They could have stayed, but they didn’t. They didn’t have to go, but they left anyway. Jesus must be interested in more than convenience and the path of least resistance. Yes, He is. And their leaving means a fragrance ascending.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-16
Last weekend everything seemed routine inside the terminals at the airport in Kansas City. Thousands of people shuffled through lines with luggage and then awkwardly fumbled with belts and shoes to clear security. The waiting game began. Crowded rows of seats played host to revolving masses gathered at their gate, counting down the minutes until it was time. Eventually the speakers in the ceiling above began to crackle with noise and the announcement came. It was time to go. And one group after another left – they all left. On the surface the scene looked like normal rhythms of an airport beating with unbroken predictability.
Yet as the throngs sat thumbing through apps on their smartphones, through all of the shuffling and fumbling and waiting, something absolutely miraculous was happening. They left. They actually got on planes and they left. Everyone there that day left, but this leaving was very different.
That difference began long before the moment they strode across the threshold of the jetway and walked down the tunnel to enter the cabin. Like multitudes of their peers there was a moment years before when they heard a call to missions. Maybe it was a sermon, perhaps it was an article, hopefully it was in their Bible. Somehow, someway, the word “go” collided with “nations” so strongly that it made a spark. Most likely it was not the first time they had heard the message. Yet this time was different. Something happened inside of them as they heard the vision to preach Christ on the frontiers (Rom 15:20). A fire was kindled within.
And now when they heard “unreached” they stopped merely hearing statistics and began hearing the whisper of names. The “hardest and darkest” was no longer an arbitrary coordinate on Google Maps and was suddenly becoming a real place with soil, and crops, and houses. From those houses there was smoke rising as food was cooking and children were playing and old men lay dying who had never once in their entire lifetime heard the name of the Lord Jesus. And for mile after mile around those houses – stretching off into the distant, sun-drenched horizon – there was not a single soul who had heard His name either.
Beyond all of this was the way the ground was shaking and their hearts were breaking around the word “Jesus”. That name could no longer be the title for the mascot of a movement or a noble concept that gave them something inspirational to live for. It wasn’t the name of their therapist or cheerleader or life-coach. He wasn’t a useful addition to their life that finally enabled them to find fulfillment. That word was the name of a Man – a devastatingly real Man who was their Maker.
And as this fire burned they found themselves thinking about Him more and more like someone thinks about a hurricane over the ocean or the deep abyss of the Grand Canyon. They were gazing on Someone who they were realizing was beautiful and terrible. Their eyes were beholding One with glorious splendor and untamed holiness. Yet out of the storm of His majesty they saw eyes of fire looking back at them with a fierce love constraining them and overtaking them. It was slowly compelling them to not just sit back from the comfort of their lives as gifted young adults in America and applaud the great missionaries of old, but to actually emulate them (2 Cor 5:14). For how could the nations not fear Him and glorify His name (Rev 15:4)? How could thousands of people groups rebel against His beauty day after day and trample upon the loveliness of His name by worshiping idols in His place? It was not right – it was unjust – that billions of hearts that were beating because of His word (Heb 1:3) gave Him no thanks or praise.
While these convictions were being forged like iron in the flames of love the question still remained. What would they do? Their course hung in the balance, and their answer was the difference. They didn’t just go to another radical conference with lofty rhetoric about the grave need and the glorious prospect of finishing the mission. Nor did they only move to Kansas City and complete a training program focused on sending the best and the brightest to the hardest and darkest in order to make the terms unengaged and unreached obsolete.
In a generation of hype and opinionated chatter where everyone talks like they know everything, they chose to do the unthinkable. With some of their best years in front of them, with doors of opportunity flung wide before them, they decided to stop talking about missions and actually get on a plane. For at least two years they will live scattered about in difficult parts of the world that are hostile to the gospel in order to bear witness of the One they love. In a land not their own they now dwell. Today they are finding apartments, eating strange food, learning a new language and stumbling through long and lonely days as cultural infants.
They are weak and their message seems like foolishness, but fortunately that is exactly what God requires (1 Cor 1:18-31). As they walk along foreign streets as obscure strangers they carry an imperishable seed of life that will bear fruit as they sow their lives into that land (1 Pet 1:23, Jn 12:24-26). Through the brokenness of their earthen vessels a sweet fragrance will be diffused (2 Cor 2:14-16, 4:7-12). And though it will never be on Facebook and you will never read a tweet about it, one day there will be a small house on the horizon of a distant land that hears His name for the first time. I miss their presence, but my heart is filled with joy over the miracle of their absence. They left.