I can only ever really remember wanting to be a missionary… except for one brief period in my life.
And that single, brief period of disillusionment came after an encounter with another missionary.
A woman’s group at my church had volunteered to collect clothing to donate to a missionary our church supported, an individual who worked in a challenging inner city ministry. I volunteered to take the clothing and drop it off. It was a long drive and a city I didn’t know well, but I was heading near the location and I wanted to help. We had all of the details arranged.
Then there was an accident on the freeway. Traffic came to a standstill for a couple of hours. Even once we started moving again, it was slow going. As a result, it was after dark before I was able to get to a pay phone to call the missionary (back in the day before cell phones) and give notification that I was running late – and why. I also wanted to get precise directions (no Google maps and GPS to tell me every turn), and I was heading into a rough area of a city I didn’t know at all, at night.
It was after 11:00 when I finally arrived. I rang the doorbell and started unloading boxes of clothing from my car. The missionary came to the door, grumpily and grudgingly opened it… then stood there angrily complaining about the late hour and the horrible inconvenience while I removed everything from my car, carried it up the hill into the house and stacked it in a room, exactly where I’d been told to put it. I was afraid to say anything other than to profusely apologize – over and over. Once the last box was placed, I headed out to lock my car door, asking if I could use the bathroom quickly before I went on my way. I wasn’t able to finish my sentence… I turned around to see the door close in my face, hear the lock click and the porch lights flick off. Nearly midnight, I had no idea how to get back out of the city, other than to retrace my steps. I was tired. And now, I needed to find a restroom I could use as well.
I was flabbergasted. I’d heard the angry complaints while I was carrying boxes – and I understood that inner city ministry could be lonely and unbelievably hard with positive decisions few and far between. I wondered if ministry had taken an idealistic and enthusiastic person wanting to serve God and turned them into the person I had met that night – someone angry, bitter, unwelcoming… and someone I never wanted to become.
That late night meeting with that missionary? It almost scared me away from the idea of missions and becoming a missionary… completely. Why? Because I didn’t want to end up like that person.
As a missionary, I am an international worker seeking to minister love and mercy, truth and grace – but often in places where love and mercy, truth and grace are in short supply and my human, sinful nature sometimes wins out. I speak that sharp word, frown instead of smile, complain – because the latest short term visitors have brought extra work and inconvenience… And that interaction, right or wrong… that moment – forms someone’s impression of all missionaries and the God we serve.
It has taken me years to understand just how easily I could become… or, on some days, just how easily I actually am… that missionary who inhospitably stands and holds a door while spewing complaints. That’s an impossible weight to toss on someone’s shoulders. It is an impossible burden for me to try and carry. We are good at quoting, “There, but for the grace of God, go I” for the really big problems and sins we see in the lives of others. But what about for the bad days… the tired moments… the discouraging seasons… the times of depression… I am facing?
As we seek to minister love and mercy, grace and truth in challenging places and spaces – do we do so to our colleagues as well? Our fellow expat workers? Ourselves? How?
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”