Is Happiness Essential to the Missionary Call?

When considering employment, we often look at all the benefits and make a choice based on what job has the most to offer us. We take into account the salary we would receive, how much vacation time we would be allotted, how well the job would work with our family life, and things like medical benefits. We put all the variables side and by side and then choose a job based on what bests suits us.For those considering missions, our list of variables is a little different. Even though things like vacation time or medical benefits may not make it to our pros/cons list, I think we still look at missions as a career and ask, “Will this suit me? Will I be happy?”

Every missionary wants their ministry to lead to a dramatic YouTube worthy display of God’s glory among their people group. We want entire tribes to come to Christ. We want people dancing around with their newly translated Bibles. But all the decades that get us to that point (if the Lord so grants repentance) are less than happy. They are tiring. They are work. They are disappointing. And we wonder if there will be any fruit of our labors at the end.

Sometimes when we are unhappy we think that this is some kind of problem that we need to fix but I do not think the Bible sees it this way. In fact, it says quite the opposite.

It is not the comfortable who are blessed, but rather those who weep.

Material gifts are, indeed, gifts from the Lord and yet the Bible does not say that it is the comfortable who are blessed. It is rather those who weep who are blessed. It is those who are hungry, those who are poor, those who are made fun of and excluded, all on account of Jesus.

Weeping over the woman who died an agonizing death knowing that she has never heard of Christ and will thus spend eternity in Hell evokes God’s blessing. It is right to cry over souls that choose sin over God. It is right to cry for children whose parents refuse them good medical care because they would rather take them to a local witch doctor. It is right to weep for the women who are raped and who have no hope for justice to be taken against their attackers. It is right because we grieve and groan along with creation saying that this is not how the Lord originally created the world. These tears are agreeing with him that sin and death have destroyed his perfect creation. It is good to hate what God hates, to feel what he feels.

We have some missionary doctor friends that work here who, in their first week of practice in Cameroon, lost over 10 children. In light of this, one younger doctor asked an older doctor who has served here for decades an interesting question. He asked how he could do his job without being constantly troubled by the sorrow over all the suffering that he sees. The older doctor responded, “I can’t.” This older doctor bears the burdens of his every patient and has spent his life grieving. Is he happy? No, I would imagine not. But, he is blessed.

Yesterday, my son and I were going on a jog and stumbled upon one of the village kids on the side of the path bloodied and screaming because he had just been hit by a motor cycle. He clearly had a broken leg, as I saw that the bone had pierced the skin. I called my husband who came to pick up our son and this boy and take him to the “hospital.” After spending the day watching this little boy scream in pain as doctors tried to set his broken bones (without giving him any pain medicine), my son later returned home. When I asked him how his day went, he said (in his 7 year old way) that after watching all the pain that his friend went through, his own leg started to hurt. Did our son have a happy afternoon? No, he did not, but he had an afternoon that was blessed by God for bearing the burdens of his playmate.

It is true that many missionaries trade in the happiness that comes from comfort and safety for a life of grief and suffering, but they trade it for something so much better: the blessing of God.

Missions is supposed to be war.

For generations upon generations the Devil has held certain people groups under his control without any outside interference. Then, all of a sudden, light enters into the group with one goal: to set people free from his grip. Fulfilling the Great Commission means declaring war against a very powerful, invisible enemy who has teems of organized demons to do his bidding. It is no wonder that missionaries like Paul had such difficult lives: shipwrecks, fears within, betrayal from those in the church, he was misunderstood, he had run ins with the law, and was imprisoned. Who are we to expect anything less?

Signing up for missions is not simply making a career choice. It is signing up for war. We all know that if a soldier in an army is fighting for a worthy cause, his personal happiness needs to take the back seat. He is fighting for something that is far greater than his personal fulfillment. He is fighting for something greater than even his own life.

I do not think that one’s personal happiness should be on the list of variables in considering foreign missionary service. Nor do I think that a lack of happiness should take missionaries home. We are supposed to weep. We are supposed to bear the burdens of the poor and lost. We are supposed to be hated like Christ was hated. And in doing so, we are blessed. We are also to approach missions as soldiers who leave everything familiar behind to go to a country where they are not welcomed. We are not to consider our own desire for comfort but instead we are to work so that others can know eternal joy at the throne of Jesus. Missions is not like working in corporate America where we can pick and choose and negotiate. We do a disservice to ourselves if we go into missions thinking it is like this.

And then, ironically, it is in laying down our lives that we find true joy. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). In the day to day of dealing with the ants that bite with burning fiery acid, or trying to convince the village children to not torture animals, or pulling one’s hair out to figure out the tonal melodies in a language, “happy” is not usually how I would describe my day. But there is a joy in self-forgetfulness that is deeper than all the happinesses in the world. And it is for that joy that I would encourage anyone considering missions to hesitate no longer.

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”
Psalm 4:7

Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.