And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
The passage from Isaiah above (part of this Sunday’s Old Testament reading) has often been used to talk about World Missions — God’s call upon His Church to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Global Missions – for some of us – is a calling for someone else. Someone with less material attachments, like a job or a big family. Or someone with a burning desire to help others find their way spiritually. Many of us can’t seem to get ourselves on the right road spiritually here in familiar surroundings, so how could we possibly help someone in a different culture? In the words of our baptismal covenant, with God’s help.
Where have the missionaries gone? To Ukraine…. My friend Jamie lives with his family in a city of 300,000 called Kherson in Ukraine. His wife Julia was born and raised in Soviet Russia. Jamie left a good job as a chemical engineer to move with Julia and their three children to Ukraine in 2006. They have had three more kids since moving to Kherson, have bought land and built a house.
Jamie works alongside a Ukrainian pastor, and they do outreach at a nearby orphanage. Jamie leads a local English club with other English-speaking missionaries.
In the 12 years Jamie and his family have served in Kherson, they have faced adversity. Their team leader’s wife died suddenly after tripping on the sidewalk. Their church split over a leader accused of sexual assault. In 2018 the President of Ukraine declared Martial Law. Recently, there have been rumors of imminent chemical weapon attacks by the Russians; the threats were real enough for missionaries to make sure their evacuation insurance was up to date.
In spite of these challenges, they were able to build a church building, and they continue meeting weekly and worshiping God.
Where have the missionaries gone? To Uzbekistan…. My former colleague Kevin moved to Uzbekistan in the mid-90s, shortly after the Soviet Union dissolved and countries that had been closed to missionaries were beginning to ‘re-open’. But Uzbekistan was not very friendly to Christian missionaries. Kevin worked at a university library, and would quietly invite students to his flat, where they would discuss the Bible and other ‘western’ books.
Kevin had been serving in these quiet ways when he received an urgent message that the authorities were planning his arrest. His offense? Spreading Christianity without permission. Kevin packed his bags and left the country immediately, and never even tried to return.
Where have the missionaries gone? To the Congo…. I first heard Helen Roseveare speak at a large student mission convention in 1987. Her address, Motivation for World Mission, recounted stories from her many years as a missionary doctor in Africa. Dr. Roseveare was 62 years old when I heard that talk. She died in 2016 at the age of 91.
Roseveare’s obituary was titled, “A Woman of Whom the World was not Worthy.” Born in England, she sensed a call to missionary work at the age of twenty, “I’ll go anywhere God wants me to, whatever the cost.” She arrived in the Congo (called Zaire from 1971 to 1997) at age twenty-eight. There, she founded a training school for nurses, transformed a local maternity and leprosy center into a hospital with 100 beds, added a training school for paramedics, and established 48 rural clinics. These served as oasis as there was no other medical help available for 150 miles in any direction.
When civil war broke out in the Congo in 1964, all of those facilities were destroyed. Roseveare was imprisoned with nine other missionaries by rebel forces. She was beaten, dragged, and raped. She later pointed to God’s goodness despite this tragedy:
Through the brutal heartbreaking experience of rape, God met with me — with outstretched arms of love. It was an unbelievable experience: He was so utterly there, so totally understanding, his comfort was so complete — and suddenly I knew — I really knew that his love was unutterably sufficient. He did love me! He did understand!
And so she returned to Africa in 1966, this time producing a 250-bed hospital, maternity ward, training college for doctors, a center for leprosy, and other endeavors. She returned to England in 1973 for health reasons and settled in Northern Ireland. She is the author of several books, including her two-volume autobiography, Give Me this Mountain and He Gave Us a Valley. For the more visual among us, numerous videos are available on YouTube. You can even listen to her address mentioned above Urbana Student Missions Conference (1987)
The prophet Isaiah answered God with, Here am I. Send me. Missionary stories have always inspired me to greater faith. While I am not sure I would have enough faith to move to the Congo or Uzbekistan (or even Toronto, for that matter), I am always eager to read of the faith of those who do, and the faithfulness of God to them.
Written by parishioner Ben Conarroe.