Mixed Motives: A Missionary’s Heart

My heart longed to live in Africa, to see Jerusalem, to visit far-off countries and islands and tell the world about a King that risked it all and came to die so they could be free. I wanted to change the world, and I wanted to be famous for Jesus. 

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When I was young, I would imagine myself on the streets of Calcutta serving alongside Mother Teresa. I’d be laying down my life by caring for the hurt and hungry in the orphanages and giving my life to the cause. My heart longed to live in Africa, to see Jerusalem, to visit far-off countries and islands and tell the world about a King that risked it all and came to die so they could be free. I saw myself traveling to the poorest places, the inner city streets of India, the backwoods of the Appalachians, the homeless in New York City, or like Elisabeth and Jim Elliot, to the Auca Indians. I wanted to change the world, and I wanted to be famous for Jesus.

Although the desire had some good merits (telling people about their King), it also had some pretty ugly roots of pride. I read stories from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and would be jealous of the dramatic stories, how people sacrificed so much and proved their love for God. I read She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall and imagined myself in her shoes. Would I have the guts to say “yes” with a gun pointed to my head? Did I really love Jesus that much?

There was something about a missionary’s life that drew me in. I saw it as the boldest, most outrageous, most zealous thing you could do for God, and I wanted to do that, too. I craved the adventure. I wanted to be important. I wanted my little life to make a big difference. I wanted to change the world, and maybe, someday, a little girl would read a book about me and all that I had done for Jesus.


This continued to be a driving force into my twenties. For my entire childhood, I served at church, volunteering at almost anything they had going on. I was the only teenager to travel with my church to Romania, to the gypsies scattered in villages. I went to West Virginia to love on families there. In college, I was president of Campus Crusade for Christ and led Bible studies almost nonstop. I served a summer in Daytona Beach, Florida and a summer in New York City. I took a year off from college and became full-time staff with Crusade in Austin, Texas, reaching out to postmodern college students. After graduating college, I started mentoring junior high kids and began a long process of trying to move to England to join a church there in order to help build the kingdom. There was something about foreign soil that always called to me. I longed to live overseas.

Over and over again, I was focused on Where, and When, and How. I asked God for guidance, and He kindly and continuously led my dramatic heart to the mission field. He let me have my “moments in the sun.” As I prepared to uproot my life and move across an ocean, the Lord stopped me dead in my tracks one Sunday evening.

I was praying during the worship time as someone read aloud Psalm 139:9-10, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” I knew in my spirit that He was saying I could go. I immediately responded with, “How?” Like so many times before, I began by asking a thousand questions. How would I line everything up? Where would I live? How would I get the money? What would I do there? Tell me everything. Paint me a picture.

My mind was filled with all this wondering. As I stood there, asking and thinking, His spirit slowly and quietly said to me, “Dawn. You’re asking the wrong questions.” I was confused. What else was there to ask? I had to figure out all the details to make this happen. Before I could even form my thoughts to respond, He said, “The question isn’t Where or When or How. The question is Who, and I am always the Who.”

The shock was immediate, and it hit me to the core. My whole life had been spent running around figuring out my next great adventure for the Lord. I had traveled far and wide to make Him famous, and there, in a sea of hundreds of singing faces, I sunk down in my seat as I realized that I had forgotten to take Him with me. I had left the Who behind as I followed the Whats and Wheres all over the Earth.

My heart broke that day. How selfish my motives had been, to pursue adventure and a sense of fame for the sake of the Savior of the World, yet leave Him behind. I loved Him. I thought He was amazing. I wanted everyone to know about Him and what He had done for us, yet I had lost Him in the mission.

His question to me had sobered me, and I quit pursuing England. I decided that trying to become the next Mother Teresa wasn’t all that important after all. I needed to know my King. I needed to focus on the Who.

I set aside my big dreams to meet my Maker in the stillness of my living room. I pursued Him in everyday places and learned to follow Him on the streets of rural America rather than slum villages in third world countries. I let all the Wheres and Whys and Hows grow rusty. They didn’t matter much anymore. The immature desire for martyred fame began to fade so that a pure and tender knowing of the Father could grow. I learned to sit in the stillness with Him. I have learned that knowing Him is better than serving Him.



Featured Image by Rana Sawalha
In-text Image by Andre Benz

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About the Author

Dawn King is a Carolina native with a Neverland heart. She's an Enneagram 4 that believes beauty can be found even in the darkest of places, light is always bright enough to outshine darkness, and love is stronger than any madness or evil. She values kindness and honesty more than most anything else. She will always believe that to change the world you must first change yourself.