Serving as a foreign missionary in Greece is a dream come true. God called our family to make ourselves available to Him for the purpose of reaching Greeks for Christ and we answered. I prepared for what seemed like an eternity as I completed years of Bible Institute classes at our home church and Bible college. In between were short term mission trips, family vacations to visit missionaries, and two camps dedicated to missions training.
Deputation followed an intensive internship. Our family set aside the comforts of home to share our passion with over one hundred church families. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade a moment of those years. Needless to say, we learned many lessons during that time. Many missionaries shared their experiences and wisdom from years spent soul winning and church planting in a foreign culture.
A few told me I would come to dislike the people God called us to. I couldn’t believe my ears! How could I hate the people God laid on our hearts to love? How could I share Christ with people I dislike? Surely, this would never be me. I wanted nothing more than to be Greek. To walk the streets, conversing in their language without ever giving a clue that I am not one of them.
We arrived in Greece in June 2014 and jumped into the work with both feet. Camps, outreaches, special services, evangelism, marriage and parenting seminars, were just some of the things we put our hearts into. Yet most of our efforts seemed to have little to no impact. Our church people were still stuck in the same routines despite biblical instruction. The many kids and adults we were engaging with the Gospel showed no desire to come to Christ. I almost found myself beginning to dislike them. Don’t they know we love them? Don’t they know how much we sacrificed to come here to share Christ with them?
As months went by, I truly found reason to hate some of these people. Many of their practices and actions will engender these feelings. Who could leave puppies and kittens, unwanted and alone, on the roadside? They also drive different, to say the least. Cutting someone off is not meant as disrespect, it’s just their way of letting me know their time is more important than yours. Speaking of time, I also learned the true meaning of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) is Greek Maybe Time as they’re very often late. It seemed that everyday I was finding new things to dislike. I even began looking for new reasons.
Then one day, God broke my heart. In my desire to find things to hate about them, I realised that we are all unlovely to Him. Personally, we’re all flawed. Corporately, whether as a race or nation, many of our cultural practices are an affront to God. And despite all this, He loves us still. He overlooks the selfishness, arrogance, and pride and sees a soul in desperate need of His Son. That is how I must see everyone too, regardless of geography or culture.
Pastors are often likened to shepherds. Shepherds deal with creatures who need constant care and guidance. Sometimes those creatures are unlovely. Just like us! They need patience and understanding. In John 10, Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd and laid down His life for His sheep. He laid it down because He loves them. If you’re in Christ, you’re life isn’t your own. We have life because Christ is life Himself. If I am to follow Christ, and lay down my life in His service, I must allow the unloveliness we all share to stir love and compassion rather than hatred in my own heart.
I suppose there are still things I dislike about the people around me but then I remember when I’m walking the streets, trying to speak Greek and loving the culture, the only thing separating me from them is my relationship with Christ. God called me to share Christ and we usually only share something with people we like or love. Hmm, I guess I’m stuck…