We have recently passed the one year anniversary of arriving in South Africa and I’ve found myself reflecting over the last year.
I’m afraid that Christians in the U.S. tend to have a romanticized view of the mission field. Unfortunately I believe that I too had an image of what life as a missionary in South Africa would be like. Of course, we lived here for nearly a year and a half in 2006-2007, so I felt like I had realistic expectations; but that doesn’t stop the heart and mind from fantasizing about how things should be.
In my fantasy I would spend my days bringing life to dying people in shacks. I would bring them food and water that would nourish their bodies, while we talked about the living water the Jesus Christ offers. They would excitedly embrace the life saving message of Jesus Christ.
I hoped to spend time with children raising themselves in shacks. When I visited them in their homes they would be excited to talk to me as an American coming to see them. They would be so thankful to receive the food, school supplies and school uniforms that I would provide for them and their brothers and sisters. They would come to know the love of Christ through my selfless giving.
Unfortunately, real life is not quite so ideal. Living on the mission field has taught me that sometimes reaching out to people is simply hard work. The warm, fuzzy feelings are few and far between. The bright smiles full of thankfulness and joy are oddly hard to come by.
The desire to give and help is complicated by the needed strategy of helping the poor to learn how to improve their own lives. Real life on the mission field does not look like a 3-minute missions promotional video. There is no inspirational music playing behind me when I’m sitting with an impoverished child living in desperation. When you hand a child a new pair of school shoes and they abruptly ask for a different size or style, the warm fuzzy feelings tend to go out the door. When you bring a sack of food to a needy mother, knowing that it will likely be stolen by her “boyfriend” that night, the inspiration is elusive.
What I’m saying here is not a complaint. It's a reality check. Real life is real. Whether you live in America or South Africa. Hard work is hard, whether it is construction or spending 5 hours shopping for school supplies for orphans.
The point is, God didn’t call us to live a romanticized, feel good life, full of warm fuzzy feelings. He called us to work. The harvest is full, but the workers are few.
The point of giving is not to feel good about yourself. The point of sacrifice is not to boost your self-esteem.
The point is obedience.