I felt the sweat gathering at my temples. We’re just 525 feet below the surface. The 120-year-old coal miner’s elevator rattled and jerked with every descending moment. “Go to Slovenia,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.
I attempted to adjust my position in vain as the other 12 occupants of the small ‘elevator’ pressed against each other. Nervous laughs and words of affirmation fell on deaf ears as I tried to talk myself into posing a somewhat courageous smile.
It was my fourth day in Slovenia for a mission trip when our team’s hosts took us to the coal mine museum of Velenje, Slovenia. Once the rattling elevator made it to the bottom of the mine I felt as though someone had placed a 100-pound weight on my chest.
I’m not a very squeamish or cowardly person. That being said, rather than make known my fear of the dark, I chose to “tough it out.” As we followed the guide we rounded a corner where I came to face one of the greatest (and most irrational) fears of my life – wax figures.
The tour seemed to last hours as I hung toward the back and shrank against the wall. Every dark corner, every wax eyeball brought a stabbing fear to my heart. I nervously chuckled when jokes were made and nodded my head as I pretended to hear what the tour guide said.
Sweet relief finally came when we went back up the elevator, and I stepped into the middle of the museum. Sunlight flooded through the windows, filling the room. The people around me were only that of flesh and blood. I can now breathe.
About a week later, after I had returned to the United States, I read a story of well-known British missionary William Carey. “The Father of Modern Missions,” as Carey was called, was meeting with close friends before he was to move to India as a missionary when he made the following observation. He drew a beautifully-worded comparison between the commissioning of a missionary and the lowering of a miner into a mine. As I kept my experience in a coal mine, just the previous week, in mind, I eagerly read the following excerpt from one of Carey’s friend’s recollection:
“Our undertaking to India really appeared at its beginning to me somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating a deep mine which had never before been explored. We had no one to guide us; and, whilst we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.’ But, before he descended, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit, to this effect that ‘whilst we lived, we should never let go the rope.’”
After hearing this story from Carey’s friend and experiencing the darkness of the mine myself, I had to ask what it looks like to “hold the rope” across the world today? There are three specific objects and representations when a missionary is sent over seas, or rather being lowered into the mine as it were.
First, let’s observe the mine itself. Just like my experience in the mine, there are several fears and joys that will be experienced. As I saw glimpses of light in my travels through the tunnels, likewise a missionary will often come across fellow believers. These glimpses of hope and brotherhood bring such relief from the darkness! However, with every glimpse of light came a clear view of one of the horrendous wax figures. I have resolved that, for missionaries, the wax figures must symbolize those who are lost and without the Gospel. They are merely shells of a person. Inside they lack life, ultimate reconciliation.
Second, let us see clearly the rope being tightly grasped on each end. On one end is either a shaky and new missionary, fresh to all the responsibilities of a Salvation miner, or a seasoned, coal-darkened missionary, quite familiar and confident in the darkness of the mine. On the other end, above the surface of the mine, is anywhere from a sixth-grade boy with his Bible to an 86-year-old woman with her praying hands. While both ends may vary in age, gender, occupation and denomination, the rope stays unchanged.
The rope stands for spiritual support. It can look like daily prayer from a church in rural Arkansas lifting up a struggling missionary kid in South America. It can look like a letter from a church in Texas sent to a missionary in Florida. It can look like a care package from a couple in Montana mailed to a single missionary at Christmas time in Spain. It might even look like a college student giving up their summer to help homeschool a missionary kid in Central Asia.
The support comes in so many different forms; it would never do justice to the rope to specifically identify it. It is significantly missed when absent and life-changing when present.
Lastly, we must also observe the facet of the illustration that is not physical- the call. The call looks different for many. It may be to go. As the last chapter in Matthew commands, “Go into all the world!” You may be called to go overseas or next door in an evangelistic or disciple-making way. We are all called! The call for others may be to stay and support. There is much ministry to be had at the stationary end of the rope!
The title of this blog is to insinuate the chastisement of the called, be it to stay or go yet not obeying! To chastise is to chide. I now give a charge to two of those that are called.
I ask those of you that are called to go- who is holding your rope? Are you allowing believers to support and encourage you? Humble yourselves to ask for aid and encouragement. Are you thanking and praying for those that do already?
I ask those of you that are called to stay- whose rope are you holding? The International Mission Board alone has 3,590 workers across the globe. Each has concerns and worries, joys and celebrations! Who is holding their rope? Jump headfirst into the ministry of support. How will you get involved?
Brothers and sisters, let us answer the great call in whatever way possible, on both ends of the rope! Do not forsake the very thing for which the Lord created you.