I lived with a specific unconfessed sin for a long time. I committed the sin when I was a green missionary during my first term of service in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I still remember walking away from Ed, a missionary colleague, the day I burned out his circular saw. I thought to myself, “You just lied to him. You say you are a missionary for God, but you are nothing but a liar!” When I had come too close to the metal frame atop which I was sawing, the saw blades hit the metal and burned out the engine. Ed, who was very protective of his tools, asked me, “Did you hit the metal frame?” Afraid of his reaction, I immediately lied. I let my lie go unconfessed for several years. But if I forgot about it for a while, then something would happen to remind me of it. I was trying hard to live a life of integrity, and I realized that my lie would keep bugging me until I confessed it. Finally, when I met Ed at a conference in the United States, I confessed the whole thing. Ed was very gracious; in fact, he apologized to me for being so gruff as to cause me to feel that I couldn’t tell him the truth about damaging his tools.
I first heard of the “confessing life” from one of my students on a short-term mission trip to Mexico. Immediately attracted to the thought, I decided that I wanted to live that kind of life. Living the confessing life is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of guts to be transparent, vulnerable, and authentic. I will never forget hearing two lifetime missionaries in Africa speak to a group of fellow missionaries. Both were advanced in age, having given multiple decades to missionary service. I heard them speak in two different settings in two different countries and was shocked to hear the same advice from both: If you want to be an effective missionary, learn to confess your mistakes and express your sorrow over them. Such simple advice—yet so profound. And following it seems to be the hardest thing for an American missionary to do.
When I was a missionary in the DR Congo, the churches with which I ministered held an altar call after the sermon each week, during which people came forward to kneel on a mat placed on the floor, confessing their sins in silent or audible prayer. Often the person would whisper his or her sins to one of the elders, who would lay hands on the person and pray for him or her. To me it resembled the Catholic practice of the confessional, except without the private box to sit in.
I was an imperfect missionary, and I lived among imperfect missionaries. I attended hundreds of Congolese church services during my ten-year missionary career, yet I never saw a missionary come forward at the end of a sermon to confess his or her sins—myself included. I am haunted by the thought of what could have happened for the God’s kingdom had missionaries lived openly confessing lives.
Reflections: What sins have you committed but never told anyone about? Ask God to bring to mind a trustworthy brother or sister in the Lord to whom you can confess.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”