Joseph Damien, canonized by the Roman Catholic Church for his service in the ministry, was a missionary to the island of Molokai. There, he ministered to a leper colony, Kalaupapa, and it was reported that he would begin his sermons there with, "My fellow believers".
After several months of working in close proximity to lepers, Joseph accidentally burned his foot with scalding hot water; however, he realized that he felt no pain despite the obvious damage to his foot. That morning, instead of beginning his sermons with "My fellow believers", he instead began with "My fellow lepers".
Father Damien willingly volunteered to live among lepers, eating, socializing, and loving a community deemed untouchable by the rest of society because of the danger contact with them posed. Despite this danger, Joseph believed that the cost of his health was well worth the price of his ministry. In a letter to his brother, he wrote, "...I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ."
Following God's calling on our lives is a costly decision to make, and Jesus was well aware of this cost. He tells his disciples in the gospel of Matthew, "Then Jesus told his disciples,“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)
Make no mistake. Taking up your cross is no light task, and as Joseph Damien came to realize, it may cost you your life. This sacrificial ministry creates the foundation for true Christianity. When we look at the pews (or more recently online chat-rooms), are we looking at men and women so dedicated to God's call that they offer up their lives to further his kingdom?
Lately, we have been looking at the equipping process. We touched on how God equips those he calls and how this equipping process may be painful. Beyond that, this call is sacrificial. We cannot both serve God and maintain control over our lives. Now more than ever, people are scared because our collective security is under attack. Nobody knows what the next few weeks will look like; however, followers of Jesus should rest easy in knowing that the Author of all creation is still sovereign.
As Christians, we are not immune to danger. In fact, our faith can be the very reason we meet danger. There is a cost to following Jesus, and we need to understand that if we haven't sacrificed any of our comfort or security, we probably aren't doing much to further the kingdom of God.
That being said, we sometimes misunderstand what ministry entails. We think of sermons, small groups, and meetings, but, in reality, ministry includes everything from socializing to manual labor. Joseph Damien did much more than preach during his time on the island of Molokai. He also aided the colony by teaching, painting houses, organizing farms, organizing the construction of chapels, roads, hospitals, and churches. He personally dressed residents, dug graves, built coffins, ate food by hand with lepers, shared pipes with them, and lived with the lepers as equals. Likewise, especially in times such as the present where contact with others is limited, we need to look at the small, practical ways to love our neighbors.
We are all called into the ministry, and we can all minister to those around us. If we decide to take up the cross to follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus promises us that we will find a life worth living. Let us live, as Jim Elliot said, giving what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.