by Rob Weingartner
In 1870 after the death of two children, after sending his remaining two kids back to England, after the death of a newborn, after the death of his wife and in the midst of rebellion and war, Hudson Taylor wrote from China, "We did not come to China because the missionary work here was either safe or easy, but because He had called us. We did not enter upon our present positions under a guarantee of human protection, but relying on the promise of His presence. The accidents of ease or difficulty, of man's approval or disapproval, in no wise affect our duty. Should circumstances arise involving us in what may seem special danger, we shall have grace, I trust, to manifest the depth and reality of our confidence in Him, and by faithfulness to our call to prove we are followers of the Good Shepherd who did not flee from death itself..."
Hudson’s commitment to Christ and to sharing the Gospel is profound. There is a lot of talk in the church these days about our missional vocation, that mission is the purpose of the church and not a program, that in our baptism each follower of Jesus is commissioned into a missionary society. The Outreach Foundation’s staff members are responsible for some of that talk, especially in Presbyterian circles.
Those things are true. But don’t you feel, at times, as though there is a disconnect between the mission rhetoric and the reality of our lives? Speaking for myself, I do. One of the gifts that I continue to receive from Christian brothers and sisters in other contexts and cultures is the reminder that my experience here is not normative and that my priorities can lead me away from God’s work in the world. I am humbled and schooled by Christians who face poverty daily, who have faced real suffering for the cause of Christ, who have borne the weight of persecution, who have buried loved ones as martyrs.
From them I am learning that discipleship, following Jesus and living for him in the world, is not primarily about my comfort and convenience. This is how Mark Labberton frames it in his book CALLED: "If our vocation---hearing and living in response to the love of God for the sake of the world---is our calling, we need to grasp that it includes following Jesus into the lives and places of such suffering... Seeking a call that evades suffering is a decision neither to follow Christ nor to live in the real world."