Becoming a missionary right where you are
Our church actively supports the work of missionaries throughout the world. Some of them oversee orphanages and provide daily care, education, and discipleship to orphaned and abandoned children. Some dedicate their time to the work of Bible translation with the goal that everyone on the earth would eventually have a Bible they can read in their own language. Some of our missionaries serve in locations that seem relatively safe for them to do their work while others serve in parts of the world that are very hostile to the Christian faith and any proclamation of the message of Christ’s gospel.
Years ago, when my sister Tami was in her mid-20s, she felt led to serve as a missionary in the country of Guatemala. Her goal was to spend two years teaching in a Christian school near Guatemala City. To prepare for this work, she needed to do multiple things. Tami needed to learn more about the culture she was entering. She needed to learn a new language as well. She also needed to raise funds from churches and individual supporters in order to fund the mission work she was about to do.
Everything came together nicely for her and she was given the opportunity to serve in this mission role for several years. It was a transformative experience for her and she threw herself into it completely.
I’ll never forget the story she told of the day she had to lead a parade through the city. At the last minute, another missionary who was supposed to be leading a marching band, backed out of her role and Tami was asked to fill in. She had no idea what she was doing but did her best to confidently lead this band through the streets of Guatemala. I love the story, but as her big brother, I truly wish that was something I could have witnessed with my own eyes.
If you asked Tami if she ever thought she would have served as a missionary like she did, she would have told you, “No.” This wasn’t what she expected of herself, but when the Lord led her to do it, she was obedient. The truth is, whether we visit a distant country or raise support to fund our efforts, every Christian has the opportunity and the calling to be a missionary. Most of us, in fact, are called to be missionaries right where we are. That’s precisely what we see demonstrated in Mark 5:1-20.
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. (Mark 5:1-6)
In the previous chapter of Mark, we see that Jesus and His disciples entered a boat and sailed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They set shore in the region of the Gerasenes which was a predominantly Gentile area, and when Christ stepped out of the boat, He was confronted by a demon-possessed man who lived at a distance from normal society. He likely lived in the caves among the tombs, and he was well-known in the area for possessing supernatural strength that made it impossible to bind him with chains. In addition to his strength, some of the other evidence of demon possession was his shrieking and cutting himself with sharp stones.
It’s interesting to observe this man’s behavior because it’s consistent with demonic activity we see elsewhere in Scripture. It’s also consistent with demonic activity that we can observe in our present day. Demons resent humanity. They are fallen angels who rebelled with Satan. They are filled with self-serving pride. They hate God and they hate humans because man was created in God’s image.
Demons desire to kill and maim people. They’ve been doing that all throughout human history. They encourage people to cut, maim, and alter their bodies. They encourage people to kill one another and kill their offspring. They are a destructive force, and their handiwork can be seen all around us if we’re willing to be honest about the spiritual realities that are at play in our present day.
Interestingly, when this demon-possessed man confronted Jesus, he ran and fell down before Him. This was Jesus’ only recorded visit to this region, yet the demons knew exactly who He was. They also knew all about the divine authority He possessed and were about to beg Him to leave them alone.
And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:7-8)
In the same fashion as the demon referenced in Mark 1:24, the demon that was speaking through the man acknowledged Christ’s divinity. He knew he was face-to-face with God and he begged Jesus not to send him to the place of torment reserved for the fallen angels that is referenced in Revelation 20:10.
“and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10)
This must have been a fascinating conversation to witness. People avoided this man because they felt threatened by him and they knew he couldn’t be subdued, but Jesus didn’t run from him even when the man ran toward him. In fact, Jesus was there to turn this man’s life around and send him on a mission to make the gospel known wherever he had influence or a reputation.
By the way, in the midst of all the personal lessons we can take from a passage like this, I hope one of the lessons we’ll learn is that Jesus can turn even the most hopelessly lost and tormented life around. He’s not afraid of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or the reputation you’ve earned. Jesus will joyfully make you a new person, gift you with His righteousness, and send you on a mission with a purpose and the understanding that you are more loved than you could possibly imagine. That’s a lesson this demon-possessed man was about to learn.
And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea. (Mark 5:9-13)
When Jesus asked the demon who was speaking through the possessed man to identify his name, he called himself “Legion.” In military terms, a legion was the largest unit of the Roman army. It would typically consist of thousands of soldiers, anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 in most cases. We don’t know exactly how many demons had possessed this man, but the implication from the name the demon submitted (and what happened after the demons were cast out of the man) was that there were thousands of demons possessing this one single individual.
I don’t claim to fully understand demonic activity, but there are certain things we can learn by reading the pages of Scripture. Sometimes they seek to influence and oppress people from the outside. Other times, they seek to possess people from the inside. As believers who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, I don’t believe Christians can be demonically possessed, but we certainly can be influenced or disturbed by their activity. Yet we praise God that His power is greater than any demonic force and He protects us from the evil one.
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14-16)
Knowing they were about to be cast out of the man, the demons begged for permission to possess a large herd of pigs that were feeding on the hillside. Jesus gave them permission, and immediately after doing so, the herd of about 2,000 pigs rushed down the hillside into the sea and drowned.
Scripture tells us that the people of the region were astonished at all of this. The herdsmen were particularly disturbed and they ran into the city to let everyone know what was going on. When the people arrived, they saw thousands of dead pigs floating in the water, which was a sight in and of itself, but what amazed them even more was the fact that the demon-possessed man was free. He was in his right mind and no longer a danger to interact with.
It was obvious to the people that what had taken place was divinely orchestrated. They were puzzled as to how to respond. This was quite a disturbance to the status quo, and most people strongly prefer only what seems predictable, familiar, and safe, so they actually asked Jesus to leave them. He had done a great work in their presence, but they weren’t interested in greatness. They weren’t interested in the miraculous. They preferred the familiar, so Jesus honored their request and prepared to leave. But one man actually asked to leave with him…
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:18-20)
The man who had been possessed wanted to be near Jesus from now on. He was free and He didn’t want to leave the side of his Savior, so he requested to get in the boat with Jesus and the disciples, but Jesus didn’t permit him. Instead, he gave the man a mission. He commissioned this man’s life work, to be a missionary to the region. To travel throughout the Decapolis (a group of ten cities that had banded together in an alliance) as a witness for Christ. This man would spend his life as a missionary to his own people, testifying daily about how much Jesus had done for him.
I’m grateful that there are people who are willing to travel throughout the world telling others about Jesus. I can’t help but be thankful for anyone who answers that call. I’m also grateful for those who, at the Lord’s leading, stay right where they’re at and tell the people they grew up with how much Jesus has done for them.
I don’t know where Jesus will send you or if He will direct you to stay where you’re at, but joyfully go where He tells you to go, and remain where He tells you to stay. The people of the Decapolis marveled at the man’s testimony about Jesus, and I believe there are people in your community who will do the same when you start testifying to Christ’s miraculous work in your life as well.
© John Stange, 2023