The Burden of an Outsider

A member of my family was invited to speak at a small Chinese church once, kind of as “the outside expert.” It was an evening fellowship, which our entire family attended. After the service, we were approached by the pastor and a member of the church. The pastor encouraged this member (let me call him Victor) to talk to us, and let us pray for him. I instinctively knew that this was more than just wanting to talk to the foreigners, but I was not ready for what followed.

Victor had a drug problem. He had sworn off drugs, and has managed to stay off. But it still torments him. He stays up entire nights, hating himself for what he has done. He goes through the day shaky from exhaustion. He can’t help but think about drugs. “Just seeing your water bottle,” he told us, pointing at the water bottle from which my mother took a sip, “it reminds me of the old days, and I want to take it again.” And then he hates himself again for such thoughts. And then, at night he can’t sleep, tormented by the desire for drugs, the dread of the future, the horrors of the past.

Victor spilled his guts to us. Because we were the outsiders. We came as figures of some authority to this church. We could be trusted. Part of it was that we were outside his world, and we were unable to hurt him or judge him as his family or friends might. But part of it was also, being outsiders, it was almost as if we carried greater spiritual weight.

We listened to Victor spill his guts, telling us his darkest fears and tortures he kept even from his wife. We offered what little comfort or consul we could, knowing also that he’s heard it all before. But somehow, it still seemed to bring a little comfort. We then laid our hands on him and prayed for him. It was a more sincere and desperate prayer than I’ve prayed in a long time. At the end of the prayer, Victor looked tired, but well, like after a battle well fought.

That night, I suddenly realized a little of what it meant to be a missionary. Or even just the outsider Christian. I am young. I don’t know my Bible half as well as a whole lot of people in that church. I am not as mature as I would like. I know too little of the world. I have no idea what kind of advice to give. I am young, so young in the eyes of so many. But it does not matter. I am the outsider, which can carry a lot of weight I am not worthy of. Simply by being the outsider, I will have people approach me with heavier burdens than I could dream of. Hoping to serve in a land in which I hardly belong, I will be granted to look deeper into many hearts than most family and friends. It is a terrifying thought. A sobering thought. By God’s grace, I pray that I will be able to fill these shoes far too big for me. Only by God’s grace, would I be able to extend healing in places of hurt. I myself, I know, am too weak, too immature, too self-centered to touch another’s soul.

Pray for Victor. And pray for each of us, still young, but called by God to do great things beyond our wildest dreams. I know too well how ill prepared I am. But by God’s grace, we might not make too great a mess of things.