It happened in our sixth year of Bible translation service in Brazil and led to clarifying a powerful life habit.
Some very dear friends came from Canada to help do some much-needed construction on the Bible translation centre near the city of Belem. For several months, Jo and I worked well together with them and deeply appreciated their fellowship and work. But one evening, they criticized us quite strongly.
“Why are you always visiting with other missionaries in your spare time and spending hours at the swimming pool with your kids on Saturday afternoons? Why aren’t you evangelizing the poor people in the slums down the road?” Jo and I could understand why our friends would ask that. They loved meeting the needs of the poor back in Canada. The question led to a long discussion that evening.
I mentioned the well-known story in Luke 10:38-42 when Jesus answered a criticism of a similar nature. Jesus was visiting his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and teaching others who came to visit. Mary was sitting nearby listening intently, when Martha came to Jesus and said, “Doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”
Jesus gave his famous answer, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Ministry: One Necessary Thing.
For Jo and me, the Canela Bible translation program was the “one necessary thing.” We still had at least fifteen years of work ahead of us before we could present the Canelas with the Word of God in their own language.
Jo and I were the only people in the world assigned to build a literate society and translate the Bible for the Canelas. For us, everything else, even evangelizing desperately needy slum dwellers was secondary. There were other Christians, thousands of them in Belem churches, who could, and did, evangelize the slums.
Family: One Necessary Thing.
But what about Saturday afternoons at the swimming pool with the kids? What is so necessary about that? Well, our daughters routinely lived in a boarding school for two or three months at a time. When we finally returned to the centre, we wanted to spend as much time together as a family as possible. When it came to responsibilities as parents, quality family time was the “one necessary thing” for all of us.
Fellowship: One Necessary Thing.
And visiting with other missionaries? Well, after three months of praying and sharing on a deep level only with your spouse, the need, and joy, of spending time with other believers is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it.
The Question We All Need to Ask.
In Mary and Martha’s situation, Jesus was sitting in their home and teaching those around him. Mary dropped her To Do list and grabbed the unique opportunity to learn personally from Jesus. Our natural tendency may be to act like Martha and live up to cultural expectations by preparing plentiful food for guests. But that may not be the “one necessary thing.”
Each day, in every situation we need to ask ourselves, “At this moment, what is the “one necessary thing” that only I can do?”
Then do it . . . even if it provokes criticism from people you love.