This guest post comes to us from Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa Rica.
Because the stress levels that accompany missionary life can often be so over the top and we are constantly battling our fears and fighting for peace, it is imperative that we as missionaries keep our sense of humor and ability to laugh at ourselves.
Nothing can cut through the stress of a miserable day or a humiliating cultural mistake like a good laugh. It’s important for us to remember that as serious minded as we missionaries can be, there are many aspects of our lives that are truly humorous.
The other night, our family enjoyed a good long laugh reliving our favorite missionary mishaps. It was so good to enjoy a little comic relief.
We laughed recalling my confusion of trying to make sense of the English that the islanders spoke at our first mission post in the West Indies. We thought we had taken the easy way by heading to a mission post where they spoke our language. Only they didn’t. It might have been English words, but it was not my English.
Our first day on the island I befriended a young girl and her cousin who was very pregnant. A few days later when I saw my new friend again, I asked her how her cousin was. She responded, “She go up she make she baby.” I smiled and said “good” and hoped it was. Later when I saw the cousin arrive back on the island with a newborn baby in her arms, I realized that “she go up she make she baby” translated to “She went to hospital on the mainland to have the baby.” Relief. It was good.
One afternoon, my neighbor across the street cornered me on the road to my house. Her face was set stern and her tone harsh. I had not yet learned that our perception about this was wrong and that it was just the natural countenance of these people, so my stomach did a flip when she blurted out, “You take things from people?” I stared blankly. She repeated it more loudly, “You take things from people?” I tried to figure out what in the world she could possibly think we had stolen from her. My southern upbringing told me to be gracious as my head spun and I responded, “Oh no, ma’am. We’d never take anything from anyone.”
She looked back at me crestfallen and said, “Oh, because I bake you some bread.”
“OH! That kind of take things from people! Yes, yes, we do that!” said the missionary standing in the street feeling like a total fool. By the way, it was the best bread I have ever eaten and I’m so glad I took it.
One of our kids’ favorite memories is the morning in Costa Rica. In the midst of breakfast men peddling chairs arrived at our door. With three little ones and morning sick wife looking on my husband tried to politely turn them down. They were quite insistent that we really needed these chairs. The kids were screaming for their breakfast. I was totally incapacitated. In his frenzied state to get back to the chaos taking over our home, my husband closed the door, proclaiming loudly what he meant to be “No thank you, I have to go feed my children now.” Only in the confusion of the moment, he declared that he needed to go EAT his children.
Well, it worked anyway. Those men backed down the walkway with their plastic chairs and never came back again. If you ever run across a Costa Rican who is under the impression that Americans are cannibals, it’s our fault. Sorry.
We try hard, we missionaries. We try to learn the language. We try to learn the culture. But in the process, we mess up. A lot. Sometimes it’s awful and it’s stressful. But other times, it’s just plain funny.
And it’s good to laugh about it. Because if we take ourselves too seriously, we’ll never survive this wild ride called life overseas.
So, today, let’s take the time to laugh together. Tell us about a communication/cultural mishap you’ve had in the field that you can laugh at now. Let’s lighten up our missionary hearts today and share a bit of laughter and fun.
Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa Rica
blog: Blessed Are The Feet work: www.saintbryce.org and Mercy Covers initiative
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