The Secret Life of Walter, a Missionary


[With apologies to James Thurber and Walter Mitty.]

“I’ll take the kids outside for a while so you can have some uninterrupted time,” says Walter’s wife as she softly closes the door to his office. It’s time to work on their monthly newsletter, and he turns to the keyboard.

Tap, tap, tap, ta-tap tap . . .

“Walter?” she yells back from the living room. “Don’t forget to update the email list before you send it out.”

Dear Friends:

As I start typing this newsletter, the words are already spilling out of my heart to let you know what’s gone on this month, but I’m going to change directions and do something a little different this time.

Because the number of our supporters has recently tripled, we realize that many of you don’t know us very well. Therefore we’d like to take this opportunity to summarize our ministry in this newsletter. (We’ll soon need to decide what to do with all the extra funds, but we’ll leave that topic for a later time.) For those of you who’ve been with us from the beginning, we hope you don’t mind. Here goes. . . .

We’re so glad to be able to serve God overseas. I can tell you that even when Hannah and I were co-CEOs of our own non-profit, recognized by Time magazine on it’s annual “100 to Watch” list, and leading worship at our church on the weekends, there was something missing in our lives. Little did we know at the time that it was mission work. But on that Easter morning, when Hannah and I woke up from the same dream—seeing Jesus beckoning us onto a 737—we both knew what we must do. God’s calling was confirmed when we announced our decision to our church later that day, and the entire congregation blessed us with a raucous standing ovation. Then, after the service, friends and people we’d never met before came up to us and put enough funds in our hands to cover our startup expenses twice over.

Still, we were concerned about sharing the news with our parents, as we knew they would miss being close by to us and their three grandchildren. But our fears were allayed when all four of them, through tears of joy, told us that they had been praying for this since we were in the womb. In fact, they wondered what had taken us so long.

That was four years ago, and we can report that we are absolutely flourishing in our new home. Much of that is because of the wonderful relationships we’ve formed from day one. For instance, on our initial flight over (on a 737, of course), Hannah struck up a conversation with the gentleman across the aisle and found out he was the director of the visa office in the capital of the nation we were moving to. He was overjoyed to hear we were coming to serve his countrymen, and after we landed, he personally expedited our paperwork, giving us lifetime entry and exit privileges. In addition, everyone on our current team, made up of people from five different countries, is completely on the same page ministry-wise, and as far as personalities go, our Myers-Briggs profiles fit together perfectly, like pieces of a majestic puzzle.

Of course, our time here has not been without its difficulties. During our first year, what with all the challenges of setting up a new home in a new country, language learning took much longer than we’d planned, and we needed 7 months instead of 6 to become fluent in both of our target languages.

Hannah is my partner and rock. She homeschools our children, heads up a dental and birthing clinic, and leads multiple Bible studies in the community each week. And even though ingredients for cooking are limited here, she has made it a priority to fix us three wonderful meals a day. (For my last birthday, as part of a cooking class she teaches, she made a clam-chowder substitute using curdled milk and beetle larvae, along with an angel food cake baked over an open fire.) I don’t know how she does it, but she says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

We now have 10 children, after adopting 7 from a local orphanage. While that’s a big crew, we’ve been concerned about their socialization, since they’re not attending school outside our home. But we knew that all was fine when we found out that during their weekly trip to the market to get supplies for the family, those little rascals had started an evangelistic soccer club among the kids in the city park nearby.

Of course, I’ve been busy, too. I disciple the leaders of the 12 churches we’ve planted in our city, and I’m helping them to plant more. Each month, I also travel to remote villages to start more churches. I so enjoy these treks, not only for the work of the gospel, but because of the unparalleled opportunity it gives me to enjoy God’s creation. In fact, it was during one trip that I discovered a new species of butterfly, now known as Waltherus missionis). Most of the trips I can make on foot, with the help of my well-worn machete and some rapelling gear. But for the most distant village, because the path through the jungle is especially treacherous and filled with hostile tribespeople, I use a hot-air balloon.

Can I bore you with a quick story? On one occasion last year, my balloon ride was hit by rough weather, and in order to gain altitude, I reluctantly had to jettison all of my supplies, including a box of New Testaments that we’d just finished the translation on. I made it safely, and the visit went pretty much as usual (we had 17 baptisms that time). But it was on a return trip a few months later that I got a surprise. That’s when I found out that the Bibles I’d thrown overboard had ended up in the hands of the most inhospitable group among the jungle tribespeople. After reading the Bibles cover to cover, they’d started their own church network, based simply on “the books that fell from the sky”!

But I do try not to be overwhelmed by busyness. . . . I’m a strong proponent of balancing work and leisure. That’s why I have my quiet time from 3:30 to 6:00 every morning, followed by a quick 15-kilometer run and an exercise session. Then it’s time for family devotions and my personal journaling. It’s funny how when I started journaling online, I intended for it to be just a way to keep track of my own private musings. But then my posts went viral, and now I’ve been contacted by a major publishing company about making my journal entries into a book. That—along with any talk of potential movie rights—will need to wait until I’m done with the oil paintings that will be used for illustrations.

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

Well, I need to bring this letter to a close. I think I hear a knock at the door. It’s Friday evening, and Hannah and I are expecting a few young couples to come by for help in dealing with some marital problems. Sometimes we feel inadequate to address these kinds of issues, since we don’t know firsthand what it’s like to have any disagreements or arguments with a spouse. Thankfully, God has blessed us with the insight we need to counsel others.

Actually, it sounds as if these are not the couples yet but some unexpected guests, instead. (I’m not sure why I call them “unexpected,” as it’s quite common for people to show up at our house unannounced.) Hannah is already welcoming them in, and if I’m hearing them correctly—their accent is unfamiliar so I think they’ve come from a distant city—what they are saying could be translated loosely as “What must we do to be saved?”

Well I really must stop now. We’ll need to prepare a meal for our visitors, and I’m sure they’ll be here until the morning. It makes me glad I need only 3 hours of sleep a night. And I know Hannah doesn’t mind. She draws her energy from all the unplanned events in our life here.

I’d love to keep writing. I have so much more to share. But until next time . . .

Sincerely yours,

Walter, Hannah, and the kids

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

“Walter,” says Hannah, knocking again on the door frame. “Sorry, but it’s getting late. . . .  I need help getting the kids to bed. You know how early the bus leaves in the morning, and we can’t miss our dental appointments again.” She pushes the door open and asks, “How’s the newsletter coming?”

She knows the answer already, seeing Walter in front of a nearly blank page on the computer screen. It says only, “Dear Friends.”

“I’m getting there,” he answers. “I’ve got some ideas.” Then he adds, “If we get back before dark tomorrow, I’ll work on it some more then.”

[photo: “Equipment Trial #3,“” by davidd, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at

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