Rarely does the faith of a missionary kid look exactly the same as their parents. While the journey begins and is rooted in the faith and calling of our parents, it grows and is sustained through our own decisions of faith. In today’s guest post we hear from a third culture kid/missionary kid and her journey of rethinking witness and growing into her own faith. Karissa Knox Sorrell gives us just a glimpse of her honest journey and with it food for both thought and discussion. Please join us today in “Rethinking Witness.” You can read more about Karissa at the end of the post.
On Easter Sunday this year I read a passage from the gospel of John in Thai at my church for a service called Agape Vespers. During Agape Vespers, bilingual volunteers read the gospel in a variety of languages. It’s the passage about Jesus appearing to the disciples after he rose again and Thomas asking to touch Jesus’ scars.
I used to read the Bible in church sometimes, back when I was an MK in Thailand. My Thai youth group friends knew that I wasn’t an adept reader of the language; they would nod and smile encouragingly whenever I read Scripture with my second-grade-level fluency.
Those people loved me. It didn’t matter to them that I spoke their language imperfectly or could barely read it: they cheered me on. My family had come into their Buddhist country holding the flag of Jesus high. We had turned many of them away from the religion of their families. Yet the church became their family, providing them with both recreation and support. Did they love us because we brought them Jesus, or because we gave them a family when they needed one?
It was a very different experience reading Thai again twenty years later in front of my Eastern Orthodox church friends in Franklin, Tennessee. I had practiced at home, but when I was standing in front of the entire church with hundreds of eyes staring at me, I faltered. Phrases that had slid easily off my tongue at home became slush in my mouth. Words that I had read easily before were now unintelligible before my eyes. Somehow, with several skipped words and incorrect tones, I finished reading the passage.
Afterwards, people came up and asked about the Thai. I told them about my past: evangelical Protestant missionary kid, Jesus lover, previously able to speak Thai, more rusty now.
Sometimes I wonder how far removed I am from my old missionary kid life and my old missionary kid faith. In Thailand, I took on my parents’ missionary status as my own. It was easy to stand up for Jesus when I was surrounded by people who didn’t know him. I had all the right answers, and I had abundant enthusiasm. Yet even though I witnessed to my friends over and over, I don’t think I ever led anyone to Jesus.
Today my faith still exists, but it is not always full of enthusiastic answers. Some of the old standby answers perplex me now. Maybe I have become more like Thomas, searching for a faith I can touch, a faith that allows me to doubt sometimes. Like the experience of reading Thai again, talking about Jesus with people feels more like floundering than fluency now.
I don’t witness to people anymore. Well, not with words, at least. I’ve stopped worrying about sharing my message and started trying to truly see people. Looking back at my high school years in Bangkok, I hope that my actions spoke over the rattle of my words. I hope that my friends saw in me a person who cared for them, who listened to their problems, and who tried to make them laugh. I hope they saw me as a friend who just wanted to share life with them, not a friend who was afraid they were going to hell.
People don’t need to be preached to about Jesus. Instead, they need to be loved with Jesus’ love. They need me to listen, bring them casseroles when they have babies, and go with them to difficult doctor appointments. They need to know that I accept them for who they are: humans created by God and worthy of love. My faith is no longer about how many people I can convert to Jesus; it’s about how many times I can find God in someone.
How have you witnessed without words to your community? When have you seen the face of God in the people around you?
Karissa Knox Sorrell is an educator and writer from Nashville, Tennessee. She writes about her upbringing as a missionary kid in Thailand, her conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, and her wrestling toward authentic faith. When not writing, Karissa works with ESL teachers and students. Read more of her writing at http://karissaknoxsorrell.com and follow her on Twitter at KKSorrell.
Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/bible-holy-book-christianity-138977/