The man in the red shirt

The expendables?

There’s a meme among Star Trek fans that any character wearing a red shirt (except for Scottie) will die before the end of the episode.  People wearing yellow are important; people wearing blue are useful; people wearing red are expendable.  The security men in the red shirts haven’t got names, they’re not played by famous actors, and most of them won’t even have lines.  They are really just there to show how dangerous the situation is.

In a world where most people want to be Kirk, Spock or Uhura, most of us are the redshirts.  We’re not missionary heroes like the ones featured in Syzygy blogs.  Our names will never been known to the general public.  We live, we serve, we die.  In the world of mission, most of us are playing a walk-on role rather than being a leading actor.  That means making a huge sacrifice in terms of our ambition, our goals, and sometimes even our lives.  Yes, sometimes the mission workers get killed too.

I was once told a story by an elderly nurse how when she first went out to the mission field there were separatist rebels in the area she served in.  One of her colleagues was kidnapped and a ransom demanded.  The mission agency refused to pay and the body was found a few days later.  The nurse told me “She bought freedom for the rest of us.  Because they knew we wouldn’t pay ransom, they never bothered us again.”

We all have our job to do, our person to be.  We don’t look at the others and compare ourselves to them, because that’s not the role the director has cast us for.  Our job is to do our very best with what we’ve been given.

The difference between Star Trek and the Kingdom of God is that although we may have a bit-part, nobody is expendable.  Every one of us is of immense value to God, and every death is significant to him (Psalm 116:15).  The souls of the martyrs are kept in a precious place close to God (Revelation 6:9).  And one day, we will all wear a yellow shirt.

Star Trek is copyright of CBS Corporation

Mourning

Mourning is something that many western cultures don’t do well.  Unlike our Mediterranean neighbours, or more expressive people from tropical climes, we think holding our feelings in check is a Good Thing.  “Stiff upper lip, old boy.”

Christians are often even less inclined to mourn than others, because we have a sure and certain hope that our departed have gone to be with Jesus.  We use terms like “promoted” to express our positivity.  I was even once told by a family member at a funeral that we were not going to cry, because it was a happy day of celebration for our friend who had gone to a better place.  Which left me with a lot of grief and no outlet for it. Sometimes we need to express our emotion and have a good wail.

Mourning is healthy.  Expressing our grief is part of how we cope with loss, and being real about our emotions is important.  People who can grieve unreservedly can come to terms with their loss more effectively.

But this blog is not just about confronting our bereavement.  It’s about loss in every sense.  And we mission workers have to deal with an awful lot of loss in our lives.

We often don’t recognise as loss the things we have sacrificed, because we’re serving the Lord and the joy of being faithful servants more than compensates us.  But sometimes our perspective of willingly laying down our lives in service to Him who laid down his life for our salvation can be a bit like refusing to grieve at a funeral: we never come to terms with our loss because we’re always trying to be positive.

Recognising what we have lost, and mourning it, helps us to continue in emotional health and be resilient, as well as being realistic about the cost of following our call.  So let’s look at some of the things we might want to mourn:

  • Close friendships we are unable to continue with in person as we move to a foreign country
  • Places that were once familiar haunts which have changed beyond recognition while we were abroad
  • The spouse or children we never had because we couldn’t find a suitable partner willing to serve in the remote location we felt called to
  • The physical health we could have had if our illnesses had been treated in a modern western hospital
  • Relatives we never had a chance to say goodbye to because they died unexpectedly while we were on the other side of the planet.
  • Professional skills which have grown out of date due to lack of opportunity to develop them
  • The sense of belonging in a certain place that we’ve come from and will one day have to go back to and feel like strangers
  • Grandchildren we don’t have a chance to get to know well because they’re growing up in a different country
  • Friendships in the field that always struggle because our home assignments never coincide
  • The house which the whole family calls home and our adult children can still come back to stay in their childhood bedroom
  • The wealth and security offered by a good career
  • The formative years of our children which we miss a large part of because they’re away at boarding school.

Most mission workers I know will look at such a list dismissively and say “It was a small price to pay for the privilege of serving God”, and in one way they are right.  Paul wrote for all of us when he said “all those things I have lost count as nothing to me” (Philippians 3:7).

But all of us should take time to think about the things we have lost, recognise them and grieve appropriately rather than spend our lives in denial.  David rightly said “I will not give God something that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).  Recognising and mourning the loss helps us to give God something of value, rather than something that wasn’t important to us anyway.