Since the release of the work (An) Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens by William Carey in 1792, numerous Christians around the world have dedicated themselves as missionaries and persevered through challenges to spread the Gospel around the world. Even today, missional life of missionaries working around the world is full of hardship. Hence, it is worth exploring the question, why is this the case? When I first received an invitation to write a manuscript on mission and suffering, I thought that there would be quite a number of articles on this topic, mainly because of thinking that mission and hardship could hardly be separated. However, in reality, there were not that many studies published by missionaries or those in the field of missions. It could be argued that this is due to the fact that such proposition has been widely accepted. To address this gap in the field, I propose to explore mission and suffering in this article by focusing on some cases of challenges that I, as a missionary, have experienced in firsthand and that other missionaries in diverse cross-cultural mission fields have encountered. I will examine mission and suffering through the following key questions. First, what are the meanings and significance of mission and suffering? Second, how should suffering be interpreted and conceptualized from a missiological perspective? Third, what can missionaries who encounter suffering do as a missiological response? Fourth, how do Korean churches react to missiological responsibilities on missional suffering? Missional suffering refers to the entirety of suffering and pain that evolves from evangelization. Therefore, the author defines missional suffering as hardships encountered in mission fields when missionaries dedicate to Missio Dei. This suffering could be perceived as an entirety of a missionary’s life and ministry. It is possible to propose that missional suffering results from factors that can be broadly categorized into intrinsic and extrinsic ones. Intrinsic factors that lead to suffering include but are not limited to one’s own private world, challenges related to relationships among family members, and tensions and among missionaries, along with conflicts between mission agencies, supporting church, and/or mission organizations. Compared to missionaries from Western cultures, generally Korean missionaries have a tendency to endure hardship without openly sharing it with others. This tendency could result from Korean culture, and such inclination often leads to greater challenges and hardships.
External factors also vary widely, depending on the region that missionaries work. Missionaries who work in Muslim regions, frontier mission areas, and/or other Socialistic countries experience spiritual pressure or weariness from the possibility of their identities as missionaries being exposed. On the other hand, some key challenges that missionaries in Latin American countries experience include threats and other security issues.
If missionaries fully comprehend missional sufferings and recognize throughout their lifetime that they have a special calling, they can rejoice in their walk with Jesus while serving in mission fields in which they had experience hardship. Furthermore, interpretation of missional suffering should be from a missional perspective and acknowledge current existing gap between missional suffering and missiological suffering. Missional suffering of the missionaries who work in cross-cultural countries should be seen from a perspective of Missio Dei that bears God’s will. A better conceptualization of missional suffering from a missiological perspective requires an understanding of mission and suffering from a creative tension. Such creative tension that exists between mission and suffering should be interpreted in reference to the incarnated life of Jesus Christ.
Missionaries are “too valuable to be lost.” Even to this very moment, they continue to suffer from internal and external factors that cause sufferings and, in extreme cases, decide to dropout. Korean churches, however, are not cognizant enough of such crisis. Consequently, missionaries experience double suffering due to mental and emotional struggles. Korean churches should sincerely welcome missionaries, who continue their ministry in the midst of hardships, and ultimately diminish the level of suffering that these missionaries face.
If the relationship between mission and suffering is interpreted from a perspective of the life of Jesus Christ who lived for others, sufferings in mission fields would not be considered as hardships anymore. Furthermore, missionaries themselves can move forward to a place of the glory of God as the Gospel flows to local people. The Apostle Paul also confesses in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Like his confession, the cross-cultural mission fields are not battlegrounds for survival or places replete of hardships, but rather, such missional striving leads to delightful life for Christians who fully live out the Gospel and share it with others. By doing so, they can deeply experience God’s presence, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and unending love of God regardless of hardships, loneliness, and fear that they encounter in cross-cultural mission fields.