The three Cs of missionary fruitfulness

By Frank Decker

Not long ago, I witnessed probably the most inspiring funeral I can recall. It wasn’t due to the order of worship but because of the person who was being remembered. I met first Hugh, a medical doctor, when he would teach our Mission Society personnel in preparation about medical issues overseas. He always brought along with him enough copies of the book Where There Is No Doctor to give away to each participant. His teaching sessions, rooted in his own cross-cultural experiences, always seemed to allay the fears of young parents who were preparing to take their little ones to places where diseases such as malaria, typhoid, and AIDS are endemic.

As I was basking in the recollections that were being shared during Hugh’s service, I had a serendipity that there were three components in his life that formed an essential recipe for fruitful cross-cultural ministry.

Compassion. Several people spoke at Hugh’s funeral, telling stories of a medical practice that included not only the treatment of individuals in need but also the transformation of entire communities through, for example, education about malaria prevention. Hugh and his wife also took a personal interest in a number of impoverished young children and enabled many to pursue their dreams of obtaining an education, even through college in some cases.

Of course, you may say, it is expected that someone with a heart for missions would have an extravagant, merciful love for others. But recent research indicates just how rare is this quality. In his new book Maximum Faith, George Barna asserts that, while 44 percent of Americans have confessed their sins and invited Jesus to be their Savior, only one half of one percent have continued in their growth to the point where they have experienced an abiding passion for God that expresses itself in a profound love for other people. Indeed, persons in ministry often recognize that one strategy of the enemy is to cause an erosion of compassion to the point where words such as “duty” and “project” may overshadow the faces of those whom they are called to serve.

Capacity. Mission agencies often find themselves sorting through applications from persons who have an unmistakable willingness to serve, but are unclear on how that would be expressed in specific ministry. Missional rhetoric often causes the sense of one’s “calling” to diminish the equally important issue of what one has to offer in terms of practical expressions of God’s love through service to others.

Of course, because he was a medical doctor, Hugh’s chosen profession inherently afforded him an enormous capacity to help people. And, while one does not need to be a doctor in order to serve, persons who are experiencing a call to missions should ask themselves, “In addition to my willingness to go, what skills do I have to offer that would meet a practical need in the lives of others?” In other words, if you are willing to go, what will you bring?

This is a strategic issue, especially as one considers service with people groups who are largely unreached for Christ. At The Mission Society I work with cross-cultural workers who offer a variety of professional skills including doctors, nurses, water engineers, professors, teachers, counselors, artists, agriculturalists, businesspersons, and caretakers of orphans. Their education and expertise grants them not only the capability to meet the felt needs of others, but also provides a context through which they can develop disciple-making relationships.

Contemplation. During the funeral a number of poems Hugh had published were recited. In addition, his adult children testified to the fact that when they were young their father would have them memorize meaningful poetry. It was powerfully evident that Hugh’s compassion and service were built on a foundation of habits of contemplation or, as some say, “created space.”

It is my observation that a habitual rootedness in the quiet Presence is a diminished element in many modern mission endeavors. We can be so focused on projects and goals and “best bang for the buck” that it is easy to lose a sense of “Working from our rest instead of resting from our work.”

Thoreau said, “If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” And while we westerners may have a penchant for efficiency and formulaic methods, deep down we know that our Christian service absent of the quiet habits will cause our work to be merely that; our ministry, limited to our own wisdom, strength, and vision.

Like the other hundreds of people sitting in that large United Methodist sanctuary, I left Hugh’s funeral with moist eyes. But more importantly I was grateful for the challenging, poignant reminder of how God can use a person in whose life converge the qualities of compassion, capacity, and contemplation.