Why So Serious?
Who, in their right mind, would set sail across the expansive Pacific Ocean with a 2-year-old toddler and a 4-month-old infant? Who would cram themselves into a retired ship and head towards an unfamiliar destination? Who would endure life-threatening sickness, adapt to new cultures, and learn several foreign languages in order to take the gospel to the nations?
People with serious joy.
Two Different Joys
There are two different joys in life, and trials reveal which joy is which.
The first kind of joy only occurs on your “best” days like one-night stands or getting drunk. When trials and conflict come, the joy wilts like a seed exposed to scorching heat (Matthew 13:5–6). It’s a light and fleeting feeling that comes and goes as life allows. Like sugar highs, it does not and cannot last because it is inherently temporary due to its source. This is superficial joy.
The second kind of joy is serious joy. Like a mustard seed that starts small, it grows to be a large tree (Matthew 13:31–32). Or like leaven in the dough that gradually pervades the entire loaf (Matthew 13:33). Or like a man who finds a treasure in the field and gladly sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44). The roots of this joy run deep and keeps rejoicing even in the face of hardship, affliction, trials, and loss.
Perhaps no other text captures this truth more clearly than 2 Corinthians 6:10, where Paul says he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” This means that joy is serious because it coexists with sorrow. And this joy can only be produced by the Holy Spirit as he enables us to see and savor the glory of Jesus Christ in both his word and world. No one has serious joy unless they have the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Therefore, at the heart of missions—at the heart of taking the gospel to the nations—is the glory of God and our joy in him.
Ted and Ruth Andrianoff
So, what does serious joy look like? Consider the story of missionaries Ted and Ruth Andrianoff and how the gospel reached the rugged mountains of Laos (for their biography click here).
Born in Philadelphia in 1920, Ted spent his early years at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) church in Pine Hill, New Jersey. His family had emigrated from Russia a few years before his birth. As sojourners in a strange land, they set their minds on learning the language and culture of their adopted country. In the process, their neighbors advised sending the children to the nearest Sunday school.
Ted initially resisted attending Sunday school, but his mother insisted. In the providence of God, it was through the teaching of that church that Ted met the Lord when he was a high school senior. After graduating high school, his church commissioned him to the Missionary Training Institute (MTI) in Nyack, New York, where he met his future wife, Ruth Engstrom.
Ruth, born in Cleveland in 1919, loved when visiting missionaries would stay at her home. During the Great Depression, many people were in deep financial distress. Visiting missionaries often found lodging in the welcoming Engstrom household, enchanting the children with talks of far-off lands. So, it comes as no surprise that when 12-year-old Ruth surrendered her heart to the Lord, she would dedicate her entire life to preparing others for the moment when the trumpet of the Lord would sound (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
After high school, she joined MTI in 1939 and crossed paths with Ted. Despite Ruth’s attempts to guard her heart, she grew fond of Ted. Sharing a calling to serve as missionaries in Africa, their bond deepened, and they married in 1943 at the Swedish Covenant Church in Cleveland.
Although they both had planned to go to Africa, the Lord determined their steps elsewhere. The C&MA came to them and said, “Would you be willing to serve in French Indochina?” Southeast Asia had never crossed their minds before. The Andrianoffs prayed, and God began to put French Indochina—Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam—on their hearts. In the days that followed, after sitting under a sermon from A.W. Tozer, they became convinced that God was calling them into something better.
In 1947, the Andrianoffs, along with their 2-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter, set sail across the Pacific Ocean to Southeast Asia.
Upon arriving in this unfamiliar land and establishing their outpost in northern Laos, they encountered a series of trials: They experienced endless car troubles, more than they could count. Ted was chased by a tiger. Their daughter barely survived typhus. Their son nearly drowned in a water tank. Their house was flooded during the rainy season, resulting in the loss of all their precious belongings. Not too long after, they were ransacked by communist forces. They weren’t able to spend any time with their dying parents, who were away in America. They took care of an abandoned, dying infant until it could be nursed back to health and find a new home. And all the while this was happening, they were trying to adapt to the local cultures and learn new languages like French, Lao, and Hmong.
Yet, they remained faithful in teaching the Bible and making disciples week after week. Why? Because of serious joy. Even after a botched surgery aimed at removing a tumor from Ted’s brain and his subsequent passing, Ruth wrote in her journal:
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Many times in my life I’ve been made to realize the truth of these words, and last Wednesday when Ted was ushered into the presence of the Lord, I realized this truth and was once again able to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
After four and a half months of steady deterioration, Ted was finally taken home to be with our Savior. His going was peaceful—just a sigh, and he was in the presence of His Lord. His earthly pilgrimage was over; he heard the Lord say, “Welcome home, Ted. You were a good and faithful servant for Me.”
That is what serious joy looks like.
A Legacy of Serious Joy
So how do you leave a legacy of serious joy?
You don’t. God does. In other words, don’t seek to leave a legacy. Seek to be faithful, and God will take care of the legacy.
Marvel with me for a moment at God’s mysterious mercy. I am a second-generation Hmong American, aspiring to be a pastor in the Midwest because there were people who looked at the task of world evangelization and said, “Jesus is worth it! Jesus is better! Even if I lose my children, get mauled by a tiger, or die because of a botched brain-tumor surgery, oh, it’s still worth it.”
Ted and Ruth could have chosen to stay in America. They could have chosen an easy life, taken long vacations, collected seashells, lived in a fancy home free from rats and critters. But they couldn’t because they saw the preciousness of Christ, tasted the grace of God, and believed that they had received a great commission. They took the gospel to Laos so that the Hmong might sit, clothed in robes of splendor, at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). And they gave their lives in fulfillment of that work.
The reality is that the vast majority of us will not have biographies written about us, and our graves will collect dust and crumble. However, for those who have seen the preciousness of Jesus and accepted him as their Lord and Savior, we rejoice in something better: “that our names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
 Jean Caskey Adrianoff, Chosen for Special Joy: The Story of Ted and Ruth Andrianoff, The Jaffray Collection of Missionary Portraits (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 2001), 141.
Tuezong Xiong (Mdiv, Bethlehem Baptist College & Seminary) received his Bachelors of Science in Pastoral Leadership at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and his Masters of Divinity from Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, MN. In addition, he is a general editor at Desiring God. Tuezong is the husband of Pa Kou and a father to Piper. He also blogs at www.tuezongxiong.wordpress.com.