What Does it Take to Go to the Hardest Places? – and how to make a lasting difference –

5 Sep 2023

Just last month I met a worker buying a camel so he could ride with the unreached nomads across the desert in North Africa. I recall my first trek into the mosquito infested jungle of Papua New Guinea to see the gospel penetrate a dark tribe: sleepless nights, malaria, loneliness, tropical heat, accusations and threats. I think of our teams working in Muslim areas facing jihad riots, missionary kids being evacuated, spies planted to destroy the advance of the gospel, team members facing death, and the gnawing feeling of being watched… and wondering when they will be expelled.

What does it really take to go and stay in hard places? To never give up. To not quit. And most important, to leave behind an eternal change in dark places where everything within you must fight to make it through another day. How in the world can you stay long enough for the gospel to take root in the lives of those who have never heard the name of Jesus?

To answer that question, we asked those serving in hard places. Why did they stay and what advice to they have for others coming behind them? We were surprised by their answers.

Overwhelmingly, they spoke about clinging fiercely to God because of His pursuit of them. There was no man-centered grit, but a tenacity in faith that refused to leave the grasp of God. A grit fully founded on the character of God… even when nothing made sense and progress seemed minimal. A tenacious faith in God pushed them to take risks, speak with boldness, press through ‘impossible’ obstacles. Faith that can withstand hammering and testing and the toughest trials.

But what really got our attention is what came from our African brothers and sisters. They said they would send missionary candidates to live with their field leaders for four months. And during that time, they looked for one thing. That captured my attention! What thing were they looking for? For mavericks, or great preachers, or exceptional leaders? No… they were looking for humility and teachability. I was speechless. Our research across the world attests that broken people who understand the cross – and live out their faith as vulnerable people – makes the difference. People who understand failure. Authentic humility.

There were many other factors that surfaced as we interviewed missionaries about what it takes to go, stay and make a lasting difference. I’ll close with one more: grace-infused endurance. A picture of resilience that rested on the grace of God alone. Paul encouraged young Timothy in his final words before his imminent death, be ‘strengthened by grace…endure everything for the sake of those coming to faith’ (2Tim 2). This too marks our enduring missionaries. We can’t do it! The task is humanly impossible! Only God can accomplish the work we are called to do. Those who cast themselves upon God’s grace are the ones who make it. They don’t quit. Because they know it is all God. They know it is all because of the grace of God. They take no credit for what is accomplished, wanting only Jesus.

Tenacious faith clings fiercely to God because of His pursuit of us. Deep, lasting humility. Grace-infused endurance. What does it take to go to the hardest places? A life that can say with the Apostle Paul, ‘For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.’

Elliot D. Stephens | Global Facilitator of Field Equipping

Elliot has served with Pioneers for 40 years. He completed his PhD work in retention of overseas workers and has served in church planting, leadership development, and training.

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