I recently spent a week with seven people preparing to begin service as Serge missionaries.
Some would view them as giants. Some view them as dedicated beyond usual. Maybe they are even made of stone, towering above the rest of us—simply not fazed by normal challenges of life.
What I saw was vulnerability. Vulnerability that comes in the middle of a call to love God, love others, and witness to Jesus’ transforming good news.
Vulnerability in Partnership
Sensing God’s leading to East Africa, Asia, North Africa, and Latin America, these people took an initial vulnerable step that most of us don’t ever get to see.
They reached out to work in partnership with a mission agency and entered into vulnerability.
What do I mean?
When a person, couple, or family senses a call to international missionary work and they contact Serge or many other mission agencies, they enter into a two-way evaluation period.
The people I met had “evaluated” Serge and determined they would like to join this particular expression of God’s Kingdom work.
And then they allowed Serge—meaning Serge leadership specially trained for assessment—to assess them. Woah.
They put their hopes and dreams right out there in the form of one-on-one meetings, requests for local pastoral endorsement, professional counseling sessions, and psychological tests (!) and allowed experienced cross-cultural mission leaders to speak into their lives.
The assessment could have led to feedback such as “we don’t think you are ready” or “you may not fit into this team.” And, for the sake of partnership, these missionaries put themselves under that microscope and listened.
Granted, Serge’s leadership seeks to work for what is in the best interest of the person, couple, or family being assessed. But nevertheless, these are dearly held hopes and dreams and it’s vulnerable to share that with others.
Vulnerability in Asking
Today my new missionary friends are on the first steps of another vulnerable journey.
They will reach out to friends like you and me ask for support—in prayer and finances.
Even as they will be deeply touched by God’s grace as when individuals and churches say “yes”—they will also face “nos.”
Either way, it’s one more heart-exposing, “life-wide-open” experience—for the sake of love.
Vulnerability in Risk
Finally, they will enter into a new culture, a new nation, and, more times than not, a new language.
Several months ago I was in London and needed to add minutes to a mobile phone. It was something locals do mindlessly—like exhaling.
I tentatively walked into what I thought was the correct shop and held out my “top-up” card wordlessly. Maybe if I didn’t say anything they wouldn’t know I am not a native. I could just blend in.
All of a sudden I realized that I felt like a child, not even understanding simple transactions in what is supposed to be my “mother tongue.”
This again is vulnerability.
And you can imagine how much of this type of risk—in small and monumental ways—could be unsettling.
Jean Vanier said –
Growth comes from a vulnerable heart. A heart with the capacity of being hurt. Growth is the protected heart of stone being transformed into a vulnerable heart. An unprotected heart of flesh.
C.S. Lewis’ famous quote along these lines reads –
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
To love is to be vulnerable.”
Vulnerability in Growth
A week with these seven missionaries reminded me that those who set out on the cross-cultural, cross-national missionary journey are great lovers.
They have hearts that are soft enough to receive a word from God calling them to lay down their lives, by grace.
Their soft hearts open them to vulnerability, to express their hopes and fears to the rest of us, and ask us to journey with them.
And by God’s grace, the result is that their hearts will only grow bigger and the Kingdom of God will grow.
So next time you are tempted to think of the cross-cultural missionary as great people who tower grandly above the rest, remember they are really vulnerable people who love.
And this love—for God and others—brought them on a vulnerable journey to bear witness to God’s grace as they reach out to a frayed world.