When Bad Things Happen to Good Missionaries

This past month has been a heartbreaking time for missionaries. News of a child dying, shootings, a wife being placed on life support, terminal illness, and perhaps most renowned, a missionary doctor contracting the deadly Ebola virus. Events like these beg us ask, “Why do bad things happen to good missionaries?”

Because of missionaries’ dedication to the cause and their sacrifice for the gospel, many people unconsciously assume their lives will be blessed and they will never face difficulty. But history has shown us that evil, disease, death, and pain are impartial enemies, falling upon anyone in their path, regardless of their religious piety. William Carey’s wife suffered from mental illness. Jim Elliot was brutally murdered at the hands of a savage Indian tribe. Adoniram Judson buried multiple wives. Missionaries have faced rape, lived through natural disasters, fought for their lives against deadly viruses, and lost loved ones.

The deep-rooted struggle of wrestling with the problem of evil raises the questions of what we should learn from missionaries dealing with difficulties, and how we, as the church, can help hurting missionaries.

What we should learn…

1. We live in a fallen world

When we hear that bad things happen to good missionaries and that our frontline troops are wounded on the battlefield, we are reminded that this world is not perfect. When God created the world, it was good. No sickness, no pain, no death. But Adam and Eve, and everyone since (except Jesus), chose to turn away from God and sin was introduced into the world. Suddenly, people experienced pain. They were ravished by disease. They died.

Good people are not exempt from the consequences of sin. Job was a righteous man, but he suffered. Jesus, the only Sinless One, died an excruciating death on a cross. The Bible says that the rain falls on the just and unjust (Matt 5:45). Because we live in a fallen world, bad things happen.

2. There will come a day when bad things will not happen

Sometimes, we get attached to this world and we are deceived into believing it is our home. But when bad things happen to good missionaries, we find ourselves longing for the day when our world is no longer marred by sin.

That day will come because of what Jesus Christ did. The Bible teaches that Jesus paid the punishment for our sin. Because of our sin, the world groans for the day when all will be set right. And we can hope, not as one hoping in vain, but as one sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Read Isaiah’s prophecies. Read the book of Revelation. Jesus Christ, our Savior, defeats death. He will wipe away the tears from our eyes. The lion will lay down with the lamb. The swords will be beaten into plows. The Prince of Peace will return to establish His kingdom! And as we look at the broken world around us, we can only echo John’s words: Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20).

3. The reward is worth the cost

Missionaries go to the field because they know that the world is sick with sin and they hold the cure. They go because they were once told an old, old story that so burned in their bones that they could not keep silent. They go, willingly offering their comfort, their families, and their very lives to the Lord. They go, knowing that they might not return.

Each person who hears the old, old story and finds forgiveness through Jesus Christ makes the sacrifice worth the price. While the world may call them silly or naïve or stupid, missionaries look for a higher approval: the day when the Lord says to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And that should be the attitude of each of us. We look at a broken world and offer our lives so that those around us can learn how to truly live.

How we, as the church, can help missionaries…

1. Pray for them….and let them know you are doing so.

Probably one of the worst enemies on the mission field is loneliness, especially when bad things are happening. When I was on the field, there were times when I felt like the world had forgotten me. Those feelings amplified when I was sick or hurting. I can only imagine what some missionaries must feel when their lives are shaken by disaster.

My mom would write to me when I was low and say, “There are a thousand people praying for you.” And the realization that people were thinking about me, that they were taking a moment out of their day to bring my name into the presence of the Father and intercede for my work helped immensely. Missionaries are far away. We cannot hug them physically, but we can envelope them in our prayers.

2. Help them seek counseling if they need it.

Missionaries are not perfect people. They are not super Christians who are endowed with tougher skin than everyone else. They are the front liners, the ones who live in the trenches. At the same time, missionaries are humans who face depression, feel grief, and hurt like the rest of us. And sometimes, they need godly counselors. Don’t judge them for needing one. Help them find a godly counselor and let them know that counseling doesn’t make them any less of a missionary.

3. Remind them it’s ok to grieve

In times of tragedy, we must help our missionaries grieve. And sometimes, the best way to accomplish that task is simply to let them know it is ok to do so. I’ve been on the field. I understand the pressure missionaries sometimes face to pretend like everything is ok. There will be days when they are angry. There will be days when they can’t leave their house because they are sobbing uncontrollably. Instead of condemning these actions, we allow them to grieve, which in turn allows them to move forward with their lives.

The next time the news tells us about a missionary doctor who contracts a deadly disease, I hope that we will remember that we live in a fallen world but that Christ’s sacrifice means that we will not stay in this condition forever. I pray the next time the pastor tells us about a missionary in trouble God’s Word will become like fire in our bones that we cannot help but share. And I encourage us all, the next time we find a missionary who is hurting, to reach out to them and remind them that they do not walk this journey alone.