By Michael Sweeney
There are times I think being on a missions committee is even tougher than being a missionary. Just how do you decide where to put the church’s money when you are so inundated with requests? Some people think of a missionary’s handshake as one with the palm up, waiting for a donation. And it’s true. We missionaries seem to ask for money a lot; there never seems to be enough to meet all the needs we see. So I apologize in advance for trying to make your job even harder.
Because of the constant demand on the church’s resources, many missions committees have developed strategy statements to help them decide who to support. I think this is a healthy approach, and I applaud churches that put such forethought into their missions giving. I’m just concerned that sometimes the strategy is interpreted too narrowly.
I’ve been introduced at functions as being a “real missionary” who “serves on the front line of missions.” At the time I was a Bible translator. I lived in the jungles of Papua New Guinea with a group of former cannibals, helping them to get the Word of God in their heart language. In a way I fulfilled all the old stereotypes of what a missionary is supposed to be. Because of that, some people have told me I’m an easy sell for missions committees.
And while it was flattering to be regarded as “out there where the action is,” I happen to know other people are just as deserving of a church’s support, though serving on the front line in less exotic roles. These people may never live in the jungle or learn to speak or write a foreign language. They may never catch malaria or have a spear pointed in their face. They may, in fact, never leave the United States. But they certainly are frontline missions workers just like I was.
The apostle Paul had a peculiar view of what constituted the “front line.” In Romans 12 wrote:
For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (vv. 4-8, Revised Standard Version).
Not every person is well-suited to living in the bush translating a Bible, or to working in downtown Mexico City helping to start a new church. They may, however, have a ministry just as vital that helped a person like me stay in the bush doing what I did there. Perhaps it was the man who fixed my computer when it acted up, or the woman who made sure our financial records met IRS standards for a nonprofit organization. Maybe it was a recruiter who found people to send to the field, or someone who made sure people like me received the proper training to do their job.
I love my job. I wouldn’t necessarily love theirs. But God has enabled some people to do the jobs I would never want. We’re all part of a body serving together for the same cause. They are on the front line as much as I was.
There is no other line but the front line.
Mike Sweeney is a missionary associate with Pioneer Bible Translators. He served 15 years in Papua New Guinea and now teaches missions and New Testament at Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee.