After a couple of grueling travel days, a feeling of futility crept up on me in the form of a blanket letter. It had caught up with us as we arrived in the USA for our first furlough in six years. The letter happened to be our “pink slip” from a longtime supporting church which informed us that, due to difficulties that they were facing, their always faithful church would no longer be able to support us.
My first reaction, outwardly, was in Christian compassion, and understanding. But, inwardly, I was swaying between incredulity, irritation, and a bit of indigestion (airplane food probably!). My first thought was: “Why should we keep sacrificing so much ourselves, if others have to quit?”
Why such a strong reaction on my part? Perhaps it came from wrestling with too much luggage over an eight-hour train ride, an unexpected taxi ride, a one hour subway ride, and an eight-hour international flight. Perhaps, it was battling edgy crowds in airports in London and then New York and then Orlando. Possibly it was just being overly exhausted from trying to get everything “just perfect” in our home and church before we left for a two-month absence. Maybe it was the “reverse culture shock” of being back in the USA after six years of being out of the American culture. Then, it could have been because we had just been through almost seven straight years of the toughest service that we have ever faced in all our years of ministry (still aching from the last wave of Satan’s attacks).
Although I SYMPATHIZED with the gut wrenching difficulty of writing such a letter, something greatly frustrated me as I read it. First, it shocked me that one word of one phrase of one innocuous letter could so capsize me, a normally unflappable veteran missionary, for even a moment! However, that one word just seemed to smack me right in the face. Here is the exasperating word: “. . . This will require us ending support for your PROJECTS.”
[pullquote]After 36 years of service, to think that all our efforts could be categorized as merely . . . “PROJECTS”![/pullquote]
“PROJECTS” . . . nothing could have ever gutted me so thoroughly and so completely, as the implication of that one word. After 36 years of service, to think that all our efforts could be categorized as merely . . . “PROJECTS”! Is THAT all that we really are, we are just our projects?
My first thought was: Let me give the benefit of the doubt. I am sure that kind pastor never meant to disturb me in the way in which that one word did. Just an unfortunate choice of word. (God bless him!)
Or, maybe that word’s meaning has changed in the six years that we have been away from the USA. Or, it could even be that British and South African usage is different from current American usage of this word that so concerned me.
So, I took out my trusty laptop and Googled the word “project”. WIKIPEDIA, that bastion of shared “truth”, was the first entry that popped up. It “defined” the word in this way: “In contemporary business and science, a PROJECT is an individual or collaborative enterprise, possibly involving research or design, that is carefully planned, usually by the project assigned team, to achieve a particular aim. One can also define a project as a set of interrelated tasks to be executed over a fixed period and within certain cost and other limitations. One can view projects as temporary (rather than permanent) social systems or as work systems that are constituted by teams within or across organizations to accomplish particular tasks under time constraints.”
Let me say, right off, that such a definition has never fit our Missions ministry, and I never thought that it was supposed to. I have always believed that true Biblical missions is not a business and it will not fit the “laws” of science. Yes, we ARE a “collaborative enterprise”, since we, from the very beginning of our ministry, have stressed that this is a TEAM EFFORT between our supporters and ourselves, reaching out together to our field of shared service for Christ. And, we DO try to “research” and “design” and “carefully plan” the best ways to take the Gospel to the people groups to whom the Lord has called us. We also have a particular “aim”, which is to reach people for Christ and organize them into indigenous churches. But, when it comes to terms like: “FIXED PERIOD”, “TEMPORARY” and even “TIME CONSTRANTS”, how can that ever fit with a Biblical Missions model?
Now, I understand why such a word would be very CONVENIENT. It makes World Missions so much easier, so much simpler, so much cleaner. Handling the difficulties of missionary field changes or forced retirements or even dismissals, are so much simpler, if we limit the time constraints on the length of supporting periods. Just allocate a particular TIME FRAME to finish a “missions project”. At the end of that time frame, seek a new project, or perhaps, on occasion, “re-up” with an existing project . . . that’s simple, clean, and hassle-free.
But, “project” is an engineer’s word, an accountant’s word, a businessman’s word, a scientist’s word, or a social planner’s word. If you look it up in your Bible concordance, you won’t even find it. It is NOT a Biblical word. In God’s Word, God’s plan for Missions has always been God calling out His ambassadors, who usually leave home culture, to make the message of the Gospel known to a different culture. Therefore, when a supporter chooses to support a missionary, those missionaries are living, breathing PEOPLE . . . not PROJECTS!
I believe that it is utterly useless to try to fit Biblical missions into a PROJECT MENTALITY. World Missions can never be that COMPACT. World Missions can never be that STRUCTURED. World Missions can never be that CLINICAL. World Missions can never follow a canned BUSINESS plan. NO!
To deal with my overflowing frustration, I began jotting down my first thoughts. Here goes:
[pullquote]World Missions gets very MESSY at times, because it involves PEOPLE! Honest people, good people, but fallible people.[/pullquote]
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than pictures on a Facebook page: we bleed . . . sweat . . . weep. The fluids of human existence ooze out of every pore of our bodies. (The smell can be atrocious at times!) That’s simply the human part of World Missions.
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than numbers on a spreadsheet. We are families . . . married couples . . . parents . . . grandparents. We are more than missionary number 537 with significant other, number 538, with dependents number 539 and 540, on field number 247, who commenced service in 1980 and will potentially culminate in 2031.
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than whirring computer fans. We breathe . . . cough . . . sneeze. We can’t simply be rebooted, reformatted, or reconfigured every time a virus shows up. A simple computer app cannot handle all of the challenges we face. One program DOES NOT fit all!
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than harvesting machines. We hurt . . . fail . . . laugh . . . triumph. Adding a quart of oil won’t do the trick. Times, styles, and methods might change . . . Biblical Missions does not! God still chooses His servants to do His work, He does not devise new machines that will maneuver His plan.
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than paid employees. We dream dreams . . . lose hope . . . regain vision . . . press ahead . . . regardless. Missions takes time . . . God’s time . . . God’s plan . . . NOT OURS! Setting time frames simply will not work when it comes to ministry with humans in multifaceted fields of service. Each one is different and for each one you must wait for God’s perfect timing.
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than lines on a page in a Missions brochure. We are individuals who at times get exhausted . . . frustrated . . . discouraged . . . agitated . . . excited. You see, people are people, worldwide, and they all have at least one thing in common . . . they are ALL frustrating at times! We have no choice, but to constantly serve them (and it is ALWAYS immediately (or sooner) when we MUST do it!).
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than signatures on a document. We sometimes get overwhelmed by life . . . ministry . . . family. SOMETIMES . . . prayer letters, financial reports, and email replies will become casualties in the conflict. SOMETIMES . . . the ministry that our Lord gave us must trump all other things. ALL TIMES . . . we go to the field to reach souls for Christ and plant churches, and this MUST remain our emphasis. It is never lack of gratitude, disinterest, or rebellion; only a lack of TIME (and energy)! SOMETIMES . . . we must apologize, vow to do better, and move forward. That’s missionary life!
—We are NOT just projects: We are MORE than a time stamped contract. Most of us signed up for life. The Lord might choose to cut it short, or even change our direction if He wills, but we were called by Him, for this particular ministry, at this particular time. And, if not for His calling, we would probably have quit, many times! However, because of His calling, we MUST always move onward.
And, as we do, we join a GREAT BAND of likewise utterly fallible HUMAN missionaries of the past:
–We sometimes feel HOMESICK just like John Mark
–We sometimes feel ENCUMBERED just like Tychicus
–We sometimes feel ILL just like Ephaphroditus
–We sometimes feel BLAMED just like Trophies
–We sometimes feel BAMBOOZLED just like Barnabas
–We sometimes feel DISCOURAGED just like Demas
–We sometimes feel OPPRESSED just like Gaius
–We sometimes feel FEARFUL just like Paul
–We sometimes feel SLIGHTED just like Seconds
–We sometimes feel BLINDSIDED (by church politics) just like Peter
–We sometimes feel MISSED just like Titus
–We sometimes feel ACCUSED just like Silas
–We sometimes feel ISOLATED just like Luke
–We sometimes feel OVERWORKED just like Epaphras
–We sometimes feel HEARTBROKEN just like Timothy
Each of us, in this band, are onlyONE THING . . . we are MISSIONARIES . . . THAT’S ALL! (and that’s enough!)
With all of this in mind, please understand that this is one FALLIBLE MISSIONARY, that constantly prays that if the time ever comes when I am no longer useful in missionary service, that my Lord will make it ABUNDANTLY CLEAR to me. And, if He ever does, rest assured, I will willingly step aside and await His further assignment.
But, as long as I am able, I will work diligently to make the message of Christ CLEAR and PLAIN to the people that the Lord has sent me to reach. My Lord has not told me to hang up my sickle yet. I hope that He never does. In fact, I hope that when the end finally does come, that someone will have to pry away my cold, lifeless hands from the Lord’s plowshares because I was still out there tilling in His harvest fields.
If you ever have to dismiss me as your missionary, I will sorrowfully evaluate your reason, and then CARRY ON as long as my Lord (who called me) makes it possible.
WHY? Because . . . we are a MISSIONARIES . . . we can NEVER be just “projects”!
by Richard Moeller
Richard and Cheryl Moeller were approved as Baptist Bible Fellowship missionaries to South Africa in May 1980. In June 1997, they resigned from the field and served on staff at the BBFI Mission Office until September 2000. Richard and Cheryl are both 1978 graduates of the missions course of Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Missouri. Richard is the brother of BBF missionary to South Africa, Brent Moeller. Richard and Cheryl served their internship at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Fairfax, Virginia, and at the Calvary Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas. Richard was ordained in 1979 at the Beltline Road Baptist Church in Irving, Texas. They have two sons who are both BBFI missionaries to Scotland. The Moellers returned to the field in August 2002. In February 2009, the Moellers changed their field of service to Scotland.