I am increasingly convinced that missionaries are modern-day cowboys. It may sound crazy but the more time I spend traveling across the transatlantic planes, chasing the sun around the globe, I’m more and more persuaded.
I’m not talking about the lone ranger types that roam the valleys in search of solitary justice. I’m talking about the men who rode in packs, crews of hardworking, hard-riding men who transversed the length and breadth of America guiding the herds.
Yes, I grew up in a Southern-gospel-country-music family. My ears grew up accustomed to the dulcet tones of Patsy Cline and the Gaither Vocal band. And yes, being from proud Southern Missourah stock I love the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Down the Mississippi and up the Nile I can’t count the times I’ve journeyed around the world (including all those times as a hop-along missionary kid with my mom and dad). But that’s not why I think missionaries are the natural descendants of the old West cowboys.
I believe that missionaries are modern-day cowboys because we long for wide open spaces. We long to name the unnamed.
Its not just the sweet African valleys peppered with acacia trees and Baobabs. Not just the cattle that still roam the fields (and city streets for that matter). Not just the vistas and the views.
The life of a cowboy is one where a man and woman can put their shoulders into the work. It’s where the impossible is possible. Where the desert gives way to the oasis. Where dreams can still be dreamed under the wide open skies.
Isaac the son of Abraham did his own share of cowboy roaming (Gen. 26). He drove his herds to a new valley and settled there. And it seemed like every time Isaac (the Ancient Near Eastern Gary Cooper) tried to put down his roots somebody was pushing him along, eyeing his herd, eyeing his wife, eyeing his wells.
He’d dig a well and people would show up to claim it. So he’d dig another and more folks came round to dispute his claims. So our cowboy pulled up stacks and moved along. He came to a new place, dug a new well and this time no one came, no farmers or Philistines, robber barrens or Amorites.
He called the place Rehoboth. The Lord makes room.
God made room for Isaac. He made room for his kids and his cattle. He provided a wide open space for Isaac to name.
As missionaries, crew-riding cowboys, we pass through difficulties and dangers seeking out the place where the herd can graze and grow. We are looking for the fields that are ripe with fresh grass and clear clean water.
We live in villages and cities, we travel through rainforests and deserts, we speak in a thousand broken tongues so that we might find the places ready to be named. We ride like Paul who found wide open doors in Ephesus to plant the church (1 Cor. 16.9).
As a new year begins Elise and I want to thank you for letting us be a personal link from the local church to the unreached. Thank you for making our obedience possible to find wide open spaces and name the unnamed.