A few years ago, Amanda and I were privileged to meet some American missionaries to the Philippines, and they became very good friends of ours. They told us about an animated evangelist they saw try to communicate to a Filipino audience—through a less-than-animated translator.
The evangelist began, “Okay folks, my heart is that you would say yes to Christ tonight.’” But instead of the impassioned request, the interpreter flatly translated, “Say yes sa Kristo ngayong gabi.” And when the evangelist rejoiced, “Now, give God a hand!” the interpreter translated the words literally—and the audience stared at one another in bewilderment (“Give Him what?”).
The words were translated, but their meaning took a nosedive and failed to connect. All of the evangelist’s giftedness and abilities did not matter without someone to interpret the meaning as well as the message. The audience needed more than words—they needed someone who understood both languages.
In contrast, when I went to the Philippines, I worked with a translator who was so fluent in English, when I first met him I thought he was American. On Sunday, as I stood before the congregation with the message ready, he stood by my side, equipped with the language. When my voice went up, so did his. When my hands gestured, his did too. After I finished each phrase, the eyes of the audience would dart back to him eager to hear what had been said.
Without an interpreter, my communication in Filipino amounted to “yes,” “no,” “hello,” “goodbye,” and a lot of smiling. But with him by my side, I could freely share God’s grace with foreigners, and they understood. Heads nodded, eyes welled up, and laughter filled the hall. My interpreter did not just translate my message; he translated me.
In a grander sense, this is what a missionary does everyday. He invests his life into a group of people living in a remote part of the world. Hudson Taylor said, “God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.” Ultimately, a missionary is a reflection of Christ. He stands in front of them, lives among them, learns about them, and translates the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.
Missionaries fulfill another role as well, they represent us. They are our ambassadors to lost souls around the world. Someone expressed it this way: “Go, send, or disobey.” The call is, first, for us to go; but if we cannot go, then we should send. So many missionaries have a desire to reach a particular people group and they need our help. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, called it the “progression of a missionary call” and it looks like this:
As a child, age 5: When I am a man, I mean to be a missionary and go to China.
As a young man: I feel I cannot go on living unless I do something for China.
As a veteran missionary, late in life: If I had 1,000 lives, I’d give them all for China.
So many are equipped and ready to go; so many are willing to interpret the message; so many have the gifts, abilities, and passion to reach the world. Yet, so few are helping to send.
Let’s get behind our missionaries, support them, and pray for them regularly. The missionary William Borden, who is best known for his quote, “No reserves, no returns, no regrets,” once asked, “If ten men are carrying a log—nine of them on the little end and one at the heavy end—and you want to help, which end will you lift on?” How will you contribute?