‘But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you…’ Acts 26:16 ESV
The Greek word huperetes is translated as ‘servant’ in this Scripture, but it actually means ‘under-rower’. It refers to a slave. Not a voluntary bondservant, but a slave forced to be chained to a bench in a Roman warship until he died. Under-rowers could not see where they were going from deep inside the boat. They were rowing blind to the beat kept by a superior officer, to whom they gave total obedience. They turned when he said to turn, they stopped when he said to stop, and sped up when he said to speed up—which usually meant they were going to ram another boat.
This is the title that God gave Paul when He intercepted him on the road to Damascus, and blinded him. When Paul received his sight back and committed his life to the service of the Lord, he no longer called himself ‘under-rower’, but ‘bondservant’, doulos, a term which can mean a voluntary slave. In that culture, slavery was a job description, not a degrading position. Poor people would even sell themselves into slavery to boost their social status.
All of this is to say—Paul no longer travelled in forced, blind obedience. Instead, he knew exactly where he was going, and that it would cost him his life, and yet he willingly surrendered to those chains.
On ancient maps, in uncharted waters, cartographers would draw pictures of sea-monsters and write the Latin words, hic svnt dracones, meaning ‘here be dragons’. It basically meant that since no one had travelled there, those who dared go would be travelling blind, facing possible dragons.
Such has been my life for the past five years.
My name is Annie and I am a missionary. Or a voluntary huperetes, rowing into uncharted waters.
I surrendered my life to Jesus earlier than I can remember, but fully gave my entire life and lifestyle to Him in 2013. Since then I have lived around the world, never really knowing when or where I was going next or why, but knowing I had already said ‘yes’. So when I bought a plane ticket and travelled to Uganda the next day, I definitely felt blinded. It was as if God had sped up the beat to which I was to keep rowing, and I braced myself for an impact.
Huperetes is real surrender. It says ‘yes’ without knowing where that ‘yes’ will lead
Every trip I take I am charging at spiritual enemies, personal doubts and fears, culture shock, and the like. There have definitely been dragons everywhere I’ve been.
But as surrendered as I have been, it is nothing compared to the fierce and brave ‘yes’ my friends Derek and Lisa said.
A year earlier their son Matthew had gone on a missions trip to an orphanage in Uganda and met a little girl named Phionah. He told his parents about her and lightheartedly said, ‘You should adopt her.’ So they did.
Something in their hearts said a blind ‘yes’ to a child they’d never met, but chose to love as if they had birthed her. I got to go to Uganda with them and photograph the journey, starting with their very first hug.
The surrender of their lives to the will of the Lord for Phionah was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was a commitment for life, just like an under-rower.
Phionah hadn’t ever done anything for Derek and Lisa. She’d never hugged them or bought them anything or cleaned their kitchen. And still they loved her. Still they chose her. That was only possible because God already loved Phionah. Derek and Lisa’s hearts were surrendered to Him, and so they could blindly row to the beat of His heart for her.
Huperetes is real surrender. It says ‘yes’ without knowing where that ‘yes’ will lead. It says ‘yes’, knowing there will be dragons. It means taking your five year plan and giving it to the Lord and allowing Him to erase and add things at a moment’s notice. It looks like adoption, visiting a neighbour, mission trips to unknown worlds, studying that extra hour, finishing your degree, volunteering to clean the church after Sunday services, or feeding the homeless at the weekend soup kitchen.
A huperetes can look like a thousand different things—and to be one does cost your whole life. But it is so worth it to see orphans find family, to pierce the darkness with light, and to slay dragons.
Read more of Annie’s stories annie-kennedy.com