narrowly escaped using the phrase, “I’m the bride and we’re doing it my way!”
That’s right, I’m getting married. That means that, as an (in)famously organised person, I currently conduct my life at the helm of the kind of To Do Lists and spreadsheets that would make normal humans quiver with fear. I have a LOT to do in a short space of time, and much of it is, frankly, ridiculous. Like sewing pillowcases together with 2-ply twine, spending endless hours removing adhesive from glass jars, and yes, gluing the bark back on the aforementioned stump. My To Do List includes finding items such as Nerf gun bullets, bricks, weathered wooden planks and a badminton net. I wake up in the middle of the night, haunted by thoughts like, “I need to find more recyclable fishing line!”
Slightly complicating things, I’ve got a little voice in the back of my head telling me that if I were only free to plan MY wedding day on MY own, without someone else’s opinions getting in the way, I would’ve been finished planning by now.
But we all know that’s not true. My days (decades!) of managing my life on my own are at an end. The simple truth is, as much as I’m inclined to, I cannot and should not attempt to plan this wedding alone. And even more importantly than that, my soon-to-be husband and I cannot and should not attempt to do marriage without help. It’s just too big for us to do alone.
In fact, the older I get, the more I realise that there are lots of things I’ve attempted to do on my own that would’ve been far better had I actively included other people. My first foray into missions 20 years ago, for instance. I chose to go with my denomination’s internal mission agency because I knew I wouldn’t have to raise financial support. I wasn’t required to gather a prayer support team; I wasn’t even required to get much endorsement from a sending church—just a form stating I’d been part of the denomination for two years. So I went off to Botswana with no financial or prayer supporters and no committed sending church. This fiercely independent self-described super-Christian skipped off to Africa for two years ready to save the world singlehandedly. The result was somewhat, er, anti-climactic (if not a bit of a disaster).
I don’t think I’m alone in my tendency toward Go It Alone delusions though. Our Western individualism often gets in the way of our ability to discern a better—dare I say, more Biblical—way of doing life and mission. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our narrative. Take the Lord of the Rings, for example. Who was the hero of that story? Most of us would settle on one of three people: Frodo, Gandalf or Aragorn. But I’d like to throw someone less obvious into the mix: Sam Gamgee. Without Sam’s patience, courage, strength, loyalty, vigilance and steadiness, Frodo would never have made it to Mount Doom, Aragorn’s kingdom would’ve been overrun and Gandalf’s power would have faded. In my opinion, the crux of the story lay on Sam, the gardener. (And if none of that makes sense to you, get thee to a bookshop immediately.)
It’s too easy (and a bit lazy) for us to think of the people who are called to leave home and serve Christ cross-culturally as the heroes of the story—a story that the rest of us sit back and watch unfold on the other side of the world. I can tell you as a one-time Goer, the real heroes of the story are almost always, like Sam Gamgee, unsung. The heroes of the story are the children who keep missionaries in their bedtime prayers, and the small group leaders who encourage their friends toward mission, and the grandparents who give £10 a month to their grandson serving in Mongolia. The real heroes stay in touch with the Goers while they’re on the field, and listen when they’re discouraged, and send them care packages. It doesn’t feel like much, does it? But if you add up all those bedtime prayers, listening ears, shoulders to cry on, boxes of Yorkshire Tea, inspirational sermons, notes of encouragement, £10 notes month after month, and open arms to come home to, suddenly we become a force to be reckoned with—and the Goer finds him or herself at the breaking edge of a missional tidal wave.
The simple fact is, we need each other. Givers, Pray-ers, Senders, Goers. Carrying the message of Jesus’ love to the remaining unreached peoples of the world is too important for us to let our Goers do it alone. They cannot and should not venture onto the mission field without the rest of us actively and purposely behind them.
Being on mission together as the whole church isn’t easy. We have disagreements and differences of opinion. It feels less efficient at times. We sometimes argue over things that, in retrospect, seem as silly as whether a certain stump NEEDS to have its bark or not. We may sometimes even be tempted to shout, “I’m in charge and we’re doing it my way!” But if we can manage to stay on track, to do our best, to lean on each other, to forgive each other (and ourselves), and keep going, the end result will be a partnership that will proclaim Jesus to every people group on earth and will ultimately finish the Great Commission. And just think of the party we’ll have after it’s all over! I think it’s worth it. Don’t you?
Photo by Sven Scheuermeier.