February 4, 2013

Why Missionaries Have Itchy Feet

by Clint Archer

I know a Swiss missionary in Egypt, an Egyptian missionary in America, and an American missionary in Switzerland. I left South Africa to study theology in America under a South African professor, who had to translocate from Germany, and was replaced by an American. Wisdom from below would point out that God could save a fortune on airfare if everyone just stayed put and ministered where they live. But our God is not that sedentary.  And His sent ones are notoriously antsy to jailbreak the trappings of comfort and conformity.Flight patterns

There is something undeniably intriguing about receiving a message that was borne arduously from afar. Conversely, it is home cooked meals we find bland. Why else do youth suddenly get saved at camp when the visiting itinerant hipster preacher tells them the old, old story they’ve seen in flannel graph since they were knee-high? They come home and tell their persistent parents and faithful pastor that they finally heard the gospel from youth pastor Faux Hawk.

Jesus observed sardonically that, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matt 13:57). It was in Nazareth that Jesus of Nazareth’s message was summarily rebuffed by the contempt bred in a greenhouse of familiarity (Matt 13:55-56).

Cruel and Unusual Legroom

Travel, and the concomitant discomfort it invites is part of the shiny wrapping God uses to disperse the gospel abroad. Paul, whose travel diary was rated 16V (see 2 Cor 11:25-27), described the sufferings of Christ as lacking one thing: delivery. Jesus paid it all, but “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15).

stoning stephen

“Yay! More pain.” -Paul

You don’t present a diamond in a brown paper bag, if you can help it. It shines better ensconced in velvet; and the gospel of Christ’s sacrifice beams most brightly when backlit by the messenger’s sacrificial delivery. This is why Paul rejoiced in his sufferings, because they became authentic packaging by which the gory reality of Christ’s cross could be transmitted.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body (Col 1:24).

I heard—most likely from John Piper, or his spiritual ilk—of an evangelist who traversed difficult terrain to bring the gospel to an outlying village in Asia. Upon his arrival he preached in the open air of the village market, but was scorned and ignored by the disinterested denizens. Disheartened and exhausted he limped out, to the surrounding brush, and lay down to sleep. Later he awoke to a large group of curious onlookers, lead by the village spokesman who explained that they had noticed his bleeding feet, and realized that the message he had carried to them must be very important for him to have endured the difficult journey. They humbly invited him back to the village to hear his teaching.

Missionary statesman, Oswald Sanders put it well:

Nothing moves people more than the print of the nails and the mark of the spear”


Just a caveat of balance: Don’t think ministry can only be done “over there.” Most evangelism is done by the people who act in the grit of here and now, not dream of the sweet by and by.

For those who have itchy feet, don’t resist it, channel it. We all need to grow where we are planted, but a little strategic cross-pollination enriches the yield of gospel harvest.

Pray or Go?

Just for fun, I’ll leave you with a profitable tune to be stuck in your head as you mull on this topic today. The parody band, Apologetix, says it cutely (to the tune of “Should I Stay or Should I Go”)

Calling on God to let me know, should I Pray or should I go? If you say that you don’t mind, I’ll be here til you send a sign So your Gospel gets to grow in the neighborhood I know
If all of us leave to teach and preach
You’ll have no one left on their knees
I’d say it’s fine to just stay back
Though if you want me, I’ll go pack
Well, come on, not Mexico there’s no Spanish words I know
Should I pray or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble; the missionaries there may double
And it’s crowded as we know

This India mission’s buggin’ me
They say they want me desperately
Is that the food I’m s’posed to eat?
Don’t you have mission trips to Italy?
Don’t want no vegetables
Shouldn’t I go with the food I know?

Should I pray or should I go now?
Should I pray or should I go now?
If I go rebuild their rubble
Can’t lift a spade or wield a shovel
So you gotta let me know
Should I mail in the check I wrote?





Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Heather

    “Conversely, it is home cooked meals we find bland”

    LOL soo true 😀

    “….the gospel of Christ’s sacrifice beams most brightly when backlit by the messenger’s sacrificial delivery. This is why Paul rejoiced in his sufferings”

    Yes, and I am always so humbled/inspired when I think of how Paul merely called all of his sufferings “light affliction” 2 Cor 4:17-18.

    Thanks for this post, Clint. Such an encouragement to keep persevering in the Lord’s work in the “grit of here and now.” Fixing my eyes on Jesus; working towards eternity…

    • Thanks Heather, you have a great perspective. Very Pauline.