Preach, Pray, or Die
By Maria Van Der Decker
I still remember one of the first times I brought Jotham home (as my fiancé at the time). We were partway through missionary training, and we visited my home church. It was our Christmas service, which we call Wassail night, and my pastor was getting to know Jotham, giving him a hard time, and was soon to start premarital counseling with us. This evening, he came up to Jotham and informed him that he’d be doing special music that night, singing in a quartet with 3 other guys who were recently engaged to or dating other girls in the church. Jotham was surprised at this and thought he was joking, but he was mostly serious. “After all,” our pastor said, laughing, “ ‘A missionary needs to be ready to preach, pray, sing or die at a moment’s notice,’ right?”
Jotham wasn’t familiar with this quote, but I’d heard it many times over the years during various mission trips I’d been on with the church, especially from our missions elder. One time in particular, my friends and I were challenged by the “pray” part when, repeatedly, no one volunteered to pray, and we were told that we should be eager to pray because of the privilege that it is. I kept this in mind throughout my preparation for the mission field. But, although it was good preparation, (and I’ll always agree that it’s a good time to pray!) dying at a moment’s notice felt far away to me. Especially when we went as missionaries to a country where missionaries are largely welcomed. Here, missionaries are seen as bringing medical help, jobs, literacy, and education, so most of the time people are happy to see us. Dying as a martyr for the sake of the gospel didn’t feel that likely. (Others near me felt differently, the year before I got married I discovered that my then boyfriend and two other closest friends each had felt God may be calling them to be a martyr before the age of 30!
The quote comes from Peter Hammond, missionary to Sudan and other countries where he faced persecution, danger, and threats to his life. He said, “[As a missionary] you’ve got to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.” (https://vision.org.au/radio/2018/03/08/preach-pray-or-die-at-a-moments-notice-peter- hammond/ ) Although I did feel like that was good advice, for the day-to-day life I found myself facing as a missionary, I felt I would re-word his statement a little.
When we were nearing the end of our missionary training the buzz word that everyone wanted to take with them after our time of preparation was inadequacy. We’d experienced it, felt it, and knew that it was important. After all, a life in ministry was only possible through total dependence on God. We didn’t know what challenges we would face in the future as missionaries, but knew we’d feel unprepared doing it and that was
where God wanted us to be. But, as the years passed, I felt like that word became harder to embrace than it used to be. Instead, I found myself pouring all my energy and my skills and abilities into this great ministry that God had given us. But I quickly found myself face-to-face with my own limitations, sometimes more limits than I would normally have.
At one point, I actually found myself in almost a spiritual “time out” where I felt God had almost set me aside for a while until I would learn what He had to teach me. It was during this time that I realized anew, I did need God desperately. Not just for the moment when I’d be called to give my life for Him but for every single day, every single moment. Before I was ready, the “teaching time” was over, and I was thrown back into ministry again, feeling strongly this time my own inadequacies and begging for the Lord’s help and direction. Because without Him, I can do nothing. (John 15:5; 2 Cor. 1:8-9)
This taught me to listen.
One of my favorite verses is James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” I love that God doesn’t play favorites, anyone can ask in faith and receive. Over time, this verse became one of my most frequent prayers and pleas. So many situations in ministry I don’t have any idea what to do and I desperately need God’s wisdom. But I found that I couldn’t just ask, I also had to receive wisdom. If I didn’t listen to what God would lead me to do, then it didn’t help to ask. As a follower of Jesus, I had to listen to His voice, through the Spirit who would remind me what Jesus says, and then I must obey. (John 10:27; 14:26; 15:13-14)
This led me to wait.
Sometimes, actually, pretty often, I don’t get direction or wisdom from God right away. Or, in all the hustle and bustle of this busy life, I can’t hear Him. I learned the hard way to be still, to wait upon the Lord. Over and over, in times when I was searching eagerly for direction, so ready to jump when God called me to action, instead He would say wait.
So often in an overseas ministry we are thrown into situations where we have to wait. Months to wait for our visas, days to wait for our flight, hours to wait at the store for the electricity to come back on so we can buy our groceries, weeks to wait to hear if we’re going on a trip or not. During those times of waiting, it’s hard. And there’s not only physical waiting, but lots of spiritual waiting too.
And yet, God kept saying, “Wait, be still; pray, and listen, be ready for what you should do but not yet.” So I’ve waited, often very impatiently, but tried to practice being still. It’s very hard, but so very necessary. We yearn to hear God’s voice, to have a relationship with Him, to know His leading, His will, but usually God doesn’t speak to us in a thundering voice over the noise of our hectic schedules. He speaks to us when we’re quiet, surrendered, listening, in a posture to receive. (Ps. 46:10; 27:14)
And finally, to endure.
I don’t know what you think about sufferings, trials, persecutions, and spiritual warfare. There’s a lot of perspectives out there. Some that have been around a long time, but that doesn’t make them true. This has been an ongoing study for me but, what we do know, what you need to know, is that it’s a reality. When sufferings and trials come, don’t be surprised, but rejoice because you’re identified with Christ. (1 Pet. 4:12-16) To this you were called, Christ set the example so you can walk in His steps. What should we do with sufferings and trials? Endure (1 Pet. 2:20-21), rejoice (1 Pet. 4:13), commit yourself to God, and continue to do good (1 Pet. 4:19). (See also 1 Thess. 3:1-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7)
And persecutions–everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12) In fact, it’s through these things that we’re prepared for ministry (2 Tim. 3:17; James 1:4; Heb. 12:7). And as for spiritual warfare, I will say that, as a missionary, I have found this showing up more than I ever expected. And it’s not a strange thing either. The
Bible says very clearly that we have an enemy, seeking to devour us, that’s part of our sufferings (1 Pet. 5:8-9). And we’re in a battle and must use all the armor and weapons God’s given us to fight against our unseen enemy (Eph. 6:11-12). And what are we to do in response to this? Resist the devil, stand firm in the faith, and submit to God (James 4:7).
So, as a missionary, do be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice. But also, A missionary must, every moment, depend, listen, wait, and endure.
Maria and Jotham Van Der Decker are missionaries with Ethnos360 serving in Papua New Guinea. To learn more about the ministry of Ethnos360 visit their website [https://ethnos360.org]