I will go down, if you will hold the rope.
This great quote of William Carey has continued echoing in my soul since I first heard it. The imagery is actually rather scary: someone rope-bound and committed to the dark depths of a well, totally dependent on those holding the rope above. As a younger man, I loved its adventurous appeal toward God’s mission. “Here am I—send me!” I barked from the well’s edge, ready to plunge, whether or not there was anyone to hold the rope.
After years of Mario-style plunges that sometimes led to clogged-toilet-style plunges back up, life has expanded my narrow perspective of Carey’s statement. For anyone who has given themselves to a few solid rounds of tug-of-war, they know that aggressively laying hold of a rope can seriously damage your hands. Now consider that same principle applied to the person in the well along with the belayers above. What is the result? Blood on both ends of the rope as they endeavor to maintain their grip.
Being a disciple who is eager to know and follow Jesus will inevitably lead to wells and ready ropes. These aren’t just wells that lead to China (or another country far away). They are the many life moments to which Jesus calls us that require sacrificial changes. Sometimes we are among the well-goers, and sometimes we are among the adventure-less above. Nevertheless, among either party we experience the goodbyes, longing, and disorientation that are common when the currents of life fork swiftly.
There is a compelling picture of this in Acts 20:17–38. Here, Paul visited the elders of the church at Ephesus for what appeared to be the last time. Timothy wrote with just enough detail to help us feel the scene:
And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again (vv. 37–38)
The story is touching, but honestly, it makes me want to approach the wells with conditions. Like a movie about Navy Seals, I just want to watch and daydream about the guts and glory without gearing up. This is especially relevant from the cavity of my newest well: becoming the staff pastor at Antioch Church. In light of the deaths involved in being a disciple of Jesus—and for me right now, all the weight and anxiety that can come with leading a church—I am tempted to distrust his intentions, to settle for superficial relationships, to no longer abide the wells. But that would neuter life with God.
Earlier this week I was listening to a sent-one in Asia process his discomfort with the death that is constantly surrounding him. Unlike life in the U.S., there are endless reminders of mortality: daily funeral processions, lives lost to curable diseases, bus accidents that leave no survivors. Though the sound of death wails are common to much of the world, Americans live in the anomaly of (comparatively) tidy bereavement.
How, then, do we learn to share in our Savior’s cup, to “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24)? By laying hold of the rope at the wells to which Jesus brings us. By saying yes. By sending out. By being sent out. By abiding the rope rather than laying it down, or resorting to only giving it a sharp tug when something is needed from the other side.
So not only are the wells from Jesus, the ropes are too. They bind not just the senders to the sent-ones to the receiving ones, but to the God who called them all. He is the motive for braving the wells. He is the power to abide the sacrifices. He is worthy of blood on both ends of the rope.
Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning "Home" and How Churches Can Help, co-authoring Lent and Missions: A 40-Day Devotional, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global Sent One, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.