Ok, so you’re inviting a visiting missionary over for dinner. For sure you’ll ask them about their ministry and all they are experiencing God doing in the hearts and lives of the people they serve. This is good and important, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you talk about. In my experience, most missionaries have an arsenal of hair-raising and side-splitting stories. Once you’re past the meat of your dinner conversation and moving on to tea and coffee, why not try some of these?…
Have you had any near death experiences?
Once, in a war-torn country in West Africa, the taxi I was riding in lost its breaks while heading down the side of a mountain. When the road plateaued a bit, passengers jumped out and started throwing rocks under the tires to try to get it to stop. We eventually did stop, but not before blowing through a military checkpoint. The image of army officers shouting and waving machine guns is forever imprinted in my memory. There was also the time I forgot to close the curtains and our gardener saw me naked. I am convinced mortification is an actual cause of death.
What are your most prized food items?
Cheese. We recently went through a cheese drought and it is hard to explain how deeply and completely this loss affected me. A few years back I also heard rumors of Dr Pepper making it to the shelves of a grocery store in another city. I still scan every shelf of canned drinks in hopes of one day scoring this elusive soda.
What about weird cultural experiences?
My husband once came home and said, “I shook hands with a bunch of topless women today.” Lest you think this comment is evidence of impropriety, let me assure you that these women were proudly dressed in their traditional attire and welcoming my husband to a wedding. I saw the pictures. Their skirts were beautiful.
Have you met any famous people?
Does having dinner with the president of The Gambia count? All right, actually I was one of about 200 people having dinner in the same room as the president. I still have no idea why I was included, but it’s pretty fun to say I had dinner with a president. I also have an Indonesian friend who used to be on TV and once saw Richard Simmons in an airport.
Are you reading any good books?
At least where I live, there isn’t much to do in the way of entertainment. No movie theaters, malls, amusement parks, or bowling alleys. We get up, do our work, come home, and don’t travel after dark. Since we’re practically on the equator, it gets dark by 6 pm which means lots of hours at home. In the absence of outside entertainment, we read a lot. Actually, if you really want a good book recommendation, ask my 8 year old. He gets through books faster than I can find them. But back to the point – most missionaries I know like to read and not just books you’d find in the religious section of the book store. I just finished Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, a fantastic true story of an Italian teenager in WW2.
Other potential conversation topics
Hot sauce experiences.
Strangest places you’ve slept.
Animal encounters, both wild and domestic.
Bonus question: Can we visit?
If you just spent a couple hours with me in conversation over spaghetti in your kitchen and would actually consider making the trip to see me in my kitchen, this is the conversational equivalent of offering a diamond ring. YES! Yes, absolutely yes. Thanks for asking.
In general, I find missionaries to be pretty interesting and fun loving people. I have laughed myself to tears, been profoundly moved, and shaken my head in disbelief at stories from fellow missionaries. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing what questions to ask. I hope these help you move beyond the formality of missionary dinner talk, and to get to know your missionary a little bit better.