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Trivial Obsessions: How a Missionary Encounter Reordered My Priorities

by | Jun 20, 2023 | Articles, Missions, Resources

I recently attended a missionary conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s an event that only happens once every four years – like a “Missions Olympics” of sorts – where 400 missionaries and their families gather together to learn, be encouraged, and connect with one another. My wife and I and our daughter were invited to attend and serve this collection of global workers who have become dear friends over the years.

I always come away from these events with a huge dose of spiritual sobriety. Spending a week with these beautiful people, many with young children, who have given up their home culture to take the Gospel to some of the most difficult places puts a whole lot of things in perspective for me.

One of the most moving moments was a presentation from the regional director on three new areas they want to pioneer. These places are the hardest of the hard, spiritual strongholds that are not just opposed to the Gospel, but dangerously at odds to the proclamation of Jesus.

After the session was over, we encountered a young missionary couple we have known for quite a few years. They were sobbing uncontrollably.

“We are wrestling with whether God is asking us to respond,” she said. “We said a lifelong yes to Jesus years ago, but we just want to make sure we’re not getting complacent, that we’re not getting comfortable, that we’re always open to saying yes again and again when Jesus speaks.”

Mandy and I were dumbfounded. I have traveled to the completely unreached and isolated community where they currently serve. It’s one of the most spiritually difficult climates I have ever visited. I was only there for one day and all I wanted to do was leave. I couldn’t wait to get back to the airport. Yet this young couple, with their young son in tow, was wrestling with whether the Holy Spirit was asking them to sacrifice even further so that the “inconveniently lost” have a chance to hear the Good News about Jesus.

Nothing makes our cultural-war-social-media-political-obsessions seem more trivial to me. I spend so much emotional and spiritual energy on things that just aren’t eternal. It’s not wrong to be concerned about the spiritual trajectory of our country, but we will do far more for the Kingdom by proclaiming Jesus in word and in deed than fretting and fighting over cultural decline. We need to proactively turn our collective heart and passion toward making sure Jesus is known among every nation, tribe, and tongue.

You may never uproot your life and your family to live cross-culturally in a global missions context (I currently live in a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana), but all of us carry an obligation to the Great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all people groups.” What are you and I doing to ensure everyone everywhere has a chance to hear the Gospel? The Great Commission isn’t for some special subset of Christ-followers, it’s for all of us, even those of us who work in everyday marketplace jobs.

Here are a few questions worth wrestling with this week:

  • What have I elevated in this life above the global glory of Jesus?
  • Where have I become more enamored with human power and politics than the Kingdom of God?
  • Where is the Gospel not yet known and how can I be involved in changing that?

It’s the Great Commission, not the Great Suggestion. Will you join me in making sure everyone has an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus?

Erik Cooper

After starting his career in the business world, Erik spent 12 years in full-time ministry, both on staff at a large suburban church and as a church planter in a downtown urban context. In addition to his role at The Stone Table, he also serves as the Vice President of Community Reinvestment Foundation, a nonprofit real estate company that provides high-quality affordable housing all over Indiana while investing its profits into missions through The Stone Table.

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