[featured_image]One of the biggest encouragers in my life is Mike Gaston. I’ve known Mike for many years (he was actually my sister’s youth pastor in Junior High). He currently serves as the Outreach Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California. Previously, he served with his wife and kids as missionaries in Cameroon and France.
Mike has a heart for people – especially those who don’t know Christ’s grace and forgiveness. He loves to laugh, to encourage, and to garden. I think he now has over 100 rose bushes (I agree that’s a little obsessive) – and they are so beautiful. When we had lunch together last month, he took the time to cut a rose and give it to my wife in a small glass vase. She loved it – and I stood there admiring his thoughtfulness. That’s just a little snapshot of Mike in action – he’s an encourager!
A few years ago as my wife and I were transitioning from our role in planting Lake Hills Church to serving as missionaries to the U.S. with OC International, Mike came alongside us and helped us navigate the challenges we faced. Mike and Murf (along with hundreds of people at Grace Baptist) became our church family and encouraged all four of us daily.
And even after we arrived in our new home in Bellevue, Washington, Mike and the outreach staff and so many others have continued to love us, encourage us, pray for us, send care packages, and give financial support. They’ve truly blessed us!
Mike gave me a short guidebook that he wrote that’s designed to assist those who “leave their home culture behind in order to minister cross-culturally as missionaries.” I think that you’ll find his insights on missionary life quite insightful – whether you are a missionary across the ocean, or across your street!
1. Learn to celebrate small victories, because they may be all you get.
In moving from the explosive church growth of Africa to the “inch-at-a-time” church growth of France, Murf and I tried to train ourselves to celebrate differently. We didn’t always succeed, but we learned the principle of celebrating small victories. You may find yourself in an area that is resistant to the gospel, and if you wait for a multiple baptism before you celebrate, you will have a very somber term of service. Why not celebrate the incremental steps along the way. “I got a chance to mention to someone that I’m a Christian today!’ “That lady saw us give thanks over our meal!” “I got through an entire conversation without making an embarrassing grammatical mistake!” These are worth celebration, aren’t they?
2. Missions is not boring, so don’t make it sound boring.
I can think of few things more exciting than the cross-cultural spread of the good news of the gospel, as God brings glory to Himself by turning rebellious sinners around the world into redeemed worshippers of Jesus Christ. What could be more exciting than that? I am a firm believer that there are no boring missions, there are only boring missionaries. Do not be one of them. You are involved in the most exciting project in the history of the universe. Resist our cliche-ridden missionary sub-culture. Be a real person and let your excitement about your life shine to others.
3. Never miss an opportunity to laugh.
After just a couple of years of missions life, you will have enough funny stories to fill a book, especially as you learn the language and make mistakes in your new culture. You may have to force yourself a little if you are not naturally wired this way, but it is well worth the effort to find and enjoy the humor in missionary living. Let that winsome perspective permeate your family life, your friendships, and your communication with your supporters. There will no doubt be enough chance to shed tears along the way, so don’t pass up a chance to laugh, and to help others laugh with you!
(from The Nuts and Bolts of Missionary Life by Mike Gaston)
Mike compares life as a missionary to the metaphor of a riding a roller coaster, because that’s what it’s often like. “There will be exhilarating views from the heights, stomach-churning descents, unexpected twists and turns, painful bruises from the elbows of people you are riding with, and a sense of fear and joy all wrapped up together.”
I love that picture! We lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for twenty years and often rode the roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain. We enjoyed the thrill of the experience and loved taking friends to join us. As you join God in His mission – I hope you’ll love the thrill, and that you’ll invite others to experience it with you!