Self-burial is one of the most effective methods of spreading the gospel. It is said that 19th century missionaries departing from Britain for distant shores would sometimes hold a funeral service before they left. They were going to serve for life and they didn’t expect to return.
Their 21st century equivalents don’t generally hold premature funeral services. Air travel means that they can come back and tell us how they are getting on. Nevertheless, they too go to bury themselves.
They bury themselves in another culture, language, people and history. That becomes their home — and their home becomes a foreign land. They work away, day by day and week by week, preaching and teaching, evangelising, helping people in need.
They aim for conversions, to plant churches, to build up God’s people in their faith. They usually find, as we do, that it is just plain hard work, with slow results. Yet they do show results.
They come back to us from time to time with encouraging reports of people saved, churches formed, disciples nourished, preachers trained. The gospel is multiplying, albeit slowly.
What is their secret? One thing — not moving. They just keep going, in the same place, through thick and thin, for years and for decades.
The same principle operates, of course, in our own country. Gospel work is long-term work — persevering in the same place, through difficulties, reverses and hardships — which so often bears fruit eventually. Not always, it’s true; and sometimes it is right to move on. But I suspect that too often we move on too soon.
Burying ourselves like this has its disadvantages: we don’t become famous; we may not be able to blog and Tweet and speak at large conferences; we are stuck with very needy people who demand a great deal of time and energy from us; it’s not very glamorous. But isn’t that the essence of true gospel work?
Apprenticeships and short-term mission trips can be very useful. But for real impact, we need to bury ourselves for the sake of the gospel.