The campus is quiet now. All the Radius students have gone back to their home areas for Christmas break after a busy last week of studies, class presentations, a Christmas party for staff and students, a visit by Francis and Lisa Chan, parties all over Tijuana that our students were invited to and a party for ESL students. (Did you know that the Radius campus becomes a very filled ‘classroom’ twice a week as over 100 of our Mexican neighbors come to learn or improve their English? All students get hands-on training in teaching English to others… as well as gaining a whole bunch of wonderful friends.) It seems like so long ago when they were all just “37 strangers” to each other. The intensity of 5 months together has formed deep relationships that will last well past their time here at Radius.
The reality is though that once students graduate from here in June they will then begin walking the rest of this journey pretty much alone. There will be no large group of students at their sides when they leave ‘the Radius nest’. As they apply for visas, downsize all their household possessions, prepare their kids, explain the difficulty of what they are going to be doing to those who love them and will be their sending team, they do these things on their own. And then, the day comes when they get on the plane… alone.
Just last week another family who attended Radius landed in SE Asia… alone. Families and singles that have trained here are now in India, Indonesia, Morocco, Chad, Laos, Uzbekistan, Tunisia and, very soon, China. None of these graduates live ‘in a compound’. All are living in hamlets, towns, and cities with non-English speaking neighbors. Many are experiencing their first of many Christmases overseas. How they respond to this first big event is important. Yes, they will often times find other ex-pats to sing songs with and those who can will Skype a little longer with families back home, but the challenge of making this ‘new country’ their home often times begins with handling Christmas in a wise way.
For Beth and me, our first Christmas in Papua New Guinea (1979) was rough. We lived on the bank of a river and I was often times gone from Beth making building trips deep into the jungle to erect our house among the Iteris. We had no two-way radio, computer, Skype, electricity, or communication of any kind. A single Coleman pressure lamp was our dingy light and we had a cassette tape of John Denver singing Christmas Carols. The jungle was loud, hot, sweaty, and tedious. Times have changed, but being able to be lonely is still important. Emotional stability is a critical factor.
Even with Skype, the never-ending reminders of the good times and parties that are going on without you back in your hometown can be hard. Christmas, Easter, and many other special family dinners that you miss are regular reminders for those on both sides of the ocean of the price tag of long-term gospel ministry. Preparation for seasons of great adversity is important and, just as important, is preparation for the on-going grind of ‘not being there’. In Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ, John Piper wrote that Adoniram Judson heard nothing from home till over two years had passed, “The first news from home arrived two years later on September 5, 1815. They (Adoniram and Ann) had died to the nearness of family. Adoniram would never see his mother or father or brother again. He would not return for thirty-three years.”
Times have changed. Technology today makes what Judson went through something that few can even remotely envision. (And no one I know, myself included, would advocate a 33-year long first term on the field!) But to act as if we have little to learn from Judson’s mentality would be a grave error. Setting aside Judson’s example of total focus on completing the task the Lord gave him to do has allowed a casualness regarding ‘commitment’ to not only creep into missions today but actually be seen as a noble reason to leave the field. The tenacious grip we have on ‘family first’, doing all we can do to ‘keep the family ties strong’ has brought a distracted ‘when it doesn’t endanger or interfere with my family’ mentality throughout the missions world. I witnessed one missionary presentation recently that boldly declared, “We are serving in Africa so we can raise our kids there!” Merely being ‘in Africa’ allowed them to avoid addressing the awkward question of “So why not stay here in the USA if raising your kids is your primary task?”
Jesus led the way for us in loneliness and separation. In completely veiling himself and walking amidst lost humanity with its smells and vileness, Jesus endured a drop in lifestyle none of us can relate to. Paul would write to the Philippians in 2:5,6 that our attitude is to be the same as Jesus “Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Jesus ‘released his hold’ on his divine estate, standard of living and the closeness of the Godhead, his ‘family’. Jesus came and lived as the one and only non-created Being to ever be ‘clothed in time’. The Apostle John, who had vibrant, first-hand memories of the incongruity of The Lord Jesus Christ walking the shores of the Sea of Galilee, wrote of that in Jn. 1:14 “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus wasn’t beaming back up to heaven once a month for face to face fellowship with his Father, and the Father didn’t shrink back from a redemption that cost the life of His only Son. With all this in view, Jesus summarizes the essential mindset and approach to life of those he would send out in Jn. 20:21 “…as the Father has sent me so I am sending you.”
Jesus modeled to us the way of being completely here among us until the task was complete. Enduring separation from the Father, He created genuine community with those who were vastly different than Him. He too, like Judson later on, was 33 years away from ‘home’. Judson labored for 19 years before he began to see a breakthrough in Burma. Jesus endured 30 years of mundane preparation before embarking on 3 years of ministry. How many great breakthroughs never happen because loneliness, the grind of culture and language barriers, instability, and hardships on our kids take missionaries home? Preparation doesn’t make any of those sacrifices ‘easy’, but it does make them endurable. David the Shepherd didn’t walk into a fight with Goliath unprepared; he had killed a lion and bear in preparation for that day. If we are serious about seeing the gospel clearly proclaimed among every tongue, tribe, and nation then preparing those ‘proclaimers’ can no longer be seen as optional. The percentage of gospel workers staying even 10 years on the field gets lower and lower. Preparation for loneliness, hardship, and sacrifices on all family members are critical points that need to be prepared for, and EXPECTED, by a gospel worker.
 ‘Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ’ by John Piper, pg. 96