Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Musings on Missionary Life

I appreciated the comments that many of you left on my post about Esta. I thank you for your reassurance that you don’t think less of me because I have full-time house help. But I have continued to think through this issue and ask myself, “Do I feel guilty? Why am I reluctant to tell my American friends about the perks of living in Africa?”

I think that a lot of it comes from the preconceived notions that American Christians have about being a missionary. Like I said below, people think that missionaries are supposed to suffer….and therefore, that makes us more spiritual than other people. How do I know that people think this? From comments we get. Countless people have said to us, “Oh, I could never do what you do.” (Really? Even if God asked you to?) We get special prayers and special attention and special pulpit time. And every single time people come out here on short-term mission trips, they expect—and want—to suffer. “No, don’t give me a bed to sleep on! We want to sleep on the floor!” “I know I’m going to lose weight in Africa!” One team that was out here a number of years ago even refused to take showers—I guess because missionaries are supposed to be dirty.

There’s also this mentality that the more spiritual you are, the more you will want to suffer. If you are spiritual you will be a pastor or work in full time ministry in the States (making less money than “normal” people). If you are really spiritual, you will be an overseas missionary somewhere. If you are really, REALLY spiritual, you will live in mud hut with no electricity.

So if you are just an ordinary Christian in America, well then, I guess you have to settle for just “sort-of” spiritual.

Is this really how God has called us to live as Christians? I think not.

People often speak of missionaries as being “called.” Does that mean that other Christians are not called? Does God call some people to do His work and not others?

We do believe we are called to be missionaries in Tanzania. But we never heard a voice, we never saw writing on the wall, and we never opened the Bible and read, “Go ye to Africa.” How did we know? We started with a whole-hearted desire to serve God wherever, whenever. Then we simply thought about our desires, our talents, our resources, our gifts, our vision and our passions and then looked for a place with a great need and a great strategy that matched up with what we could offer. Simple as that.

But isn’t that how every Christian should live? With God’s call on our lives, living purposefully and intentionally—no matter in what circumstances that might be?

So that means, that if I am called to live in Tanzania and get the perk of house help, then that’s an added blessing. If you are called to reach out to upper-class Valencia or Palo Alto, then you get the added blessing of living in a beautiful house. Or if God has called you to live in a dingy apartment in Newhall, or on Farm Drive in San Jose, then you get the wonderful sense of community that accompanies neighborhoods like that. But mostly, you are blessed if you are living your life “on purpose” –intentionally--and are right where God wants you to be. The point is to live your life with calling.

Do we suffer in Tanzania? Just a little. Right now I am writing this in the dark because the power has once again gone off, as it does a few times every week for a few hours. Cultural and language differences are often exhausting. We often miss the conveniences of the States. We desperately miss our families and friends. But there are a million things we love about living in Africa. And we definitely don’t miss the materialism and fast-pace and commercialism of the States. But most significantly, we are hugely blessed to be exactly where God wants us to be, living our lives “on purpose” and finding great joy in our ministry. So do we deserve your sympathy? Not at all. Do we deserve to be put on a pedestal? Definitely not. Do we covet your prayers? Absolutely.

I would say the same thing if God calls us to live in a mud hut someday. Or even if He calls us to minister in Beverly Hills. Honestly, Beverly Hills would scare me more. There definitely are different types of suffering!

There are two other things about missionary life that force us to live intentionally: 1. The financial accountability of knowing that our money comes directly from God and 2. The spiritual accountability of knowing that we have to report to the 4 churches and 75 families who financially support us and the many more who pray for us.

But shouldn’t this be the attitude of every Christian? I remember once a speaker saying, “If you had to write a prayer letter each month that was sent out to your friends and family reporting what you are doing for God, would you have anything to write about?”

How true. And if every American Christian lived their life with that mentality, how much more would be accomplished for God’s kingdom! And how differently we would view missionaries. Not as people to put on a pedestal, but as fellow laborers in God’s kingdom.

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely believe that way too often, we as Christians are afraid to suffer—myself very much included. We choose comfort over pain whenever possible. As Christians we need to have the attitude of denying ourselves and giving over our reputations, comfort, and lives for the sake of the gospel, and that does often bring suffering. And I do believe that the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few—and that many Christians are living in disobedience by not heeding God’s call on their lives. But the point is that “suffering” (as we would define it) is not necessarily a mark of spirituality. Obedience and living life “on purpose” is what God desires.
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