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“The Mind of a Missionary”

A Book Review

The Mind of a Missionary: What Global Kingdom Workers Tell Us About Thriving on Mission Today by David Joannes. Published by David Joannes, 2018, 312 pages. ISBN-10: 0998061158; ISBN-13: 978-0998061153. Hardback, paperback, and Kindle version available on Amazon.

The Mind of a Missionary is a fast-moving and fascinating survey of missionary stories. On a big-picture level, we learn much about the advance of the gospel globally over the past 200 years. But at the same time, we get a chance to look through history’s keyholes at the personal lives of some well-known missionaries. The author’s intention is not just to tell us “what happened”—though this is valuable—but “why it happened.” How was God at work? What was going on in the minds of those men and women who served to advance his kingdom? Why did they persevere in their tasks and accomplish so much? What are the lessons here for current and potential cross-cultural workers? These are some of the questions addressed in David Joannes’s book.

Like refrains, several themes recur: the role of every believer in God’s big story, the opportunities each generation has to shine Christ’s light in dark places, and the privilege that is ours to partner with the Holy Spirit in the places where we are planted.

Three motivational qualities are identified: compassion for the lost, obedience to the commands of Christ, and passion for the glory of God. These are vividly illustrated in the lives of missionaries such as Jim Elliott, the Cambridge Seven and the Moravians—stories that are set in the context of changing attitudes to missionary endeavor during the past two centuries. The author concludes that these three are indispensable core motivations for fruitful, faithful service in each generation.

What about expectations? Oftentimes, cross-cultural workers launch enthusiastically into their areas of ministry with unrealistic or unexamined expectations. This is a recipe for disappointment and failure, which is not only a personal tragedy, but has a negative ripple effect both on the field and for those in the worker’s support team. Missionary attrition is a huge issue, and this section of the book takes a hard look at its causes, listing the most common reasons for premature departure. One of these is naivety concerning spiritual warfare. We can listen too much to the lies of the enemy, allowing condemnation, mockery, demeaning words, or attacks on personal identity to destroy our joy and purpose. Other realities are compassion fatigue, team conflicts, pressure to perform, and overwhelming concerns at home.   

Next the author highlights the characteristics of some who persevered in the face of daunting obstacles and setbacks—examples such as Mother Teresa, Jackie Pullinger and David Eubank.  These outstanding servants of God demonstrated a willingness to be extra-ordinary and counter-cultural—not to conform to popular culture or even the expectations of their church. They may have been targets of criticism, or plagued by negative voices within, but they were determined to override them with the sword of the Spirit—God’s truth. They are inspiring visual aids for Romans 12:2. Joannes writes, “Popular culture cannot command our compliance; the world’s manmade patterns cannot impose our subservience. The chatter of the inner critic is quelled when we set our minds on Christ.” (p.73)

The topic of “risks” follows naturally from the section covering expectations. Risks and challenges are inherent in the missionary enterprise. Some are obvious: harsh climates and unhealthy environments, political unrest and anti-foreign sentiments, religious extremism or persecution, inadequate health care or isolation. Unwelcome setbacks also abound—family crises, serious accidents, or criminal attacks. More hidden and nuanced difficulties are also powerful in their impact: cross-cultural stress, dysfunctional teams, and lack of emotional and financial support. Some of these examples are not unique to those in cross-cultural situations, or even to Christians. In fact, as the author points out, some who serve in secular, humanitarian work are more resilient than their Christian counterparts.

Are the risks catalogued here worth it? That is our next question. Although there is a sense in which Christians do not labor in order to be rewarded, in reality rewards provide welcome incentives to keep going, affirm faithfulness and obedience, and also evidence the goodness of God. The book’s final section identifies three of the best of these rewards and how they can be seen clearly in the lives of Amy Carmichael (overflowing, supernatural joy), Don Richardson (ministry breakthrough) and Heidi Baker (kingdom advance). These three stories make their subjects seem almost superhuman, but the author is quick to point out that their secret was not in their own abilities, but in their availability and daily, prayerful submission to the work of the Holy Spirit. He also describes an important process—the journey towards deep intimacy with God that these missionaries travelled as they served, persisted, believed, trusted, and endured. In this way, they experienced something that many of us long for—a deeper union with Christ, a deeper appreciation of God’s ways, and a deeper understanding of his purposes in the world.

This book is valuable for those beginning to feel stirred by God towards something more in their lives. Perhaps it is a new direction, a new ministry, or a new challenge. On the one hand it reminds us to put our lives into God’s plan, and not the other way round. It reminds us to look seriously at ourselves—warts and all, our potential for both good works and bad mistakes. It reminds us to look seriously at our world—where is God inviting me to join his team? Which part of his family am I to love, learn from, and serve? Lastly, it reminds us to look seriously at Jesus—the only perfect model missionary. From the human viewpoint his mission appears not to have been very “successful.” The powers of darkness threw everything at him and thought they had triumphed—the cross symbolized defeat and humiliation. Likewise, his followers are weak and foolish in the world’s eyes. But the Lord delights to use frail vessels. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7). And what a treasure it is!

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Frances Snow

Frances Snow (pseudonym) has served in cross-cultural ministry for over thirty years in a variety of Chinese contexts—including Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China.View Full Bio

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