When all is said and done, being a global worker is about living the Truth. It isn’t about what you know, or how many years you’ve served overseas, or even what you did for Jesus during those years. None of that counts for very much. No, what counts in the end is how clearly your life has shown the Truth about Jesus to the people among whom you’ve lived.
That sounds obvious, but I think it is a truth that can sometimes be obscured by layers upon layers of missiology courses, theological training, exercises in building cross-cultural sensitivities—years of ministry and of being busy for God. I came so close to losing the whole point!
Seminary training, candidating in missions, twelve years of service with my husband church-planting in an urban Islamic environment—the pace of life and the pressures of ministry were frantic. There came a day when I sat down to assess my spiritual reserves, and my hands came up empty. I had to think again. Why are we here? Is my heart and my life demonstrating the faith I profess? Or am I just busy in ministry? Is this what missions is about? What global workers have I ever known that truly lived their faith?
And then the face of “Auntie Margaret” came to mind. Margaret Ballantyne grew up as a global worker kid in northern India and then returned there after college as a Presbyterian global worker. She lived there her whole life, but I didn’t get to know her very well until my early teen years when she was in her mid-sixties and was relocated to our city for ministry. My parents were global workers in a little-known city that had over a million inhabitants, but rarely figured on a map. A few global workers came and went during my growing-up years, but no one seemed to want to stay very long.
Auntie Margaret came and stayed a while. At first she became my favorite “auntie” simply because she made me feel as though I was her favorite. She was the first and only person to tell me I should always wear the color green because it went with my hazel eyes. I didn’t know what “hazel” meant, but it sounded like she thought it was beautiful. After that I loved having hazel eyes! She would invite me, all by myself, to her sparsely furnished apartment with concrete floors and straight-backed chairs. She would serve me light, sweet, green tea from translucent china. Each tea cup had delicate flowers webbed around the rim. They had come all the way from Auntie Margaret’s sister in Japan. So they were very special—and I was very special. I loved Auntie Margaret.
To me as a little girl growing up in an Islamic society that devalued women, her love communicated the truth that, although some people might not think so, God thinks little girls are special. God has time for a cup of tea. God creates wonderful hazel eyes that go with green. God enjoys the company of His children.
And so Auntie Margaret was a truth-teller. What she said about Jesus matched who she was and how she lived. It matched the warm, pie-crust crinkles around her eyes, the gentle voice, the simplicity and femininity and tender strength of her character. Like the Word she represented, she was “full of grace and truth.” And it was that distinctive quality of lived-out truthfulness that later became to me the central characteristic of what being a global worker is all about.
For many years before coming to our city, Auntie Margaret ran a girls’ boarding school in a village. It was such an unremarkable village that the train passing through it twice a day hardly bothered to pause. If we went to visit there, we had to jump quickly before the train resumed its normal speed. I don’t remember much about the village except that it was brown and dry and hot. The usual quota of chickens, stray dogs, and decrepit donkey carts wandered down dirty streets. From my teenage perspective it seemed a stupid, insignificant place. Not many thought it was important…except Auntie Margaret…and Jesus.
Can you see in living there how truthful Auntie Margaret was? She exemplified, at great personal cost, what Jesus meant when He said, “Go into all the world.” She showed that He truly meant, “Every bit of the world!” He meant, really and truly, that there was no place so remote, so disreputable, so insignificant that it was beyond the reaches of His care. He meant that it was wonderfully worth it for a life to be spent for such a place. After all, He had spent His own life for it.
There was another truth Auntie Margaret told. Most of the girls who attended her little school weren’t very promising specimens. Many were ragged, unruly urchins. Oftentimes a parent would drop a girl or two off at the school not so much out of a desire to see them educated, as to decrease the number of mouths around the family soup-pot. Boys were valued: Girls were a liability and an expense. When girls were born the reaction was silence and disappointment. Baby girls died at high rates from malnutrition and neglect. Nobody wanted them…except Auntie Margaret…and Jesus.
Once again Auntie Margaret told the truth with her life. She embodied a Savior who looked at such unimpressive bits of humanity and made astonishing statements like, “…of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” She was able, like Jesus, to look past the dirt, the skin color, the gender, the age—and find such qualities as humility, spiritual hunger, simplicity of faith. Jesus loved these children. And so did Auntie Margaret.
There are enough anecdotes about Auntie Margaret to fill a book. Maybe someday that book will be written. One thing is certain: much of her story is written in the lives of those she lived among, and that is where it really counts.
There is the story told by a young teacher she trained who later became the headmistress of a school and a leader in the Christian community. One morning this woman burst into Auntie Margaret’s office and complained bitterly and at length about being mistreated by another teacher. Throughout the litany, Auntie Margaret sat calmly listening and watching. When it was finally quiet she waited a moment and then asked simply, “…And did she spit in your face?” That was all she said. That was all she needed to say. The teacher learned that living the truth meant being willing to bear the same kind of disgrace Jesus bore. In later years she often shared how that truth changed her life.
Then there is the story my mother tells with a smile, of Auntie Margaret’s complete mystification at the suggestion that maybe life would be a little easier with the addition of a ceramic sink in the bathroom instead of a tin basin, or a hot water heater, or an air-conditioner. She wasn’t judgmental or self-righteous about it. She just didn’t understand why anyone would want to spend the Lord’s money on things like that. In a country rampant with corruption and poverty, she taught the teachers in her school how to keep careful accounts. She lived before them sparingly. Integrity in small things, the relative importance of spiritual needs over material needs—the Truth lived out.
So you see, being a global worker—living as a Christian in the world—is in the end about living the Truth. It is about living out true, consistent messages about what Jesus is like and what is important to Him. When the Gospel of John talks about Jesus as Light, and as Word, and as “Word fleshed out”—that is what it is talking about. As a little girl, when I looked at Auntie Margaret, I secretly knew that I was looking at Jesus. I would never have said so, because it would sound shocking and sacrilegious, and certainly there is that element to it. It does seem shocking and sacrilegious to consider that God not only himself became flesh, but that He would stake His reputation, His glory, on our being made like Him, allowing Himself to be “fleshed out” in us.
Sobering, isn’t it? That the extent to which we become like Him, the extent to which we live the Truth, is by some measure the extent to which His glory is revealed to those around us. Jesus revealed the radiance of that glory completely. As “the exact representation of (God’s) being,” (Heb. 1:3) Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).
Oh, to be more and more like Jesus!