Serve Blog — August 2022

In the August issue of Serve, Travis Gravley (BMM Church Relations & Enlistment) shares a voice from the past offering some profound missions thoughts to consider.

There’s a little book that’s become a classic in missions literature: Have We No Rights? by the late missionary Mabel Williamson. Even though it was written in 1957 and some of the language is a bit dated, its compelling principles are fully relevant for our consideration today. Take the time to reflect on the thoughts that Williamson expresses in the first and last chapters of her book:

America—the land of freedom and opportunity! The land where everyone's rights are respected! The land where the son of a shiftless drunkard can grit his teeth and say, "I'm going to be rich and famous some day!" Here in America we pride ourselves on the fact that everyone has the right to live his own life as he pleases—provided, that is, that he does not infringe upon the rights of someone else.
Rights—your rights; my rights. Just what are rights, anyway?
A group of half a dozen missionaries were gathered for prayer in a simply furnished living room of a mission house... For a few minutes one of the group spoke to us out of his heart, and I shall never forget the gist of what he said.
"You know," he began, "there's a great deal of difference between [suffering hardship] and [suffering the infringement of one's rights]. [Suffering hardship] is easy enough. To go out with the preaching band, walk twenty or thirty miles to the place where you are to work, help set up the tent, placard the town with posters, and spend several weeks in a strenuous campaign of meetings and visitation—why, that's a thrill! Your bed may be made of a couple of planks laid on sawhorses, and you may have to eat boiled rice, greens, and bean curd three times a day. But that's just the beauty of it! Why, it's good for anyone to go back to the simple life! …
"When I came to [the field]," he continued, "I was all ready to [suffer hardship] and like it. That hasn't troubled me particularly. It takes a little while to get your palate and your digestion used to [foreign] food, of course, but that was no harder than I had expected. Another thing, however"—and he paused significantly—"another thing that I had never thought about came up to make trouble… I found that I couldn't stand up for my rights—that I couldn't even have any rights. I found that I had to give them up, every one, and that was the hardest thing of all."
That missionary was right. On the mission field it is not the enduring of hardships, the lack of comforts, and the roughness of the life that make the missionary cringe and falter. It is something far less romantic and far more real. It is something that will hit you right down where you live. The missionary has to give up having his own way. He has to give up having any rights. He has, in the words of Jesus, to "deny himself." He just has to give up himself.
Paul knew all about this. If you do not believe it, look at I Corinthians 9. "Have we no right to eat and to drink?" he asks. "Have we not a right to forbear working?... Nevertheless," he goes on, "we did not use this right.... Though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more" (vv. 4, 6, 12, 19).
Paul, as a missionary, willingly gave up his rights for the sake of the Gospel. Are we ready to do the same?...

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He had no rights
He had no rights:
No right to a soft bed, and a well-laid table;
No right to a home of His own, a place where His own pleasure might be sought;
No right to choose pleasant, congenial companions, those who could understand Him and sympathize with Him;
No right to shrink away from filth and sin, to pull His garments closer around Him and turn aside to walk in cleaner paths;
No right to be understood and appreciated; no, not by those upon whom He had poured out a double portion of His love;
No right even never to be forsaken by His Father, the One who meant more than all to Him.
His only right was silently to endure shame, spitting, blows; to take His place as a sinner at the dock; to bear my sins in anguish on the cross.
He had no rights. And I?
A right to the "comforts" of life? No, but a right to the love of God for my pillow.
A right to physical safety? No, but a right to the security of being in His will.
A right to love and sympathy from those around me? No, but a right to the friendship of the One who understands me better than I do myself.
A right to be a leader among men? No, but the right to be led by the One to whom I have given my all, led as is a little child, with its hand in the hand of its father.
A right to a home, and dear ones? No, not necessarily; but a right to dwell in the heart of God.
A right to myself? No, but, oh, I have a right to Christ.
All that He takes I will give;
All that He gives will I take;
He, my only right!
He, the one right before which all other rights fade into nothingness.
I have full right to Him; Oh, may He have full right to me!

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Pretty counter-cultural, right? Sometimes we need to sweep away the misleading messages of our culture that subtly point us away from God’s pattern for living. Even if taking the counter-cultural road might seem challenging, Jesus’s model of living, undergirded by God’s promises, leads to a life that stores up treasures in heaven forever. In the big scheme of things, we really can’t go wrong when we follow God wholeheartedly. I encourage you to think deeply about what you’ve just read. It’s a mindset that will prosper you as you pursue missions, or in any place you find yourself.

Book excerpts taken from chapters 1 and 12 of Have We No Rights? (Public domain)

Williamson, Mabel (1957). Have We No Rights?. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from

Gravley family

Travis Gravley

Administrator for Church Relations & Enlistment

Travis Gravley & his wife Becky are former missionaries to Romania. He serves as BMM’s Administrator for Church Relations and Enlistment. Contact him at to learn more ways to serve.

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