What I want you to know about being a missionary

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by EJS.

I’ve been a “missionary” since 2005. I’ve been involved in evangelism, medical ministry, child care ministry, literacy, education, women’s co-operatives, and I could continue; but I won’t. I’ve gone out into the field with the backing of organizations and churches and also gone out on my own. I’ve raised financial support, lived off my own savings, and worked for money (known as tent making) while on the field. I’ve been stoned (with real stones) and been loved on by the local country folk. While I haven’t been around as long as some or done a whole lot; I just wanted to share a different perspective of being a missionary that you might not get from a mission conference, mission magazine, or missionary talk.

Let me start by saying here that I HATE calling myself a “missionary”. In fact, I never do. I usually say something like “I live and work in country X.” Followed by: “I connect people in the US to sponsor girls in secondary school” or “assist in helping single mom’s start up small businesses” or “help sell products from slum women’s jewelry co-ops here in the US.” Somehow I feel when people hear the word “missionary” there are a whole bunch of expectations they have that I won’t ever meet in a million years. And believe it or not, there also are some expectations regarding missionaries from the nationals in country X too.

Being a missionary does NOT mean I read my Bible more than you do, pray more in a day than you do, understand what God is telling me more than you do; or anything of that nature. It also does NOT mean that I love getting hand-me-down clothing, or that I don’t like to wear jeans or lacy undergarments, or that I hate getting my hair cut. It also does NOT mean that I enjoy being around very sick people, or that somehow I can stand being in a vehicle with a bunch of construction men coming home from work who probably haven’t showered in a couple days, or that I want to have people in the market stare at me or follow me around or shout things at me because I look different than they do.

Being a missionary DOES mean that I’m a person who has financial worries. I’m a person who stays in touch with my family and friends via email, phone, and social media. I’m a person who is worried about global terrorism and what that means for the place where I live. I’m a person who gets to see her entire family once a year. I enjoy listening to all types of music, but I’m a little behind on the movie thing. I’m mean, I’m just a typical person. I take hand-me-down clothing because I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the people giving them to me. I don’t cut my hair because I’m afraid of getting my hair cut wrong in country X. I prefer to wear jeans because they are easier, but the culture of country X is that women wear skirts. I visit people in the hospital because someone asked me to go with them; believe me that is the last place I would choose to go, especially in country X. I get nervous around drunk men because I’m not sure what direction they might stagger and fall; what if I happened to be in the way? Would people laugh at me or help me? I also get nervous taking public transportation by myself since I’m not fluent in the language(s) of country X. Thankfully, English is one of the languages of country X, otherwise I’d be sunk!

The reality of my situation is that when I talk about the US, it’s where my family lives; when I talk about country X, it’s home. I have culture shock when I get onto US soil, not the other way around. When I visit my family, I get teased about my funny accent; mind you I was born and bred in the US. In some ways being in the US is a bit lonely; friends have adapted to a life without me in it, when I’m in the US they are so used to me not being around that they fail to remember that I’m actually not an ocean away. People expect me to be the same person I was when they saw me last, but I'm not. People ask what country X is like to be polite, but don’t really want to listen to a real answer.

What I want you to know about being a "missionary" is that I'm just an ordinary person building relationships in a culture that is not the one I was born into. Not everybody gets a chance to do that; I would encourage you to give it a try. You won't regret it.

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