Are you willing to be sent where few can see you?

She was elderly and wore a lavender cardigan. She gripped my arm more firmly than I thought she could. She said she had something she wanted to tell me.

I had just preached a Pentecost Sunday sermon about how the Holy Spirit commissions us all as missionaries, or sent ones, to alert others to the universal reign of God wherever we might find ourselves.

I had preached that all vocations offer us the opportunity to mirror the work of God in the world, whether it’s to bring healing or justice, reconciliation or wholeness, whether to design and build, or to serve and love. And I threw in references to a few random vocations like stay-at-home parents and lawyers and nurses and union officials and artists and builders and teachers.

I had quoted Jesus’ words to his followers, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (John 20:21) and I asked the congregation, “So, to whom have you been sent?”

As I was leaving the church that morning the woman in the lavender cardigan took my arm and said with great determination, “I know who I’m sent to.”

We were in the church, behind the last pew, still in the whisper zone before the hubbub of the mingling space beyond the glass doors.

She told me quietly that her husband has advanced Alzheimer’s and lies in a nursing home bed, his face and hands twisted and contorted, a mere shell of the man she married and loved for most of her life. She sits with him dutifully, but he doesn’t recognise her. He’s no longer there. She told me she was angry with God for the longest time, wondering why he allowed her husband to linger so long.

“I used to yell at God, ‘Why don’t you just take him?'”, she said softly.

“But then it dawned on me one day. This is my calling. To be by his side until the end. And when I realised that, things changed. I started to see that the facility was full of women in the same situation as me, waiting, grieving. And I started praying for them. They began to reach out to me and now I’m like a pastor to these women. I love them and pray for them. I share Jesus with them. These are the people to whom I’m sent. Them, and my poor, dear husband.”

Wow.

She hasn’t been sent to Africa or South America. Not to church planting or leading a strategic missional organisation. She’s been sent to sit beside her unresponsive husband, and to minister to the wives of other equally unresponsive husbands throughout the nursing home.

I thought of William Wordsworth’s assessment of a good person’s life from Tintern Abbey,

“…that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.”

And I thought this was true of the woman in the lavender cardigan. That her little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love in that unremarkable nursing home were the best portion of her life.

Her calling.

Her vocation.

Her mission.

And it made me wonder how many people would be satisfied with that. And how many preachers would be satisfied with that.

And it made me wonder whether I’d be satisfied with that. I want to think I would be, that I’d believe it was as high a calling as any of the teaching or preaching or writing I do. But would I really feel that way?

When we call people to see themselves as sent ones and inspire them to give their all to alert people to the reign of God, do we picture a dignified elderly woman in a lavender cardigan sitting by a metal hospital bed or praying with another grieving soon-to-be widow in the waiting room down the hallway?

Or do we think that the real missional types among us are those being über strategic, multiplying their ministries, replicating themselves in emerging leaders, developing new initiatives, and writing books with missional in the title, etc?

For thousands of years now missionaries have been willing to undertake thankless tasks in overlooked corners of the planet, serving unknown people for no material reward, often with little discernible effect.

Are you willing to be numbered among them? Am I? Because our dear mother-sister in the lavender cardigan is doing it right now. And humanity is built on such as these.

 

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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11 thoughts on “Are you willing to be sent where few can see you?

  1. Humble, challenging and powerful. Thanks Mike.

    1. Amen!

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful, honest reflection. Stirs my heart as well, and how we measure ministry. I recently read how the Lord spoke of the Kingdom of God being like a Mustard Seed. The smallest of seeds. If someone was asked to find a Mustard Seed they may give up in there search. The Lord sees His Kingdom when others do not.

  3. Thank you Mike for the reminder of the unseen ministries of kindness, practical help, and making a difference in someone’s life. I know women in ‘lavender cardigans’ and men in ‘brown jackets’ who are doing this faithfully in love.

  4. For many years I heard words in my church similar to, “Our missionaries are those serving on the front lines” or “If you really want to use your life for something eternal then become a missionary.” But after many years of feeling somewhat second-class because I had not become a missionary I realized just what you affirmed in your piece – that all Christians are missionaries; we are all sent ones. And the real question is will we be faithful servants and witnesses to Jesus and his reign in the place we are sent. Very freeing and encouraging. Thanks Mike for the challenging article!

  5. Hi Mike, I really needed to read this. Thank you for sharing – what a sobering reminder that it’s not what the world sees but what God sees.. On the other side, after around 15 years of full time ministry with UNOH, Pete and I are still finding it challenging navigating this “liminal” “transitional” space, but do feel God’s peace within it as we work out what the future holds for us next. I still do visit my “old” community now and then, keep up friendships with some of the women I’ve known for more than a decade.. and I know each time I do, it’s not because I “have to” but because I “want to”, they are my friends, not “my ministry”. And yet, there are no newsletters to be written to prayer partners anymore, or recognition about what we do as “urban missionaries”. And I am ok with that. It’s what God sees, the small things that mean much.

    1. Sharm, we’re in a very similar situation after leaving our community Small Boat Big Sea. Being in that liminal/transitional space doesn’t feel terrible, but it’s not that comfortable either. Bring on the next thing, I say!

  6. We need this! All of us! Actually, I’m going to share it with my daughter who is wondering about the future!

  7. Yes, this is the gospel / church / love in action. Every day, everywhere, seen & unseen. Usually right where we are. What a blessing for her to see this calling and how precious a gift to offer in that place.

  8. There is nothing more to say, except I agree. Amen.

  9. Thanks for the reminder Mike. I am constantly tempted to see myself, and my ministry, as ‘more’ than the ministry of others: more important, more faithful, more costly, more interesting. It’s only pieces like these, along with the unassuming witness of the woman whose story you told, that keep me a little more honest.

    Musing on a related tangent, I wonder whether those of us who started out in some form of ministry which emphasises obvious and visible change, are possibly more susceptible to this temptation. I started out in youth ministry, and am still involved in that sphere: because of the tumultuous changes that often occur for young people, I found (still find!) it easy to assume that it was a more important ministry. That there was a better input:output ratio. I’ve realised along the way that the economy of the reign of God operates in a completely different way – and need continual reminding of this.

    Thanks again.

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