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Missionary Spotlight – Things we wish you knew

September 2008 | by Manfred Koehler

Things we wish you knew

 

I never dreamed my missionary calling would involve wearing so many hats – preacher, carpenter, translator, mechanic, linguist, plumber, photographer, solar electrician, conference speaker, dental assistant, grave-digger, airstrip maintenance man, and rodent extermination consultant. I’ve donned them all.

     On top of that, Beth is a pharmacist, schoolteacher, editor, nurse and a social worker specialising in battered women.

     Since arriving on the mission field in Mexico, we’ve felt the scorn of many who choose evil and the suspicion of those who question our presence among them. We’ve had our home broken into. We’ve lost our only child to miscarriage. We’re thankful we never had a full job description before we signed up. But we’re not the heroes some people make us out to be.

     Heroes stand alone, often misunderstood. In contrast, we missionaries crave understanding from those back home. The following may help you to understand:

 

We struggle with real life. We fight, we worry. We like laughing, and we can’t help crying. We haven’t arrived on some spiritual plane where the nitty-gritty of daily existence no longer touches us.

Mail is wonderful. The day mail arrives, our innards breed butterflies. We starve for news from home – sad, happy or indifferent. We tend to be the world’s best letter writers, not because we’re so faithful but because sending means a greater chance of receiving.

We don’t see snakes and spiders every day. When we do, they’re usually already dead. Life on the mission field is no longer the rugged sacrifice it once was. Some of us have computers and many of us even have flush toilets. We don’t wear pith helmets anymore.

We can’t create results, although we often wish we could. We sense a responsibility to those who’ve sent us. It weighs on us. But at the same time we’ve seen so much religious syncretism that we’re wary of ‘claiming souls’. We’re mindful of the mandate to make disciples as opposed to mere converts. And true discipleship is not easily measured or reported.

Most of us aren’t looking for your money. The handful of aggressive fund-raisers in our ranks are an embarrassment. It hurts when people avoid us, labeling us ‘missionary beggars’. The majority of us have learned to live within our means, thankful for God’s daily provision. When we visit you, it’s because God has given us a deep, loving interest in people as people – not as potential supporters.

Our dangers are real, but not necessarily bigger than anyone else’s. Guns may or may not be more prevalent. Our health may actually thrive in the country God has brought us to. In becoming missionaries, we’ve traded the dangers of home for those of another country. Filtered through the hands of a caring Father, even the more intense risks we face are no big deal.

We sometimes curse the tower of Babel. Our heads are crammed with vocabulary, grammar and expressions from two and often three different languages. Although considered fluent by our mission board, we never feel that way.

We like to think we’re normal. When we come home to visit, even our English is rusty. We’ve rubbed shoulders for years with another culture and it’s rubbed off on us. We know we’re different, but we long to belong. We need time to make a smooth transition.

We’re a shrinking army. In North America, the missionary force dwindles by hundreds each year. Your quizzical regard for the few who remain is sometimes scary. Don’t tell us, ‘I could never do what you’re doing’. In and of ourselves, neither could we. Instead, encourage us; assure us of your prayers – and consider joining us!

Manfred Koehler

 

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Mexico