One of the more difficult things I had to endure as a Foreign Missionary was not the living conditions, the occasional odd foods or the inhospitable climate. It was returning to the United States, visiting Churches and hearing the word "hero" applied to me. Of all people, why would someone apply that word to me? There neither was nor is anything heroic about me or anything I have done. I've done my duty; nothing more or less. It was hard to hear myself being called a hero because the comparison seems so absurd.
The reason behind the appellation was because I was doing a work that a lot of people never have the opportunity to do even if they have the desire. But I can assure you that, among the other Foreign Missionaries I have known, none of us ever considered ourselves to be heroes. We look at ourselves as servants working out a sometimes difficult calling. However, the great reality was that there were far more individuals back in the United States doing great, heroic things in the Kingdom of God than we were.
Consider the work of a Home Missionary. Here you have an individual who, quite often, is working no less than three full time jobs. He is trying to build a Church (Job #1) while also working a secular job often to pay both his bills and those of the Church (Job #2) and juggling being a faithful husband and father (Job #3). It's no wonder that so many Home Missionaries burn out! In all their labor, struggle, sacrifice and pain they remain faithful to the calling God has placed upon their lives. In this way, they are perhaps more heroic than a Foreign Missionary. After all, the Foreign Missionary is usually exempt from secular labor because of American support. The trade off is the peril of living abroad. Home Missionaries are heroes.
Consider the work of a local Pastor. Even if the Church has been established for years, that doesn't always mean the local Pastor has the opportunity to lay back and take it easy. Often times a Church is able to support itself but not a full-time Pastor resulting in the Pastor taking on a secular job - be it part or full time - and making him not too dissimilar from the Home Missionary. Furthermore, the more Saints the more responsibility and the more time that must be invested in individuals and in the congregation. This takes away from the Minister's time with his family but, in all, he remains faithful to the calling God has placed upon him. Local Pastors are heroes.
Consider the plight of Ministers' Wives, Lay Ministers, Deacons, Evangelists, Sunday School Teachers - the list could go on and on. Each of them working out their callings for the edifying of the Body of Christ and the working of the Ministry so that the Church and Kingdom will continue to operate efficiently and in accordance with God's will. And, all the while, trying to balance the eternal juggling game of Work, Church, Family, Self and Et cetera. These all are heroes.
Consider those Biblical characters written in Hebrews 11. There you find the names of many great and noble individuals such as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David and Samuel. You will also hear of the many mighty acts which were witnessed as a result of faith.
"...who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection..." - Hebrews 11:33-35a (NASB)
Truly we must say that these individuals are heroes.
And while some of my heroes are among them, permit me to say that if they are in any of the above categories it is not for the reason you might think. Great feats of faith have never impressed me, quite honestly, because I recognize that Hebrews 11 continues with a list of those for whom faith did not provide the more carnally preferred way of escape.
"...and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground." - Hebrews 11:35b-38 (NASB)
Some might say that they were unsuccessful in their faith, especially considering the way we normally judge heroes.
Consider also, from the above list, individuals like Noah who, after the flood, almost immediately fell asleep in a drunken stupor. Or Abraham who lied about his wife being his sister. Or Sarah who laughed right in God's face, insisted on her husband committing adultery and then getting mad at the servant girl she gave to her husband in the first place. Or Moses and his temper. Or David and his fornicating, murdering ways. The list of faults and failures goes on and on. Some might, in light of this, think them less deserving of the title of heroes.
Coming back out of the Bible and into the modern time, what about the individuals we started this list with? Well, I hate to be the one to destroy anyone's illusions, but Ministers are human beings as are their wives and children. Ministers, whether they be Foreign Missionaries, Home Missionaries, local Pastors, Evangelists or whatever else, are subject to the same fits of anger, outbursts of temper, momentary losses of self control, bad decisions, lapses of ethic, overreactions, irrationality and overall general manifestations of humanity as anyone else. Now, some might say that, in light of this, they don't qualify to be heroes.
So what is it that makes a hero in the Kingdom of God? Apparently - faithfulness.
What impresses me is not when someone is suddenly bold, suddenly brave or suddenly anything. Consistency impresses me. Faithfulness. Stability. That's not to say that I don't admire those who might fall or struggle as they overwhelmingly win my admiration when they rise again and turn, in faith and faithfulness, to the Lord who loves them and, once again, start the daily walk with Him. What catches my attention are those who are there year after year and continue to faithfully do whatever they can in God's Kingdom.
I'm thankful for the runners, but the faithful walkers have always been my example.
My heroes? Well, they might be the most unsung heroes in the Kingdom. They are the individuals who clean the Church, cut the grass, change light bulbs and dust the ceiling fans. They are the ones who give inconspicuously, work unassumingly and love unconditionally. They are the ones who don't get much attention or praise but continue to work for their Lord faithfully. Yes, I'm speaking of those in Ministry but, most directly, the Laity - the Saints of God.
For me a Minister who is a hero is, first and foremost, a faithful Saint. Their faithfulness in being a Saint of God and doing that which must be done by all Christians impresses me. It demonstrates to me that there is no respect of persons with God and that, even though burdened with the responsibility of the calling to teach and lead God's People, a Minister still recognizes his most basic and fundamental duty as a sheep. Yes, a shepherd but first a sheep. Watching a Minister who prays fervently, worships sincerely, works steadily and walks faithfully and THEN opens his mouth to speak as an oracle of God makes that individual a hero to me.
The Saints of God who walk faithfully are my heroes. Those who face adversity but keep standing. Those who are going to serve God whether they are ever stood before a congregation and praised for doing so. Those who have burned all their bridges, set their focus on Eternity and determined to hold out until the end. Those who walk with God by putting one foot in front of another. Those who are daily ministering to the Lord of their substance. Those are the ones who will hear Christ say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Those are the ones who I would be proud to stand beside in Eternity.
My heroes. You probably don't know their names and they would most likely never consider themselves to be anything at all. They're the ones I want to watch. They're the ones who'll make it to Heaven some day. They leave giant footprints of faith even if we fail to recognize them. And shame on us if we do. My heroes are the faithful and I'm thankful to have known them.