I know people who retired in their forties or fifties when they were financially secure. That means they don’t have to work for money anymore and finally get to enjoy life. I know pastors who retired in their sixties from church and travel to different mission fields to help out. When I ask missionaries about retirement, they usually give me a blank look meaning they have not thought about it. When I proceed to ask:
Where would you like to retire?
Are you financially prepared for retirement?
Huh, what…not sure… Jehovah Jirih- the Lord will provide.
What do you want to do if you retire?
Continue to serve the Lord for as long as possible!
Faithful to the end, that’s what missionaries are called to – a lifetime of service by faith. That’s why some people say missionaries never retire, therefore they don’t need to think about it or plan for it. Maybe another reason we don’t talk about it is because we are focusing on recruiting missionaries, younger missionaries for that matter so they have more years to serve. In the last several years, the average age of missionaries sent out from Hong Kong is around 47. If a missions agency requires their missionaries to retire at the age of 65, that means they only have 18 years of field service. Whereas if missionaries don’t retire and if they live to 80 years old, that could add another 15 years to a total of 33 years of missionary service! From the economic point of view, isn’t it better for the Kingdom of God if missionaries do not retire?
That’s all very ideal for those who are able and capable; how about that single missionary who was forced to retire early due to a physical and/or emotional hardship? What about that missionary who was killed accidentally on the field leaving his wife (also a missionary) and young children behind? I have seen missionaries in these conditions suffer from lack of financial and relational support when they return “home.” On the other hand, there are senders who stood by their missionaries in sickness and in health, in effectiveness and in incapability. Eventually, the practical question will be raised – How long or how much should a sending church and/or missions agency continue to provide for these missionaries who are no longer actively serving on the field? Are they still considered missionaries?
I have raised more questions than provided answers on the issue of missionary non-retirement. As a missionary, maybe I should begin to think about what to do if I reach a point where I am not able to function as a missionary no matter how old I am. Do I expect my family members, friends, sending church, and missions agency to take care of me? Should I add this burden onto them? No, I don’t… but traditional Chinese’s belief is for children to take care of their parents when they get old. Some missionaries might unconsciously transfer this concept into expecting their senders and supporters to take care to them in their golden years. If things don’t turn out the way they expect, feelings might get hurt and relationships broken.
As missionaries, how do we walk by faith and be responsible at the same time and not fall into a fatalistic mentality of folding our hands and leaving it all up to God since He is in control of all things in all time? Our Lord created us to have freewill and desires us to partner with Him, from God creating the animals and Adam naming each one of them to missionaries sharing the Gospel and the Holy Spirit moving each heart to accept the Gift of eternal life. Let us be responsible partners, taking the time to ask our Lord how we should partner with Him in retiring or not retiring.
by Judi Chow
The Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites dealing with moral precepts such as love and relationships with God and man. It is a good idea to re-examine it here in order to see how the second ten commandments which missionaries need to obey to honor our Lord in all we do and all we can be.
Take time to review, reflect, and renew our commitment to obey not only the first Ten Commandments but seriously consider obeying each one of the second Ten Commandments also if you are a missionary.
The Ten Commandments From Exodus 20
2. You shall not make for yourselves an idol
3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
9. You shall not give false testimony
Respect for Parents
Respect for Human life
The Second Ten Commandments For Missionaries
11. You shall not put people’s needs before me
12. You shall not make ministry your idol
13. You shall not misuse the gifts I’ve entrusted to you
14. Remember to live a holy life by keeping the Sabbath
15. Honor your senders and supporters
16. You shall not lead in all things for all times
17. You shall not expect of yourself more than I asked of you
18. You shall not hold onto your accomplishment
19. You shall not leave your station/ field until I tell you
20. You shall not forget I am always by your side
by Judi chow
One of the questions we ask missionary candidates for their Pre-field psychological assessment is, “What do you fear the most?” Let me share some of the answers here: snakes and rats, death and separation, sin against God, not being used by God, my parents die before accepting Christ, my child’s safety, getting seriously ill on the field, not able to accomplish my task as a missionary… the list goes on and on. Looking at these answers from missionaries now serving in different parts of the world, you can see that missionaries are also human beings with blood, sweat, and tears.
Often times, missionaries as well as church leaders tell me in tears they are scared. As a counselor, I can analyze the psychological causes of their fear like: feeling threatened, powerless, perceived danger, inadequacy, rejection, and guilt (genuine and false). Fear usually arises from lack of trust and when one falls into uncontrollable situations or the unknown. As a missionary, I know servants of the Lord are not immune to fear. Even Jesus’ disciples were really scared when their little fishing boat was about to be swallowed by the storm. They tried to wake Jesus up by shouting, “Lord, save us! We are going to drown!” The disciples really thought they were going to die, and Jesus responded with a question, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” (Matthew 8:23-26)
Every one of us has our own fears. I don’t know about you, but my number one fear is… believe it or not… preaching! Do you know why? Well, maybe I have been taught women ought not to preach and if I do, then I am being disobedient. Preaching is proclaiming God’s Word, and what if I don’t get it right, will I be leading people astray? What will people think of me then? Here, finally, I have come to the bottom line – my concern is about my performance, my face, me! I am just like the disciples focusing on the circumstances and my own well-being, having so little faith! I neglected the fact Jesus knows and He cares! Numerous times Jesus assures us, “I am here! Don’t be afraid.” (Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50) I am getting better at conquering the fear of preaching now. I still sweat over sermon preparation and experience butterflies in the stomach before approaching the pulpit, but during delivery I try to stay tuned into Jesus’ comforting promise, “I am here! Don’t be afraid.“
Fear did not go away completely as my faith factor still has room to grow. It is understandable for missionaries to be afraid, particularly when one doesn’t know a wave is a welcomed invitation or a hostile rejection. Facing the unknown and uncontrollable circumstances on the field without a support system can force a person to turn to Jesus or become self-reliant. I am sad to said, as I counsel missionaries in times of need or fear, their first answer usually is not Jesus!
Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid?” is followed by what seems to me a rebuke, “You have so little faith!” Jesus didn’t stop there; he stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves showing the disciples He can calm the storm at sea as well as the storm in their hearts. Jesus’ presence and power overcame fear!
Next time when you are scared, focus on His promise, “I am here! Don’t be afraid.”
by Judi Chow
I have attended many funerals and memorial services recently, some were my friends and others were well-respected servants of the Lord ranging in age from twenty-something to over a hundred. They all left friends and family members behind to mourn for them, from parents to spouses to children to great-grandchildren. I also recall a funeral of a security guard of an apartment building. My friend was asked to officiate the ceremony since she is the only pastor he knew, and it turned out she was the only person there. This is sobering – how we spend our days will reflect upon what kind of impact we have on other people’s lives. This is the legacy we shall leave behind.
For the last several years, I have been talking about retiring although I am not at that age yet. I thought about opening a coffee shop/art gallery somewhere and go someplace to learn how to make a nice cup of Cappuccino. What’s wrong with me? Is it because of the feeling of bearing too much heavy responsibilities? Am I not doing what God has gifted me to do? No, I don’t have an identity problem or role confusion; I am called to serve the Lord in caring for the missionary community. I love training and counseling missionaries and enjoy writing about it also… But why the thought of leaving it all? Am I having a midlife crisis?
The fact is, I know I have reached a point in my life where my days lived are greater than my days left to live. This is a critical transitional period most people my age have to overcome, just like searching for identity during adolescence. Maybe this is triggered by the recent deaths of my peers as well as the appearing wrinkles and aging spots on my face. I cannot stay up all night to work anymore. I can accept my mortality. I know my days on earth are numbered. How should I make the best of what God has endowed me so I may hear “well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) when I see Jesus face to face? Am I living a life with no regrets no matter if I have 10 years, 10 months, or 10 days to live?
In “The Bucket List” movie, two old guys, who have been given 6-12 months to live due to cancer, made a list of things to do before they die (kick the bucket). I know lots of people have made up their own bucket list and post it on the Internet for the world to see. Let me share with you some of them: Read the whole Bible; Get as many people as I can to know Jesus; Skydive; Get married and have kids; Be a missionary; Travel the world; Write a book… Etc. I assume doing these things will make one feel a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment. I don’t have a bucket list but there are things I’d like to do before I die, like setting up a missions village, seeing the seven wonders of the world, and riding in a real hot-air balloon. If I don’t do these things before I see Jesus, will I regret it?
As a woman going through midlife, what am I searching for behind these questions I ask myself?… Yes, I do want to finish well… by God’s standard! I want to be a good and faithful servant in HIS eyes! What if all of a sudden due to my own physical or mental limitations or the needs of my parents or for whatever reasons I can no longer be a missionary… what do I do then? Will I be really fulfilling God’s destiny for me by operating a coffee shop/art gallery somewhere in the world? Eric Liddell‘s famous line in the movie “Chariots of Fire” came to mind, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” He did run, not only in the Paris Olympics, but all the way to China as a missionary.
The bottom line for all of us in midlife to ponder is: Do I know whom God made me to be, and do I feel His pleasure in what I do? Are you in that transitional period when you think you might be heading for a midlife crisis? Do you want to live a life with no regrets no matter what you do and where you are?
by Judi Chow
A friend went on a fast for three days and three nights.
My flat-mate just went on a twenty-one day liquid fast.
Another friend went on a forty-day lunch fast.
I know a pastor who went on a forty-day water fast.
Jesus went on a forty-day fast.
I tried to fast for one meal… and my hands were shaking, my feet numbing, my head hurting, my mouth watering, and my stomach growling. I just can’t concentrate on the purpose of fasting- to pray! Please note, I said fast, not skip a meal. It is easy for me to skip a meal or two or three. It often happens as I am in the middle of something so engrossing that I forget about eating. On a few occasions, I needed to fast or abstain from food for 12 hours or so to do a medical check up. From my personal experience, intentional fasting for spiritual purposes requires discipline and self-control.
Traditionally, fasting is defined as voluntarily going without food in order to focus on prayer and fellowship with God. Actually, it can be anything that distracts one from getting close to the heart of God, such as internet surfing or as simple as talking to people. I was at a retreat center where they emphasized the practice of silence even during meals. It was a good enforced discipline in denying oneself from talking to people so one can listen to God better. No matter whether it is withholding from eating, drinking, looking, or talking, our sole purpose of fasting should be trying to focus our heart, mind, body, and spirit to be in tune with God.
I don’t hear missionaries talk much about fasting. I am not saying they don’t, it’s just that when one does fast—everything else needs to slow down to take second place, including ministry! Fasting might seem to be a luxury instead of a priority. After all, missionaries need the food to give us physical strength for visitation or to plan evangelistic events! Missionaries are always lacking of time, how can we afford to be still to fast and feel weak! I do believe fasting is a lost art of spiritual discipline that has been stereotyped into being just for the super-spiritual giants. Don’t be fooled by it, for it is in weakness we seek God’s strength! Beware, when we want to fast, the devil always tries to find ways to keep us from getting close to God, before and/ or during the fast. Remember Jesus’ fasting in the desert? Can we try to fast one meal a week and dedicate that time of eating to come before God- to adore Him, praise Him, listen to Him. I think if we do that, Jesus will be pleased, because we are following in His steps.
by Judi Chow
A few years ago, we tried to launch a program called IOU40@wecare. It was an attempt for missionary candidates to spend 40 hours of intensive preparation as to follow Jesus’ example of 40 days of fasting and prayer before His public ministry. Satan came at the end of that 40 days when Jesus was hungry, tired, and vulnerable; the temptation posted as a challenge- “If you are the Son of God,” prove it by turning these stones into bread and by throwing yourself down from the temple top. In the midst of His physical weaknesses, Jesus answered with spiritual strength- “It is written…” everytime. (Matthew 4:1-11)
I don’t remember ever hearing a voice challenging me- if you are a missionary, you should devote yourself totally in caring for the poor, praying for the sick, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, preaching the Gospel, planting the church, counseling the downcast, casting out demons, making disciples, training leaders, etc., etc. These are real needs which can be very demanding for any missionary, but when does being responsible became a dangerous temptation? When we forgot it is written, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Missionaries usually don’t have to prove ourselves, right? We are sent to do these things. We are expected to be faithful and fruitful. We are to be servants and leaders. We do all these because we love the Lord, the lost, and… well maybe not ourselves! We get on that treadmill call ministry, start running and running until we are exhausted but not able to get off. I have known missionaries who worked so hard on the field, they had to be carried home on a stretcher. When did we forget it is written, “Be still and know that I am God?” (Psalm 46:10) The second half to this verse is, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.“
Maybe one of the best kept secrets buried deep in a missionary’s heart is the fear of not being use by the Lord. Satan knows our weakest link and that’s where he will lure us with his temptation. Someone said money, sex, and power are the greatest temptations. As we read from the news, many of God’s servants have fallen prey in the midst of their seemingly successful ministries. Not sure when their focus had shifted, rationalization began and the end justified the means. It is okay, it is for the sake of the Gospel! Somewhere along the way, it is forgotten, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
Jesus overcame Satan’s temptation by reciting God’s words from His heart. These words are not factual knowledge only, Jesus knew pleasing and honoring the Father is more important than working and reaping for the Father. Next time when you hear, If you are a missionary, don’t justify, just follow Jesus in His steps.
by Judi Chow
I like to play games. I like to use games in training missionaries. Word association is a game I often use for experiential learning to bring about self-awareness. You start with a list of words and write out the first word that comes to mind associating it. The following is an example of what some missionaries came up with:
God – love, Jesus – cross, Missionary – obedience, Single – lonely, Culture – language, Home – belong, Ministry – evangelism, Joy – baby, Peace – dove, Sin – murder, Rainbow – Noah, Peter – rock
From a list of associating words, you can find out something about a person’s thinking, past experiences, and value system. Association can be straightforward or creative; it reflects one’s worldview.
Recently, I associated “seed” with “water” from looking at the tiny seeds in a plastic container I got after a Sunday sermon. It was given to us as a reminder that if we have faith as a mustard seed, we could move mountains. Many months past by, all the seeds remain intact on the corner of my desk. As I was looking at it, this verse came to mind, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) Somehow in my mind’s eye, I see these tiny seeds as missionaries… willing to die, to give up ones’ lives in exchange for an opportunity to win the lost. To bear fruit for the Lord!
Well, a seed remains as a seed until it… no, not only dies, but it needs soil, sunshine, and water before it can sprout and bear fruit. When I see those tiny seeds as missionaries and associating it with water, you might be curious and ask: what or whom does water represent? Some said, water– definitely refers to the living water, God himself! That’s whom missionaries needed in order to bear fruit! Well, there is no right or wrong answer to association, but another verse came to mind, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) What if I see water as people God has called to encourage and care for missionaries? Imagine it hasn’t rained for months, the soil is dry, even though the sun is still shining the plant will eventually wither due to lack of water.
“…unless a cup of water pours into the soil and empties, it remains in the cup; but if it empties, the seeds will sprout and bear much fruit.” Both water and seed require sacrificial giving up of self in order to fulfill one’s destiny. It is not possible to give without love from the Lord and for others. Water cannot be a seed, but seeds need water! God created both for a purpose, which one do you think you are?
by Judi Chow
When my mom failed to reach my brother at his home or cell phone, she would call and ask me where my brother was. I usually would tell her he was probably out of town but inside I would say, how should I know… am I my brother’s keeper? Without realizing it, I quoted Cain’s answer when the Lord asked, “Where is your brother?” from Genesis 4:9. I might not be as evil as Cain trying to shed his responsibility after killing Abel, but that carelessness mentality is the same. It is not that I don’t care for my brother’s well being; it is just that we live thousands of miles apart, he is a grown man, and I have my own life, ministry, and other responsibilities. This might sound like excuses, but they are genuine reasons for me not knowing my brother’s whereabouts.
Let’s change the scene – suppose a missions director came to the village where a team of missionaries has been working together for three years. Attending their weekly prayer meeting and enjoying the fellowship meal afterwards, the director suddenly realized Missionary A (the only single missionary among the team) wasn’t there and asked, “Where is Miss. A?” “Oh yes, she hasn’t joined us for a few weeks now, must be busy.” Actually Miss. A had an emotional outburst during the last prayer meeting she did attend complaining the missionary couple and family didn’t understand her. The team members didn’t know how to respond and assumed she wanted more privacy, so they left her alone. It is not that they don’t care; it is just that they felt they are called to share the Gospel among the local people there. The family has young kids to home-school and the couple is busy discipling new believers. Excuses? No, these are genuine situations.
I don’t believe any missionary would answer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” when being asked what happened that caused their fellow missionary to be so distant or depressed. It is just that most missionaries are very focused on their calling to obey the Great Commission to share the Gospel that they might fail to see the Great Commandment to love one another, which includes their fellow missionary. When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” He was giving Cain another chance to repent and respond with his conscience. God wanted Cain to search deep in his heart and soul to find a love for his brother instead of the needless jealousy he felt. God probably doesn’t ask us to keep our eyes on our brothers every single minute of the day, but He does want us to love one another. That love can be seen in our daily interaction with our brothers or coworkers.
God is still asking questions today, I am just wondering what kind of questions will He ask me at the end of the day. What about you, what is He asking you? Can you discern His voice?
by Judi Chow
Every few years or so missionaries go on furlough. May I remind you it means home assignment not vacation. On my furlough this time I heard some kind comments from old friends like “You look the same all these years, no change!” After observing my peers and talking with my sister about changes, we came to this conclusion- those who were smashingly handsome or stunningly beautiful in their prime seem to have changed the most in their appearance. Those of us who are average or not so good-looking seem to have kept a recognizable look after all the years- “no change.” Yes, our Creator is fair in this regard.
On a more serious note, I do believe to every change, there is an exchange no matter whether the change is external or internal, physical or emotional, intellectual or spiritual, plan or unplanned, welcomed or unwanted. No one can escape life changes, yet missionaries seem to endure more changes due to the nature of our life commitment. Usually people resist changes, yet missionaries have to embrace them. Beginning with a change of heart to our life’s direction, choosing the narrow path rather than the broad, to exchanging a sense of security for living by faith. Also, it’s pursuing holiness rather than worldliness, to leaving aging parents and soul-mates for strangers and lost souls, and exchanging praises from men for a “good and faithful servant” from the Lord.
The decision to make the change is only but a moment, yet the exchanges need to be made moment-by-moment. When the alien feeling finally subsides and ministry has taken root, it then seems to be time for another change. The cycle starts again, missionaries move on exchanging the familiar for yet another uncharted territory ahead. For some it could be stressful and overwhelming, yet for the servant of the Lord who heeds His call to walk this special path, it is full of adventures and blessings for He has promised to be with us until the end of the earth!
Some changes are inevitable and at times beyond our control, like the sudden news from the doctor’s office pronouncing there is cancer growing in your liver or a long distance phone call telling you your son was in a car accident… News like these can turn our world upside down. Yet especially in difficult times of unwanted changes, we must focus on the constancy of His unfailing love. As we live in this world of transience, can we choose to exchange the temporal for the eternal?
What changes are you facing and what are you exchanging at this point in life, my friend? As for me, in view of the consistency of change, I gladly exchange whatever for constantly holding onto His hand!