I think that many Christians have a false idea of missionaries: namely, that they want to go off on their own and do ministry by themselves. Often we think of David Livingstone who literally disappeared into Africa to do his work and was hardly ever heard from the last six years of his life. In fact, a newspaper had to send a large party led by Henry Morton Stanley to find him. As far as I can tell, Livingstone liked this way of life. He was the quintessential lone ranger missionary. But is this normative? Should we send out our missionaries as lone rangers?
Most missionaries don’t want to be alone
The reality is that most missionaries don’t want to be alone, even those old-time missionaries that we think of as lone rangers. Southern Baptist missionary Lottie Moon is quoted as saying:
“I pray that no missionary will ever be as lonely as I have been.”
-Lottie Moon (American missionary to China)
If you take some time to read missionary biographies you will find that most missionaries resonate with Lottie Moon. Most missionaries long for help and companionship on the field. And you will find that their letters home are filled with prayers and pleas for more workers. Here are just a few examples:
“Oh, that many labourers may be thrust into the vineyard, and the Gentiles come to the knowledge of the Truth.”
-William Carey (British missionary to India)
“Oh, that I had a thousand lives, and a thousand bodies! All of them should be devoted to no other employment but to preach Christ to these degraded, despised, yet beloved mortals.”
-Robert Moffat (Scottish missionary to South Africa)
“I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China…It must have been a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing and God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward. And God said – ‘Well, she’s willing.'”
-Gladys Aylward (British missionary to China)
“While vast continents are shrouded in darkness the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God has placed you were meant by God to keep you out of the foreign mission field.”
-Ion Keith-Falconer (Scottish missionary to Yemen)
It seems that David Livingstone was the exception, not the rule. Most of us long for co-workers. This is not just a personality issue, though. In the Bible Translation world there is a plethora of introverts. But even those introvert linguists are looking for co-workers. Why would that be?
There is too much to do
A couple of thousand years ago Jesus expressed what most of us feel:
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Now that I have been among the Kwakum for almost four years, I am overwhelmed by all the work there is to do. I look around and see Kwakum people dying from illnesses we have cures for, ending every day exhausted from the labor of just feeding their family, unable to read, and calling out to the spirits of the dead. Stacey and I are working hard to bring them the Bible, but what use is it if they cannot read. And how can they understand it if no one is teaching? Or worse, if they are already dead.
Take a second to consider all of the ministry that happens in your church: Sunday School, music, services, janitorial, scheduling, answering phones, etc. Now imagine that all of that work was done by a single minister or a couple. Right at this moment Stacey and I are the only full-time missionaries working among the Kwakum. Our focus is Bible translation, but we see great needs in: discipleship, evangelism, medicine, education, church planting, literacy, agriculture, anti-corruption, and many other areas. And we know that we will never be able to care for all of these needs.
The title I chose for this blog is “We’re not lone rangers,” but it could very well be “We don’t want to be lone rangers.” God has been so kind and provided workers here in Cameroon that we would never have imagined, including: Boris (our village pastor), Jean Yves (a Cameroonian trained by SIL to do literacy), Bosco (a Kwakum pastor), and several other Westerners with SIL that have been invaluable. However, in the day-to-day all of us feel a desperate need for help. It is amazing to say it, but 2,000 years later the harvest is still ripe and the laborers are still few. The more that I have grown to know Jesus, the more that I relate with his heart in Matthew 9. I see the world teeming with people living and dying distant from the the Lord, like sheep without a shepherd. The truth is, I don’t want to work alone because I know that alone I cannot help them all. So, my challenge will just echo Christ’s: Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers.
If you find yourself persuaded by my argument here that missionaries work better in teams, I have an awesome opportunity to apply this belief. God has heard our prayers and is currently raising up Richie and Tabitha Rice to be a part of our team working with the Kwakum. Two of our biggest needs are in literacy and church planting, which is exactly what Richie and Tabitha want to come to do.
Here is how you can contact World Team and be a part of sending the Rices to Cameroon and keeping them there:
- Go to https://us.worldteam.org/give
- Click on the “GIVE” button under the heading “Workers”
- On the “Checkout” page, fill out your personal information.
- Under the heading “Write Missionary/Project Name or Number Below”, please input “Richie and Tabitha Rice.”
- Click on the “Donate” button.
For more information, or to receive a duplicate receipt, please contact our Donor Services Team: DonorServices.us@WorldTeam.org.
If you are interested to find out more about the Rices and their goals in Cameroon, check out their blog: http://ricesincameroon.blogspot.com.