Keeping Company with Hobbits: Missionaries, Home, and Reluctant Adventurers
It has been some time since my last post. A while spent adjusting to new surroundings and new circumstances. I plan to get posting again regularly, but for now, here's a wonderful post from a good friend of mine who has been serving overseas in East Asia
In the stories of Tolkien, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins don’t charge down the road at Bag End, hungry for adventure. Gandalf must coax them out of their happy Hobbit existence in the Shire. They are reluctant adventurers. Yet for me that's what makes them so compelling.
Their reluctance comes from one of their chief characteristics as Hobbits: love of home.
A Hobbit wants nothing better than to put up their large feet in front of a cosy fire enjoying crumpets and tea or perhaps a beer with friends at The Ivy Bush on Bywater Road. No Hobbit has plans for a quiet night on the arid slopes of Mount Doom.
As a cross-cultural missionary there’s a certain amount of adventure that comes my way. Our family life on the road, in the air, or on a bike, meeting new people and seeing God at work in an unreached East Asian country of mega cities and rice paddies is never dull.
But the real adventure which I’m on, that we’re all on as Christians, is the quest to follow Jesus wherever he leads, to fight back the darkness by spreading rumours of the King and by pouring myself out, with all my might, for the church which he bought and the lost whom he calls.
For me and my family, fulfilling this call has meant a journey far from our Shire of the UK to East Asia and the least reached.
A Reluctant Missionary
Here’s my confession: I’m a reluctant missionary, a reluctant adventurer. Why? Perhaps there’s Baggins blood in me; I deeply love home. And I get on the plane with the same heavy heart as Frodo’s when he set out on his journey:
“Of course, I have sometimes thought of going away, but I imagined that as a kind of holiday a series of adventures like Bilbo’s or better, ending in peace. But this would mean exile, a flight from danger into danger, drawing after me. And I suppose I must go alone, if I am to do that and save the Shire. But I feel very small, and very uprooted, and well- desperate. The Enemy is so strong and terrible.”
Are you asking me to go on a holiday? Sure, I’ll do that. A short adventure ending in peace? No problem.
But that’s not the Christian call nor the missionary call. It’s to leave the Shire to save the Shire. It’s to leave the peace of home to secure for God’s global church eternal Home, eternal Shire, if you like, through hearts won and made strong in Christ.
But I feel very small, and very uprooted. We suddenly had to return home following the shock news that my dad had cancer. An emergency plane ride and five short, bitter-sweet days later with Dad, and he died. The grief is made all the more painful as we hadn’t seen each other for two years due to Covid. We left home for the sake of Home, the eternal kingdom of Christ. But the cost was more than we’d expected. I lost two years with the heart of my home, Dad, never to be regained. Many mission workers have lost much, much more.
And so, we’re back in the UK, but without Dad. And having lived in seven places in two and a half years, it’s hard to say where home even is anymore.
Will we get back on the plane to East Asia, leaving home again? You bet. Reluctantly. And here’s why:
“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”
Frodo left home, buoyed by knowledge of home that lay behind. With Dad gone, I’m not so sure that it’s the home that lies behind me that will make our wanderings for Christ bearable.
No, it is the Shire, the Home that lies ahead, safe and comfortable, that makes our wandering more bearable. We know that somewhere there is a firm foothold and our feet will stand there one day: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek a city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
To my fellow missionaries and all pilgrims on this adventure we call the Christian life, secretly reluctant, aching for home: Home is why we go. The peace, security, and sheer settled-ness that we miss is why we must forsake it now so that as many as possible may rest their feet forever on the fair soil of the New Creation.
Adam Stephens (pseudonym) is a cross-cultural worker with his family in East Asia working alongside the church to develop healthy pastors who lead and plant healthy churches.