Tales of a Missionary Sidekick

Flying humbles me.  When I see the flurry of cars, people, homes, and schools- the chaotic arrangement of tiny little narratives- I’m abruptly reminded it’s good news I’m not God. These are all His little narratives. Not mine.

We were headed to Monterrey, Mexico. My wife, Emily, was leading a motley crew to spend a week with Back2Back Ministries. Back2Back is a ministry that wants nothing less than to come alongside the orphaned and those who care for them, “that they might overcome their life circumstances and break free from the cycle of generational poverty.” (1) I was new to this party, unlike some. Emily has spent a lot of time with Back2Back. God’s shaped her heart for the nations in a way that makes Walter Mitty sound like a bunch of field trips. Her husband (that would be me) on the other hand, is content with the small trip from the living room to the office; my regular retreat to go and think. Most of our marriage has been Em with one foot on the gas and mine on the brake. Her passion for missional living is only matched by my passion to sit on my hands -and books- and call it “wisdom”. Thankfully, she loves Jesus more than I. So she loves His mission more than mine, and God loves me to keep reminding me through her. Oh, marriage.

I was a late add on to the trip. A spot opened up and Emily was kind enough to think of me.  Next thing I knew, Mexico’s dry heat scraped against my face. It had its perks. I was excited to see Em in her element. Honestly, that was my plan for the week; hug a few kids, hear Em speak Spanish, and be back in Dayton. As long as the week went according to plan, things would be fine.

I had forgotten that I’m not the author of my story. I’m a supporting character. The question is, “Will I be a protagonist or antagonist of the author’s purposes?”

During the third morning I sat down with coffee, my Bible, and Lesslie Newbigin’s Open Secret, An Intro to Missional Theology. Newbigin, a British missionary to India and a smart guy, is responsible for knocking my worldview around once or twice. At the top of the first page it reads, “…there is no participation in Christ without participation in his mission to the world.” It struck me like a spur with a moment of pain- not to wound, but to compel. It stuck with me. It confronted me. It didn’t let me wiggle away. In the midst of being exposed to the needs of the orphan, coupled with the fervor of people so determined to bring the news and abundance of the love of the Father, I began to think about how and why I thought about God and His mission. Then it hit me: I never actually thought about it. I thought about thinking about it.

Near the end of the week I realized, I could live my life, die, and have done nothing for the Kingdom of God- except for having thought. It’s very possible my story could end six feet under, empty of God’s. God called my bluff. I was using “wisdom”, not for His but mine. As if I was the author. The Bible calls this idolatry and God hates it. Why? God loves a good story.

God loves wisdom, but not as an end-in-of-itself. It’s a means to an end. God calls us to think and take seriously where our plot lines are headed. He beckons us to know whether they move with or against His. What is God’s plot? It’s a plot that begins in and is moving towards life, love and light. It’s a plot about justice, righteousness and holiness. It’s as sturdy as creation and as expansive as the cosmos. It’s about His purposes for the world. The end of our thinking, our wisdom, our working, our living is to that end- His purposes for the world: His glory in the world. And He writes the best the stories.

When your story is pointed at you, it’s impossible to think otherwise. That’s why repentance is both a gift and necessity. We have to turn our stories toward His, but God gives this grace. If Jesus is both the climax and author of this Story, then His words are one of the best hooks, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” Believing the Gospel is not believing God will give you your best life now. It’s that God gave His life, for the life of the world, both now and forever. Amen.

  1. Back2Back.org, “Who we are”

Author: Ben Riggs

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