If I have learned anything over the last couple years it is that we are are not superheroes. We are not invincible. We are not immortal. And we don’t run the show like we sometimes think we do.
I’m talking about the Christian cross-cultural worker and humans in general.
Life and health are fragile things and just when we think we have it tight in our grasp we lose our balance and it is ripped from us in a moment. It leaves us at a loss for words.
I never had reason to consider the fragility of life until recently. I took my safety and health for granted. I’ve recently been confronted with the painful reality that we have no idea what could happen tomorrow. We cannot see the future or, much less, determine it. As a cross-cultural worker I live in a region that is more dangerous than the environment in which I grew up. I’ve had to face the normality of violence and death in a way I never thought I would. Recently, I have experienced heartbreak within my own family and it leaves us feeling vulnerable. I have seen friends go through agonizing loss and face the uncertainty of grave diagnoses. We all question why. Everything was going so well. The control was in my hands!
The American value of self-sufficiency and autonomy is not necessarily a biblical one. We praise those who make it on their own with no help. The desire of self-governance is at the core of our rebellious hearts and is the retort of the atheist. Like toddlers, we push away the hand that feeds us because for a moment we stubbornly believe the delusion that we can actually make it on our own. We imagine that we are the ones in control and that we are strong and capable and independent and free. At our best, it sneaks into our self-conscious as we silently applaud ourselves, and at our worst we give in to self-aggrandizing behavior with disregard to how we belittle others.
Ironically, Webster defines humility as the freedom from pride or arrogance. To be truly humble is to be free. The constant striving to need others (or God) less is like a ball and chain.
An excerpt from my devotional by Paul D. Tripp the other day said it perfectly:
Don’t fear your weaknesses. Be afraid of those moments when you think you’re independently strong.
In a world where all you have in the end is your thinking, your drive, your performance, and your achievements, weakness is a thing to be regretted.
But God’s grace makes weakness a thing to be feared no longer.
And really, the only way to accept the life-altering grace of our Savior is to admit how weak and unrighteous and not-so-know-it-all that we really are.
How difficult it is for the prideful man to truly know God.
Christian Cross-cultural Work
I have been studying the book, Walking with the Poor, for literally, over a year. It is heavy and oh-so-good and relevant to the work we do in Honduras. Chapter 7 touches on principles and attitudes that a holistic practitioner on the field should have. Myers lists the characteristics that workers should aspire to in Christian development work:
- Be patient
- Be humble
- Everyone is learning
- Everywhere is holy
- Love the people, not the program
- Cultivate a repentant spirit
- Act like dependent people – Myers says, “We need to show daily that we are a people dependent on God and not on our professional skills, our development technology, or our financial resources. People will see for themselves in whom we most truly place our trust. We need to be sure that our actions and our lives communicate that our trust is in the God of the Bible and nowhere else.“
This is something that is so important for my husband and me in our poverty alleviation work. We immediately posture ourselves along with the “recipients” in giving thanks to God for His provision. We all are the receivers and our good God is the giver. No one is assuming the role of Superhero.
Humility as a cross-cultural worker also means having the vulnerability to voice certain defeats or challenges and speaking up when your health (physical, emotional, financial, etc) is spiraling. Humility is recognizing that our human bodies and emotions have limits and require rest. Humility is accepting help, like possibly going to a professional counselor or learning boundaries and when to say no. All of these can be especially challenging for someone on the mission field who has been taught that they should have unending energy and compassion, superhero characteristics.
There is something about the daily exposure to poverty and other ills of society which tends to tear away faith and make agents of change some of the most cynical people around.
– M. Maggay
Myers suggests that when our soul starts longing for the Sabbath that a “sanity escape” can protect our inner lives; this is a time to “withdraw from our work and sit back and look for what is good. [Holistic practitioners] need to be able to hear the music, listen to the silence, pray, and sit quietly before the Word. Smelling the flowers, walking on the beach, and reading a good book are essential to sustaining our humanity and spirituality.”
Advice for a sending agency or congregation that is trying to care for workers on the field, Myers says, “We have a responsibility to help holistic practitioners free themselves in a way that allows them to make a gift of themselves, their character, and their skills, to all their relationships, beginning at home.”
In the day-to-day, we should learn to balance being driven and trusting in God’s sovereignty as described in the Serenity Prayer: