Faithlife Sermons

Poisoned Missionaries

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There were five of us traveling across the Sahel of Africa, just south of the Sahara Desert. We had started out in Niamey, Niger, and we were working our way toward the Dogon in Mali. We were traveling through Burkina Faso in a Toyota Land Cruiser. The air conditioning system was broken, and the temperature outside was 120 degrees plus. It was dusty, the windows were open, and it was hard to carry on a conversation. There were three people jammed in the back and three of us in the front—the driver, our guide, Judy Anderson, the wife of the director for West Africa of the World Relief Corporation, and me. You could only talk to the person right next to you because of the road noise. I was seated next to Judy, listening to a story that made the whole trip worthwhile.

Judy said she had grown up as the daughter of missionaries from the Evangelical Covenant Church in the old Congo. When she was a little girl, there was a celebration held for the 100th anniversary of the coming of Christian missionaries to that part of the Congo. She said that in typical African fashion, it was an all-day event—starting at sunrise and going all the way until sunset. There was food and music and speeches and parties. It was a great time of celebration. Near the end of the day, when it was almost dark and time for everyone to go home, a very old man asked if he could come and speak to the gathered crowd. When he came up there he said, "There's something I know that no one else knows, and I'm soon going to die. If I don't tell you, then I will take this to the grave with me. A hundred years ago, when the missionaries first came to our people, we had never heard of their God or of their book or had seen anyone who had looked anything like them. Our people didn't know whether to believe what they had to say or not. So our leaders got together, and they conspired to come up with a test to find out the credibility of these newcomers. The test was they would poison one of them and see how everybody reacted."

What ensued was one day a little girl got sick, and her parents thought it was an ordinary illness. But nothing they could do—nothing in the missionary medical book that they brought along—seemed to cover this situation. Their daughter, just a child—a preschooler—got sicker and sicker, and she died. Here they thought they had come to establish a community, and they started out by establishing a cemetery.

A few weeks later, a husband in another family got sick, and it was a similar sickness. He just got sicker and sicker, and he died. Then the wife of the third couple and another child—until this old man explained how they all died. His people watched how each missionary died and decided the message must be true. It was then, the old man said, that they decided to follow Jesus.

I don’t claim to know what God may ask of you. I can’t tell you what comforts He will ask you to let go of in order to serve Him, but I do know that if you become the missionary He’s calling you to be, your priorities must change. You must come to value people over prejudice and evangelism over comfort.

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