“Thank you for coming; you’ve sacrificed so much to be here,” a sweet-faced, old Chinese woman said to me. Thoughts scurried through my mind: “It isn’t hard here. I don’t have to live in the bush with hot and cold running snakes. I didn’t have to learn another language. I haven’t sacrificed at all!” But with a smile, I answered her, “I’m happy I can be here.” And I truly am!
Jesus promises blessing for those who follow him to new homes outside their cultures: “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land–whatever–because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land–but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life!” (Mark 10:29-30 MSG)
When I ask my friends or family members to come visit me in southeast Asia, they usually say, “It’s too far! Twenty-five hours in a plane? I could never make a trip like that.” Others say, “It’s so hot there! People like me don’t tolerate the heat well.” Even when we show them pictures, they still don’t get it.
Here’s our standard joke with some of our PW friends: “We’re not real PWs,” we explain. “You guys are living in restricted countries or hack your way home through the bush. It takes some of you two days just to drive somewhere for your mail.” We all laugh, but deep inside we wonder if we have sacrificed enough to be “real” PWs.
Some of you really are making difficult sacrifices to serve where you are and do what you are doing. Perhaps there are days when you cry because of those sacrifices. If you are a pioneer in your place, you may not see many results for your service. But be sure! You will not lose any of your reward in the life to come. The writer to the Hebrews said when you persevere and have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. (Hebrews 10.36)
Comparisons: My Field is Harder Than Your Field
Comparing our sacrifices to what others experience can be a deadly undertaking. We lose joy, and the peace God intends for us to have. We also waste grace, and we really cannot afford to, for by grace we stand. We are only responsible to do what He calls us to do, where He directs us to be. It is obedience that pleases Him, not the degree of sacrifice we think we have or have not made.
Are We Making the Right Sacrifices?
Sacrifices come in two types: necessary and unnecessary. In our experience, God only gives grace for necessary sacrifices. I am sure you know that grace doesn’t make anything easy. But grace makes possible what would normally be impossible. For the unnecessary sacrifices we impose on ourselves, there is no grace. Instead, we find ourselves struggling just to keep our heads above the water. The ark floated because it was God’s idea, not Noah’s invention.
We started our international experience in Africa. Definitely, not our choice. Like my husband says, “Snakes! Bugs! Bad Toilets!” But it was God’s choice. Like many first-termers, we were pretty clueless about what the sacrifices would actually look like. We never saw a snake. The bugs and toilets were usually manageable. But we lived in an apartment building with three other western families. We were stacked up like layers of a cake. All the windows and doors lined up, and were open all the time to catch whatever breezes we could. Privacy, our precious western privacy, was hard to come by. (One wife told us that as they lay in bed one night they could hear the couple in the apartment above talking about them. “Do you think we should answer,” she asked her husband.)
To serve in that place we had to sacrifice privacy. But our experience could not compare to some friends who lived in a remote village in Thailand. Their house had gaps between the boards in the walls, and the local villagers would look in at them in the night. Better them than us, but they did it, gladly, for the King.
In Africa the other families belonged to a club the British had left behind. (God bless the British!) They played squash in the broiling heat, swam in the pool, and drank ice cold Bitter Lemon or Coke in the canteen. They encouraged us to join too. Coming from middle-class America, joining a club sounded like an extravagance. Shouldn’t we sacrifice that kind of leisure for the work? After a while we realized the cost, about $100 for the year, was nothing compared to the benefits it gave us. It was the only place where we could relax and exercise without our congregation and students watching every move. To abstain from joining that club was an unnecessary sacrifice.
Even so we must not sacrifice our children needlessly or carelessly. In Africa we had serious concerns about our children’s education. What we were doing was not working, so we wondered whether their educational needs should influence our decision to change fields of service. It was a difficult time, really. Some of our colleagues sent their children to a boarding school. Others tried to integrate them in the local schools. And some did home school. None of those choices seemed right to us, or worked for our particular children. We prayed, but we were confused. Thankfully a veteran of international service, a professor from Fuller, visited our city at that time. We told him our concerns. He wisely told us that it was very important to consider our children’s educational needs in choosing our field. He said he had sent all four of his children to boarding school. Two of them did very well, but he said two of them never should have gone there. Knowing what he knew after the fact, he would have found other solutions for educating two of them. For two of his kids boarding school was the right sacrifice; for the other two it wasn’t. For us, God moved us to the other side of the world to put us in a place where we had a work and our children had a school.As we all know, our children make many necessary sacrifices to live overseas, too. They will miss so much from their home culture. They go to different types of schools, or home school. They often can’t have all the coolest gadgets or clothes. And McDonald’s might be at least a thousand miles away! Those are necessary sacrifices, and we can help our children understand why they need to do it.
Home schooling, boarding school, video-conference schools, internationals schools, and local schools are all possibilities. It is an unnecessary sacrifice of our children’s future to make the decision based on what other people think we should do. We must know what necessary sacrifices God is calling us to make. He may want your family to sacrifice time together to give your children the kind of education they will need for their future. He may want you to sacrifice money to provide the schooling your children need. Sacrificing mom’s time and work with the nationals to teach her children, may be the necessary sacrifice for this time in your lives. The key is, what are the necessary sacrifices to make.
Knowing the difference between necessary and unnecessary sacrifices is not always easy. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the puzzle. Consider all the pros and cons, discuss with each other, and seek God’s will. Agreeing together with your spouse can make a great difference in bearing the weight of necessary sacrifices and avoiding unnecessary ones. Whether your sacrifices seem big or small in your eyes, God knows where you are and will bless you for your obedience.