Living Out a Missionary Heart

Like soldiers on assignment before they leave for a mission, missionaries often leave a letter to a loved one at home.  It is a farewell letter that’s only supposed to be read in the event of the missionary’s death abroad.

Karen Watson left for service in Iraq in March 2003. She had left her job as a jail officer and sold all her possessions to work on humanitarian projects with our International Mission Board in northern Iraq.  A year and a week later, anonymous gunmen wielding AK-47’s opened fire on her team’s car while they were surveying sites (perhaps for water purification projects) near Mosul.  Karen and three others were killed.

Within a few days, Karen’s pastor at Valley View Baptist Church in Bakersfield, CA received this letter, and then shared it with his congregation.   Read this slowly.

Dear Pastor,

You should only be opening this in the event of my death.

When God calls there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations.

I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him.

To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward ….


     Cares more than some think is wise

     Risks more than some think is safe

     Dreams more than some think is practical

     Expects more than some think is possible

I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience ….

There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him.

I love you and my church family.

In His care,

Salaam, Karen

What is your gut reaction to that?

Many of us, active church members and committed to Jesus, would identify ourselves as “missions-minded” Christians. We believe in missions, give to missions, pray for missions and participate in missions. We tell stories like this all the time. Our hearts are inspired by this sort of radical sacrifice for the sake of Jesus and the spread of His gospel.

We may even be coming to understand that the mission field is no longer just  “out there”, but it is “right here”.  A significant portion of the nearly 2 billion people on our planet who have not heard the gospel of Jesus live right here in the United States. A whole bunch of them live in our community, in my neighborhood.

We may even be getting more comfortable with the reality that all disciples are missionaries, with a Great Commission calling to make disciples of the people in our sphere of influence..

But I fear that somehow, we have slid into a Christian class system that treats people like Karen Watson at the “super-spiritual-different-from-the-rest-of-us” top of the scale.  We can think that a heart like this is rare and that Jesus surely wouldn’t expect this level of radical, sold-out (literally), life-sacrificing passion from the rest of us ordinary disciples.

And we would be wrong.  Dead wrong.

Listen to Jesus.  Read this slowly

 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves….you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?….

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven….

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  (Matt. 10:16,22, 24-32;  Luke 14:26-27, 33; Mark 8:34-38)

It sounds like the missionary heart to which Karen Watson referred is, in actuality, the normal Christian life. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Follow Me”.

Now, here’s where I wrestle:  How much does this heart shape my daily life and ministry? Or that of most average Christians in the American South?

How much does this sort of all-consuming delight in and commitment to the gospel
purposes of Jesus shape the average local church?   Could we even dare look Jesus in the eye with the vast majority of the stuff we get all worked up over and treat as the main thing?

How in the world do we square all our talk about being safe from the evil world and so blessed to just be around Christians all the time with this?

Or, to put it more positively…what would happen to the quality and joy of our faith if this heart shaped us? That we were so stunned by the grace of Jesus that it totally made us?  Don’t you think that numbers of plateaued and dying churches would be revolutionized if this heart began to beat in the chests of the disciples there?

Lord, forgive us for slathering our hearts with the fat of personal comfort and the demands of our selfish preferences. Forgive us for clogging our spiritual arteries with junk food of mere inspiration that just repeatedly confirms what we already believe. Forgive us for passively reducing the gospel to a list of approved activities at a church building and redefining Your call so that “radical” is always somebody else’s story.

Lord, please, jump-start our hearts with a jolt of the truth of your gospel that resurrects the sinful dead and revives the sinfully dull.  Stir in us fresh awe that Your everlasting love, astonishing mercy and amazing grace would come to rebel sinners like us– and let us never get over the truth that we are not condemned, but accepted in the Beloved.   Remind us that the same bloody cross that is our only hope of rescue from the horror of hell is the destination for our selfish agendas and the shape of of our daily lives.  Remind us that the empty tomb is our joy and our strength.

Give us missionary hearts that will create missionary lives that “care more than some think is wise, risk more than some think is safe, dreams more than some think ispractical, expect more than some think is possible” so that  Your churches are renewed and  precious people are come to know You forever.


3 responses

  1. I was Karen’s housemate in Kuwait and Iraq. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to her (although she and the others died in March of 2004, so she left for the Middle East in March of 2003, not 2007 as stated above). Tomorrow would have been her 46th birthday. I’m glad to know that even now, seven years later, her life (and her death) is still making a difference in lives today!

    1. thanks so much for responding…I’m always looking for stories of ordinary people who are living out the gospel’s radical call. It’s an encouragement to my heart and I hope to others’ too. Thanks also for the correction on the date…. sometimes it’s hard to piece together timelines from stories.. blessings…david

  2. I reposted this with a link back to you today. thanks you for sharing this.

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