Dying to Self: A Missionary’s Struggle with Obedience

The past two weeks have been some of the hardest days of my life, but not for reasons you might think. There is no illness, family emergency, impending natural disaster, or local political upheaval that has me on edge. It’s nothing that can be easily worded or is simple to communicate. I guess I would say it’s because of the condition of my heart.

After spending a challenging six months in the US, my family returned to South Asia, where we’ve been missionaries for many years. When we were preparing to leave the US, people asked us if we were excited to come back to South Asia. Though that feeling may accurately describe our three kids’ attitudes about returning to the home they know and understand, excited is not a word I would use to describe my own feelings.

South Asia is much more home to my kids than the quiet countryside that I grew up calling home. They can walk down a street surrounded by thousands of people and be at ease. They can jump in whatever mode of transportation is available and seem to not mind the stares along the way, the heat, and the traffic. God has helped me do those things on a daily basis, but it will never feel natural to me like it does to them.

Dying to Self

For me, returning to our South Asian megacity has felt like dying. Though not a physical demise, this is the dying to self that I seem to be fighting against as we work to settle back into this life. You see, somewhere along the way I believed I was entitled to certain rights—the right to breathe clean air, to live in an easy-to-maintain and lovely home, to blend into a crowd without constantly standing out, to raise my kids in a healthy and easy-to-navigate environment, to celebrate holidays and life events with my extended family. I desired an easy life.

“We returned to South Asia trusting that God’s plan is better than anything we would plan for ourselves.”

But the reality is that as a child of God, I am not promised any of these perceived “rights.” Through these struggles with obedience, I have dwelled on Luke 9:23: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (ESV). We returned to South Asia trusting that God’s plan is better than anything we would plan for ourselves.

Remembering God’s Promises

God has chosen to place us in a very dark place to be light bearers. The spiritual battle rages for the hearts of people, and most here do not know the freedom available to them in Christ. This is not the easy path or the path of the “American dream.” Yet, I cling to the promises I read in God’s Word. He has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3–4). He has promised to never leave us (Josh. 1:5). His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9–10). He works in us with his strength (Col. 1:29).

I know these promises to be true. I have seen the Lord’s faithfulness time and again over the years of my life and most assuredly during our time in South Asia. In light of these truths, I will choose discomfort over disobedience any day. But I know my obedience will cost me, and I am struggling with that cost. This is not a short-term mission trip, and I do not have a return ticket. This is my life.

“In light of God’s truth, I will choose discomfort over disobedience any day. But I know my obedience will cost me, and I am struggling with that cost.”

It’s not easy or predictable. It’s not necessarily the path to prosperity or the life I would have if I stayed in America. But the Lord promises joy—confidence and peace that the anchor of my life is firmly planted even when I feel tossed in violent waves.

The Power of Prayer

I’m fighting for that joy. Somehow in the midst of all this, God still wants to use me. He gives me opportunities to serve him. His power is made perfect in my weakness. So, I’m praying for him to calm this storm and help me embrace this life again: to work to get our house livable, unpack the bags, learn more language, walk out into the crowded markets to buy food for my family, and engage with people around me.

I’m praying for the strength to allow God to work in my heart so I grieve the lostness of those all around me, to advocate fiercely for the peoples of South Asia, and to challenge the global church to partner with us until all peoples and places have had an opportunity to know the grace, mercy, and eternal hope that God alone gives.

My heart is torn at times, but I know that knowing Christ and following him is worth it all. I know that any tension I feel to be at “home” is a reminder that I will never really be home until I am standing before the Lord as he welcomes me to my eternal home. I know that day will come.

Pray with me that I, along with missionaries serving all over the world, would stand firm in that hope. Pray that we would not waste one moment of this life on things that do not bring God glory. Pray that we would walk in obedience to him today—whether that be a quiet Tennessee countryside or a bustling South Asian city. Pray that we would continue to trust that he has placed us here and that his plans are good. Pray that we would lift his name high today. Pray that his light in us would be a beacon in this darkness calling people to him. Pray that they may choose Christ and take up their cross and follow him.

Madison Strauder enjoys sharing stories from her travels around South Asia.