Opposites Attract: How and Why Missionaries Should Embrace Their Differences

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Yesterday’s post argued that unity made the great missionary teams great. These men had the majority of things in common, like background, theology, age and interests. 

In this post, I’d like to encourage missionary teams to embrace their differences. Sometimes it’s the contrasts that make the Missions Locomotive run fast and far. 

The Serampore Trio embraced their dissimilarities. Here are three of them. 

1. They Had Different Personalities

Carey might have been the leader, but he was painfully shy in some settings compared to his teammates. There seemed to have been little jealousy between the Trio. They sharpened each other when they saw a dull blade. Carey wrote to his friend Ryland back home about his teammate Marshman:

“Marshman is all keenness for God’s work. Often have I seen him, when we have been walking together, eye a group of persons, like a hawk, and go up to try on them the Gospel’s utmost strength. I have known him engage with such for hours, more eager for the contest when he left off than when he began. It has filled me with shame. In point of zeal he is a Luther, I an Erasmus.”

Carey excels twice. First, he acknowledges a serious way Marshman is his superior. Carey owns this very real difference and verbalizes it to a mutual friend. Second, Carey tries to improve by observing Marshman’s superiority. It filled him “with shame,” he said. Carey didn’t say, “that’s just the way he is.” Carey effectively said, “When I watch Marshman evangelize, guilt fills my heart. I’ve got to do better. I’ve go to improve.”

Carey also makes observations about his other teammate, William Ward:

“Ward, too, has such a faculty of addressing things to the heart, and his thoughts run so naturally in this channel, that he fixes the minds of all who hear him; whilst I, after repeated efforts, can scarcely get out a few dry sentences, and, if rebuffed at the beginning, sit like a silly mute, and scarcely say anything at all. Yet I do desire to give myself, such as I am, to the cause of God, and to be wholly employed in His service.”

Once again, Carey the missionary giant and elder of the team, is quick to acknowledge ways his teammates are superior to him. 

Missionaries should practice doing three things with their teammates. First, make it clear to yourself where your friend is superior. Don’t live in denial. He really is a better speaker. She really is better at making children laugh, and so forth. Second, make it clear to your friend where he is superior. This will encourage him. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Don’t flatter. Speak truth. Third, make it clear to others where your teammate is superior. This is easier to do than the second point. Perhaps try doing number three before number two. 

2. They Had Different Interests

By most accounts Carey’s four boys (ages 4, 7, 12, 15) were unruly by the time the Serampore Trio was formed. Ironically, it was William Ward, the lifetime bachelor, that had the greatest fatherly influence on Carey’s boys in the early days of the team.

Ward used his “difference” from the other team members to mentor Carey’s boys in ways his elder teammate could not. He taught the boys as a group and individually. He showed the Carey boys love. He talked with them about spiritual matters, activities the boys sorely missed due to the mental state of their mother and preoccupation of their father. 

3. They Had Different Gifting

Each man, though committed to Great Commission work, had his own specific skill and gifting. Carey was the visionary. He was also a linguist. All three men learned the language, but Carey was a master. Speaking of master, Peter Masters quipped that Carey and his team translated the Scriptures into so many languages that people back home accused them of inventing the names of languages and then claiming to have mastered them and then translated them into the Bible. What a gift! You’re so talented, friends back home accuse you of lying. 

Ward was a printer and so was able to aid the team in ways no one else could. Marshman was a schoolteacher. For many years the school was the trio’s primary means of income. The team’s first goal was not planting churches. It was actually publishing the Scriptures in the local language, a task to which they poured incessant labour. But this could only be done because, in their unity, they were happy to employ their differences.

Conclusion: The Serampore Trio used their differences to help the team do more. They acknowledged the dissimilarities. They sought to improve where another teammate was superior. Christians should acknowledge where their friends are just plain better, to the glory of God. 

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