The final uprooting of our lives on Kauai continues as we prepare to be transplanted to Honduras. Meanwhile it has become apparent that many of our friends and family are regarding us with a mixture of marvel and incredulity. Others just think we are insane. How in the world could we leave careers that we love, our family, grandchildren and friends? What kind of nut job spends their retirement on an obscure missionary school in Africa and then moves from the paradise where darn near everyone in the world dreams of visiting one day to live in a third world country with zero income? "What are you thinking?" they ask. "Aren't you afraid?" Well, yes and no. The truth is; most of the people we know don't have a grid for this. After all it's basically the antithesis of the American dream.
There is a scene in the film "The last Crusade" where Indiana Jones finds himself pinned to a cliff and faced with nowhere to go but across a bottomless chasm or down. It looks impossible and the internal battle plays itself out in his breathing and facial expressions as he closes his eyes in preparation for the inevitable plunge to his death. "It's a leap of faith" he says as the camera zooms and freezes on his foot suspended in mid air. Then wincing, he steps or rather falls forward only to land on solid ground as a land bridge to the other side mysteriously appears. That's a pretty fair description of how the process of becoming a full time missionary feels at times with the only difference being that Indiana Jones didn't have the assurance and peace that comes with knowing Jesus.
I realize the last statement might seem a bit pollyannic as we born again Christians are prone to sounding when we attempt to articulate our experiences with God. I certainly do not mean to imply that I have transcended normal human emotion and weakness or that I have all my ducks in a row. It's just that that explaining Jesus to someone who has never encountered Jesus personally is like trying to explain a double rainbow over mountains in Hawai`i to a blind Eskimo in the Arctic. Why in the world should he believe you. Believe me I know.
You see I didn't grow up in the church and I didn't like Christians when I was young. In fact I persecuted them more than any atheist I've ever known until I finally met Jesus at the barrel of a shotgun and landed in jail. Instead I struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for over 20 years. I basically tried everything you can think of to get clean all the while struggling to maintain a facade of functionality that was finally torn away in an instant. I was in a blind drunken rage and definitely not looking for Jesus when I charged a guy with shot gun all the while screaming "shoot me!” All I know for certain is that he fired. I saw a blinding white flash of light and a thought that was more like a voice roared through my mind "this is the last time!" The deeper implications of those words are too much to cover here but suffice it to say that I did not get shot even though he fired at point blank range and I never had a desire for a drink or a drug again. My point here is that I am not special in any worldly sort of way. I know where I came from and I know where I have been. I know that I know within the depths of my soul that everything I am, have and have achieved since that last drunken day has happened in spite of me and not because of me.
But that's not all. I have other problems too. In fact I have an orphan spirit that periodically rises up within me. I am ashamed of it. Missionaries are not supposed to have it. If you mention it, I will almost always deny it. But it’s there. It is rooted in a time filled with rejection and abandonment. It manifests as a voice that says "don't you dare ask for...you are a burden; a loser and everything you touch turns to $#@!" It is a mindset rooted in a lie that is itself the root of addiction, poverty and failure. It forever declares that God won't provide even though He always has. It is a proverbial “thing" that pins me to a wall like Indiana Jones with nothing left to do but take the next step or die. It is something that must be confronted with faith and the revelation of my true identity as a son of the Most High God even though I might FEEL paralyzed with fear. In the end it is the actions we take often in spite of what we are thinking and feeling that determines what we actually believe. Jesus said to "seek first the Kingdom of God and all His righteousness and all these things will be added onto you" Mat 6:33. He did not say to get all your ducks in row before you go. Remembering our previous steps of faith as we overcome fear within the context of obedience to the call of God can require a serious leap yet it is also the source of paradoxical provision.
I suppose I could write a more flowery, testimony of faith filled with inspiring prophetic poetry. Honestly I'm still pretty rough around the edges. I also recently read that the top reasons people are turned off by Christianity is that they feel shunned by Christians who seem fake and act like they don't have any problems. That’s not to say that all Christians are fakes only that the rule of approach determines response is always in play. My audience is often composed of people who are completely turned off by the church. So sometimes it’s best to just keep it real. Apparently the Apostle Paul thought so too. (2 Cor 11:30)
At the end of the day I’m not much different from you. I’m certainly not better because I’m going to live in third world country. If anything I’m probably worse. I just happen to be blessed with the knowledge of my need, that God's miracles in my life have been the result my most glaring weaknesses and that my Father’s blessings for me in spite of me are proof of His great and abounding love for me. I’ve found freedom in gratitude and obedience beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve found peace in the midst of turmoil, His strength in my weakness, provision in poverty. I know there will be bumps in the road. I know there will be days when I want to quit. Heck I might even die. Even so, I fully expect that in writing this; I am laying the foundation for a powerful testimony of God's guidance, provision and miracles in our mission one day. It is in losing our life that we will gain it. Mat 10:39.
Taken in its most literal form, the missionary walk is as fantastically paradoxical as it is adventurous. It requires ridiculous supernatural assurance and trust that transcends discursive thought and emotion and makes absolutely no sense in the natural until after we take the leap; a leap of faith that gets a little easier each time we leap. I highly recommend it. But only leap to where you are called.
We are Brian and Cathy Gray formerly of Gray Hope Productions.
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