I used to believe that to be a missionary you had to sell everything and move to a foreign country where the people didn't speak your language and had never even heard of Jesus Christ. This was my perception of what it meant to go into the missions field.
What I'm beginning to learn is that there is more than one way to go into missions. Certainly the most obvious way is the one in which I've just described: selling it all, moving to a whole new land and speaking to the spiritually deprived in this world. Noble and selfless don't even begin to describe this kind of sacrifice and service. Those who become overseas missionaries or even inner city missionaries give up their entire lives for the cause of furthering the gospel. They are saints.
But there is another kind of missionary, one that is not as easily spotted yet just as active. These quiet, unassuming missionaries are in their mission field right at home. There is a need for these Christ followers, those that don't sell everything and who don't move away from home, to share the truth of God. They are needed to share Christ's message with the lost right in their own towns and homes.
When we ponder the life of an overseas missionary we can quickly come up with an overwhelming list of difficulties and struggles they would face: a language barrier, a lack of modern day comforts, separation from family, and economic uncertainty just to name a few. There is one particular struggle that might not come to mind right away but is a difficult reality for the long term missionary: cultivating new believers.
Anything that takes time requires patience and patience always comes up against frustration. For the long term missionary who has devoted their life to sharing the gospel this can be a matter of great struggle. They are living among people who do not yet know God and their entire life mission is to bring them the life changing message of Christ. How frustrating when the people don't respond! How discouraging when weeks, months and even years go by and there is no great revival in the towns they are ministering to.
This struggle isn't reserved for only the overseas missionary. It is a very true reality for the at-home missionary, too.
When we are ministering to our family and friends around us we are not just in it for a moment. This isn't a quick two week trip to Mexico to build houses. Missions work at home is a long term commitment. We are cultivating long term fruit. Just like the overseas missionary, this task isn't completed over night. It is a life long dedication.
While considering the responsibility and challenge of being a long term missionary at-home and abroad I couldn't help but think of the Christmas tree farmers. Did you know that Christmas trees take, in general, about 5 to 10 years to grow to maturity? It makes you appreciate the patience of the Christmas tree farmer, doesn't it?
By the time we see a Christmas tree all cut and wrapped at the local nursery it has already been cultivated for years and years. The farmer didn't decide to go into business in September and set up his harvest of trees in late November. Those trees were in his mind's eyes nearly a decade ago. He put forth the effort of planting and tending to his trees long before any of us saw the fruits of his labor.
But without his years of dedication and diligent tree-tending we would not have the Christmas tree strapped to the top of our car, carried into our living room and decorated with ornaments and lights. It is the farmer's work that makes the traditional Christmas tree possible.
Just like Christmas tree farming, long term missions is a long term commitment. The results aren't visible over night. The harvest takes years to cultivate. But just like the Christmas tree farmer, one day your work will be visible. It may take a decade, but God is doing the work of growth beneath the surface. When the time is right He will show you the miracle of the harvest that He has been using your work to cultivate.
You don't have to move across the globe to a missionary. God can use you right where you are. Beware, this isn't a short term commitment. God wants a plentiful harvest. He is looking for long term fruit. He wants to make you like the Christmas tree farmer, farming the seeds of the gospel, in your own home. You won't need a passport. What you will need is God given patience while you work the fields that will one day, praise God, bring forth a plentiful harvest.