It is often said that mission work involves making many sacrifices. From time to time we have received well-meaning comments along those lines as part of expressions of thanks for doing the work of foreign missions. And it could easily be argued that this is true. Missionaries (perhaps especially foreign ones) could no doubt produce a list of things they have had to “give up,” so to speak. But to dwell on these things would not be spiritually healthy, nor helpful. Many years ago a fellow saint who was involved in foreign labors made some observations that struck my wife and me at the time, and that have stayed with us ever since. The individual observed that it is not good to focus on the so-called sacrifices. That leads either to feeling sorry for one’s self, or to becoming proud because of what one is doing. Much better it is to consider this work a privilege and to focus on the privileges. Those were wise words, words that have rung true. With that in mind, I hope now to give you a peek into some of the privileges we enjoy as we labor as foreign missionaries in the Philippines.
At the top of the list is the privilege of teaching the distinctive and precious truths of the Reformed faith to those who have never heard them before. The truth God has given and entrusted to us is beautiful truth. It is God-glorifying truth (“God is everything, man is nothing!”). It is powerful truth (“The truth shall make you free”). It is comforting truth (“I belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ”). It is motivating truth—a powerful motive for godly living as well as for witnessing to others. Sometimes that truth is rejected. But the faithful saints of God never tire of hearing it. We have found this to be true especially with regard to the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation, as well as His absolute sovereignty over all things, including the evils and troubles of life. We possess a rich inheritance. What a privilege to be able to preach and teach it to those who are hearing it for the first time!
In close connection with this is the privilege of observing the excitement and zeal with which the truth is received. We ourselves can easily take the truth for granted. But the zeal of those who are learning it for the first time is heartwarming, and even contagious. Some cannot get enough of it. The requests for Reformed literature keep rolling in, as well as requests for us to lecture and preach. The members of the various churches and groups of believers eagerly gather for Bible studies or lectures each week, and are happy to sit through two or more hours of teaching and/or question periods. Many have also shown an eagerness to tell others (family members, neighbors, other churches or groups) of the truth, with the accompanying request that we would do the speaking, teaching, or preaching there. One cannot help but to be caught up in the excitement.
Then there is the privilege of experiencing firsthand the catholicity of the church of Jesus Christ. We are able to observe on a daily basis the reality that God saves a church from all nations, cultures, and languages on earth. We also see God’s work of gathering His people from every different station, calling, and status in life. We see the power of the grace and love of God as it crosses earthly boundaries and natural differences and unites His people in the truth—something only the grace and truth of God can do. We not only see it, but also experience it. We ourselves are able to establish lifetime (eternal) friendships with fellow believers from different nationalities and from many different walks of life. It is indeed a joy to taste the blessing of membership in Christ’s universal church.
Another privilege is to hear about and see how God works, sometimes mysteriously, to deliver His people from darkness and bring them into His marvelous light. To grow up in a Reformed church and in Christian homes and families is foreign to most believers here. Also new to many is the truth of God’s covenant and its implications for and application to life. The things that are a normal part of the makeup and thinking of those who have been Reformed all their lives (godly attitudes, antithetical living, family devotions, etc.) need to be learned by many. In some instances, the saints here covet the upbringing we have had. That in itself is humbling, and leads to a greater appreciation for the Lord’s gift of godly parents and families. But the point here is that we see, again and again, that the Lord knows those who are His, remembers them, rescues them from ignorance and unbelief, and brings them to know and love and live according to His truth. God’s mighty, saving grace is clearly at work in those He has ordained unto eternal life.
Another significant privilege is that of seeing the fruit the Lord gives. Sometimes the fruit is negative. Sometimes members reject the truth and leave. This has happened more than once in response to such doctrines as double predestination, infant baptism, particular grace, and others. But the Lord is also pleased to give positive fruit. We see changes within congregations: their beliefs, their practices, their worship, and their congregational life. We observe progress toward a solid and faithful denomination of Reformed churches, with others desirous to become part of it. There is evidence of a commitment to being fully Reformed—in doctrine, in worship, in church government, and in life.
And then there are the personal testimonies of those who understand a truth, or a text, or a difficult point of doctrine for the first time, and respond, “Now I finally get it! Now it makes sense! That truth is so comforting! The truth gives me great peace!” Perhaps the most encouraging has been to notice the changes that have come as a fruit of grasping the truth of God’s covenant: parents joyfully bringing forth more children, God’s people worshiping each Lord’s Day as families, mothers teaching their little ones to pray, fathers asking about and putting into practice family devotions, children eager to attend catechism classes, and many more. All these we have seen. Clearly the Lord fulfills the promise of: “The ends of all the earth shall hear and turn unto the Lord in fear; All kindreds of the earth shall own and worship Him as God alone.”
One more privilege that cannot be overlooked is the Lord’s use of the work, with its many challenges and varied experiences, for our own personal growth. That growth comes especially through facing questions concerning the truth that are often very different from what we are accustomed to. Various factors contribute to that difference, such as the church background of the people here, a different church scene from what is found in North America, different history as a nation, and the fact that certain words or phrases have different connotations.
All these things challenge us to define and explain the truth very precisely and very carefully. We are forced, as it were, to see and consider truths we have grown up with from the perspective of those who have never heard them before. As mentioned earlier, the excitement is contagious. Our own zeal is renewed. All of these privileges that we have considered does not deny that mission work comes with many burdens, challenges, and struggles. But certainly in light of these, it is good to ponder the privileges and rewards the Lord is pleased to give. These give joy and encouragement in the work. May the consideration of these things serve to encourage men to pursue the ministry and the work of missions. And may God be pleased to work in some the desire to take up this blessed work.