[Book Review] The Rights of Missionaries



Recently I read the little book “Have We No Rights? A frank discussion of the “rights” of missionaries”, by Mabel Williamson. This book is written from the perspective of the China Inland Mission, so many things are illustrated with their own methods of conducting missions work. Nevertheless, it was a very good read and I wanted to share some thoughts I got from the book.

Most Christians treat battle their whole lives with the Lord’s command to “die to self”. There is even the temptation to feel good about ourselves for the days we think we have “done well”. For the missionary dying to self is not an option. He is reminded of how little his “rights” matter when he least expects it. For the missionary the question is not if he is going to relinquish his rights, but how he reacts when it becomes obvious he has none. Here are some of the “rights” missionaries have to be willing to let go of, as they strive to be used by God for His glory.

  • The right to what is considered a normal standard of living: In order to win the people’s heart, the missionary will have to come to the point where he feels at home in their homes. Also, when the people come to visit the missionary, they will have to be able to feel confortable. This will look differently in different places, but the principle stands.
  • The right to the ordinary safeguards of good health: There are some things that we assume we have to do in order to stay healthy, that are not done the same way in the mission field. Am I willing to let go of some health safeguards, some times, in order to not offend the people I am trying to reach?
  • The right to regulate my private affairs as I wish: As a rule it is a good idea to not make it a problem if someone’s standards are higher than mine. But sometimes I only think my standards are better. Am I willing to go with someone else’s standards even if I don’t understand them and they are not able even to explain the logic behind them.
  • The right to privacy: A lot of the times just the missionary’s presence is enough to get the people’s attention. There never seems to be a place where he can go at not get stared at. What might seem a bad thing can actually be used for the ministry. The missionary should want the people to look at him and to get to know him. He can then use that to point them to Christ.
  • The right to my own time: We have to learn, as fast as possible, that we have to be led by the Lord even in the way our days turn out. If our heart is not right, we might get frustrated that the Lord led us to do something that was not in our carefully planned scheduled.
  • The right to a normal romance, if any: Many have accepted the call to the mission field as single missionaries. Their dedication to the Lord will mean that they will not have a relationship the same way everybody else does. There is just no time! Some are gifted by the Lord to stay single, most are not. One way or the other, are we willing to make Him our companion and rest in the thought that we belong to Him?
  • The right to a normal home life: To have a Christian home is a challenge. It is even a greater challenge on the mission field. We should not forget that we want to have a Christ honoring home. For the missionary, a home where self is denied and sacrifices made because of the ministry, is a home with Christ at its core. The goal is Christ, not normal.
  • The right to live with the people of my choice: There will always be problems between people. Every missionary will sometimes feel that, given the choice, he would rather work with someone else. It the midst of all that, we have to remember that there is someone that we can choose to have as a close companion. Jesus will always be there and He can be trusted.
  • The right to feel superior: Most of us, either we are willing to admit it or not, think that our ways are best. Sometimes we don’t even realize it. We have to work hard to be aware of this and accept the ways of the people we are trying to reach.
  • The right to run things: Church planting missionaries’ job is not to do the ministry. Their job is to train the nationals to do the ministry. The work has to be done in a way that is not completely dependent on the missionary. To accomplish this, the missionary is to be willing to not do some things that he would do better (or so he thinks).

I don’t think this book is written to discourage people from a life of Christian service. In fact, the last chapter of the book points to the One that had no rights. Jesus gave up His life and all that He had, so that He could be our redeemer. By relying on Him, and not on what we think are our “rights”, we are walking closer to Him and He will make us more like Him.