Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! — 1 Corinthians 9:15-16
I have to thank our pastor for preaching through this passage this morning and repeating the words “I’d rather die” several times. “I’d rather die” was backed up with real suffering endured by the missionary for the sake of carrying the Gospel to the Unreached. As Paul explained, “I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day.” — 2 Corinthians 11:23-25
Brought into the American context, this sort of treatment is hard to imagine. In a country that is culturally Christian, people don’t get many lashes for invoking the name of Jesus here. We’re generally safe from flying rocks. The closest we might get to being shipwrecked is watching Dude, You’re Screwed! on Discovery.(http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/dude-youre-screwed). In the world where Paul shared the Message, Christians were objects of entertainment in colosseums. In the world where Westerners safely commute daily, Christians are entertaining themselves at the expense of the Gospel.
I really have to thank my pastor because he made me think as a missionary today. This has been happening more in the process of raising funds and communicating our story to people. I don’t feel like a natural-born missionary, and I get caught too much in the thorns of daily money-making responsibilities and husbandly duties. And, I’ve never been persecuted.
Honestly, I haven’t even been verbally abused for following Jesus. Some raised eyebrows, yes. Some social awkwardness, yes. I’ve been laughed at behind my back, sure. But, people have for the most part been very accepting of me and my faith. And, I’m not talking about the other Christians. I’m talking about the world I wake up to everyday where people are free to worship any god they wish in any way they wish in any place they wish. It’s fun being a Christian here. Everyone sort of likes you if you sort of like them.
But would we rather die if it comes to sharing our faith? Would we even truly consider dying? Would we respond well to real persecution?
Some goodhearted men have elbowed me with a wink and joked about how we will “really be ‘suffering’ for the Lord in Italy”. This is said usually to induce laughter. I feel awkward in these moments because I’m not sure I know what to do. Do I laugh with them out of kindness? Should I give them a cold, uncomfortable stare and lecture them on the potential dangers of sharing the Gospel anywhere, even in Italy? In either case, I usually still laugh and feel guilty because I genuinely feel the spirit of God telling me, “I’ve called you to die in Italy. To die for Me. To die to your own desires.” What could be more dangerous than that? To laugh at choosing to die in Italy is a shame. I condemn myself if I ridicule the call to die.
Would I rather die? Or, do I want something out of this for myself? This is the question every missionary must answer, I think. Whether we go to Italy or to Iraq, we must ask, “Am I willing to embrace death and carry its scent into the country or the village that God is sending me to live?” There is something we can get for ourselves anywhere, even among a poverty-stricken people. The glory that accompanies stories of danger can easily become something that turns our motives. What began as a compulsion to proclaim the Message out of love for the Savior sometimes transforms into a compulsion for notoriety. And, the willingness to die subtly weakens.
My mother watches the news and texts me every time terrorism strikes. She’s convinced it’s only a matter of time before ISIS descends upon Rome or even Milan, where we plan to make disciples. How do I tell her “I’d rather die” when I know how much she worries already? Would telling her that be cruel since I know this is hard on her already? Am I hiding my light under a bushel by not saying it? Amy worries at time, too. And, I won’t lie, when I read stories about plans of invading Rome (http://www.thelocal.it/20151114/italy-raises-terror-alert-after-paris-attacks), it sobers me. But, wouldn’t I rather die?
There is no safe place for the missionary who would rather die. No place is safe from this missionary, either. The woman or man of God who enters any nation with the willingness to die is dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. She or he is willing to do anything for the sake of throwing Gospel seeds on foreign soil and letting the Spirit of God grow them. The dying servant of Christ is an instrument of transformation wherever they are sent