What Makes a Missionary?

So, this morning I woke up, stepped outside, rescued a stray kitten and fed ten orphans. Then, I walked down the road, prayed for a dozen people and saw them healed of leprosy and cancer and scabies and blindness. Finished off the morning (after eating a breakfast of local exotic fruits that not even the hippest hipster has heard of and stir fried grasshoppers of course) with a spontaneous group baptism in the drainage ditch, all before lunch! Just an average day in the life of a missionary, right?

I think a lot of people have a slightly skewed view of how missionaries “really” live. I’ll be honest, I really don’t like the term “missionary”, period. I use it for the sake of simplicity, and  to try and avoid getting into arguments over job descriptions and semantics. If we are walking in the life that God has called us to, we are ALL missionaries, no matter where in the world we are. A few posts ago, I outlined what we do in the ministry side of our lives. Is it really any more special, or anointed, or honorable than what anyone who is answering God’s call does? Absolutely not.

The way we live now is pretty sweet, I admit. We are able to do ministry on a level we were unable to before. We get to play outside year round. We can go watch new release movies for under $5, snacks included. We get to spend a lot of time together as family. We have made incredible friends. We had a call on our hearts for Asia. But why Asia, and not the US? Why did God call us to a country with another language, culture, climate, and away from everything we know? Why didn’t He just call us to stay in our community and serve long term? Wouldn’t that have been easier? I don’t know, but God has a way of keeping his reasoning to Himself a lot of the time.

Walking in God’s plan for you is tough. Although you see so many bright spots, like $5 movies, oh, and seeing people healed and restored, there are so many rough patches. This applies no matter where you live, where you go, and where you serve. So often I hear about the sacrifices that missionaries make to do what they do. Yep, there are sacrifices. Lots of them. I wasn’t there when my dad went home to Heaven. We have left friends and family. We have missed births, weddings, get togethers and holidays with those we love. Finances are a constant stretch of faith. But would I trade it at this point? Not a chance! I have never talked to anyone who is walking in what God has called them to do, anywhere in the world, who has said, “oh yeah, this stuff is just so darn easy! No problems here!”. But I have talked to many who will say, “It’s tough, challenging, and stinks some days, but I wouldn’t have life any other way!”

OK, so what does a typical day *really* look like? It usually goes something like this: Wake up way too early as the equatorial sun blares through our shades much earlier than invited. Get up, meander downstairs to fix breakfast, which usually consists of boring-but-easy pancakes, eggs, and maybe some cool exotic fruit if we’re motivated enough to cut it up. Then we get to answer emails from the other side of the world that fill our inbox overnight (mostly business related, very few “fun” emails). During the school year we get to drag kids out of bed, that doesn’t change no matter where you live. Once the kids are at school, do morning devotionals with the employees and get them going on the tasks for the day. Wait for the stores to open at 9 or 10 to get errands done. Errands usually include grocery shopping, then standing in line at the bank. Standing in line at the post office. Standing in line at the mall to purchase a single item. Then noon hits, and most stores close for lunch. After lunch, it’s a few more errands, which usually involves, you guessed it, more lines. Someone told us recently, “You can get anywhere in Davao in 20 minutes!”. Well, with newly found wealth (and debt…) there are more cars on the road, driven by inexperienced drivers, which pushes that number out to about 30 minutes. So add 30 minutes to each “step”, and oh, it’s time to pick the kids up from school! Luckily we are able to share rides with other families at school, which helps. Once kids are home, the day is pretty well shot.

A while back, I was talking to a friend who moved to Davao for ministry work a few months earlier, and we were having a bit of a vent session. He said, (paraphrased), “I feel like all I do all day is drive around, stand in lines, and shuttle kids around! I moved here to do ministry, and I never get to do that!”. It was a bit of a relief to hear someone say, almost verbatim, what I was feeling. I could stand in lines at home. I could sit in traffic at home. Oh wait, never mind, I never sat in traffic at home. I rarely stood in lines at home. Things ran efficiently in our small town of 20,000 people. Why did God decide to bring us to the other side of the world, into this unorganized, chaotic “mess”? Then I’m reminded that we are to be the light of Jesus, no matter where we are, even when standing in lines or sitting in traffic (which, with the drivers here, is a huge challenge at times). And when you see His work firsthand, it makes you forget everything else. Those “up” moments are enough.

And, it’s worth mentioning, we have not one, but two helpers. They take care of all the housework and cooking while we’re standing in lines and filling out reams of government paperwork. When we moved here we were told repeatedly about the importance of a house helper, and while I kind of scoffed at the idea of not being able to “do it all myself”, I don’t know how we’d survive without the help. They are huge blessings.

We carefully orchestrate ministry to fill the “cracks” in our days, but life itself is a full time job!  We have our regular scheduled events, such as Dan teaching at the International school, or me teaching kids in Agdao on Saturdays. When we plan a bigger “event”, such as traveling to the coast to do post-typhoon relief work, it takes hours, and days, and a team of people to put together, and we have to work double leading up to it. So, when you see pictures on Facebook and twitter and Reddit of those in “full time ministry”, remember that it is a “highlight reel”, and don’t compare or mistaken it for everyday life. Our life is not one long, fun, short term missions trip.  I never figured that anyone would want to see pictures of me taking a hour to deposit money at the bank.

A bit of my highlight reel...makes sitting in traffic worth it!
A bit of my highlight reel…makes sitting in traffic worth it!

4 thoughts on “What Makes a Missionary?

  1. really interesting, I live in Davao as well, my husband teaches at faith, would be very interested in seeing your sewing project sometime from Ros

  2. I’ve thought about the highlight reel a lot lately. When I see things on facebook from friends and family back home, I have to think that’s the highlight of life. Same goes for me here. The pictures are the highlight.

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