Will I Stay? (What to do when missions gets difficult.)

by Gracia Burnham


Stay?  Or leave?  Well, let’s see.  

It might be good to remember the reason we got into this “job” in the first place.  God’s truth is so glorious that it MUST be shared.  We know the only solution to the sin and death problem that plagues mankind!  The need of man will never change–and the answer remains the same.  Jesus said, “Go.  And I will be with you!”  So, we go!

Missionaries are real humans who experience life just like everyone else.  They aren’t super heroes as they are often portrayed by “the folks back home.”  And I don’t think that any of us go into ministry thinking that it will be “flowery beds of ease.”  We know, going in, that we must fight if we are going to win the prize.  When two kingdoms (darkness and light) collide, sparks happen.    

Let’s look at one of the first missionaries ever–the Apostle Paul.  Sometimes he “left” (escaped over a wall) so he could live another day to share the Gospel.  And sometimes he “stayed put” until his persecutors caught up with him because he KNEW that was God’s will.   

So, I guess we need to ask ourselves if our spiritual condition is healthy enough that we have the capacity to KNOW what God’s will is.  When my kids were in their teens and thinking about “life,” I told them that “It isn’t so important what you do 5 years down the road.  What is important is what you do today.  Follow God today.  Stay close to the Lord today.  As you follow your leader, you will be led.”  If you are not following closely, it will be very hard to hear His voice.  

After his death, in my husband Martin’s Bible, I found a three-by-five card with these verses written in his handwriting: “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God, who called you … is faithful.” (I Cor. 1:8,9)

“God will keep you strong to the end.”  Sometimes we don’t feel strong do we?  If our ministry depends on how strong we feel at any given time, we won’t stay very long, will we?  These verses remind us that God is The Faithful One.  God is the one who does the work.  We are just obedient to His call.  

Have things gotten hard for you in ministry?  This is the perfect time to draw very close to God.  The Lord’s words in Matthew 19 are very comforting during difficult times.  “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (v. 29, 30)

Our Heavenly Father is sovereign over our life and ministry.  Whatever trials we experience, we can be sure they are not random.  If not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from His will (Matthew 10:29), we can rest assured that God knows our circumstances.  Not only does He KNOW our circumstances, but He LOVES us and will not withhold any good thing from us.  Even the worst of all outcomes for us, which is death, the Father uses as the avenue to end our pain and suffering.  (Philippians 1:21) 

It should give us great hope that God has always used flawed men and women.  There are no perfect people for Him to use!  We have lapses and flaws and chinks and issues.   Despite our mistakes and failures, we keep going with what God calls us to do.  I could get into the statistics of how long missionaries “last” on any given mission field, but I’m not sure that is pertinent here.   Our human nature might lead us to wonder why so many go home or don’t stick long with their ministry.  Citing those statistics might even lead us to compare ourselves with them, in order to make ourselves look better than them.  Because, after all, we want to be sure and do it right! 

Hudson Taylor said: “I used to ask God to help me.  Then I asked if I might help Him.  I ended up by asking God to do His work through me.”  

Maybe instead of asking “How long do I stay?” it might be better to ask, “How can I BEST SERVE for however long God lets me stay here?”  Our greatest reward will be to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  What does “Well done” look like?  I’m not the one who makes that determination.  It is the Lord that does that.  


Our prayer: “Lord, use me as a light in this dark world, for as long as you allow!”


Gracia, and her husband, Martin, were missionaries with Ethnos360 (formerly New Tribes Mission) in the Philippines.  During their 16th year of ministry, they were taken hostage by militant Muslims.  For more than a year, the Burnhams were constantly on the move, living in primitive conditions in the jungle, evading rescue attempts by the Philippine military, under the total control of their captors.  In their 17th gun battle, Martin was killed.  Gracia was rescued and returned home.  She travels now speaking about the spiritual lessons they learned during their captivity, and encouraging people to make their lives count for the Lord.      

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