Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Missionaries: Freaks or Friends?

This week is our Missions Conference at our church. It's a week I love, since we were missionaries in Asia before we came to TN. I remember driving by a pen full of roundly plump puppies in our city, oohing and aahing with the kids, until we were told that they were the evening meal! Here in TN, people gather around pet store windows to watch the newest arrivals, wishing they could take one home. That "doggy in the window" scenario is not unlike the way many of us look at missionaries. We stand behind "the glass" and admire them, pointing, commenting, awkwardly wondering if we should "hold one" and get attached. Most American Christians wonder: "Are missionaries freaks or friends?" Having been on both sides of the missions glass, I feel like I can answer with some insight here. Missions is a topic I love to teach about, and when it comes to this question, I say that missionaries are BOTH freaks and friends!

Before you feel insulted on behalf of the doggy in the window, let me explain. First, let's take a Biblical example, because it doesn't feel as personal as the missionary card on your fridge or the lady in the sari standing by her display table. Priscilla was a missions partner of the Apostle Paul, along with her husband Aquila. She had been forced to leave her home in Italy when the Jews were expelled from Rome by Claudius (Acts 18:2). The years of her life that we look into were rather mobile, though we women have the instinct to "nest." She was hard working alongside her husband, Aquila of Pontus, tent making to earn their keep. It was a skill they had in common with Paul. So, was first century Priscilla "a freak or a friend" in her world of women? The clues reveal a lot about missionaries of today.

She had left her home and was in a foreign land. She was in the religious minority where she relocated. She dealt with the mobility required by an itinerant life. She still worked hard in the things of this world to meet their needs. She worked alongside her life's partner, Aquila. This says a lot about missionaries:

  • They miss family and familiar things. They aren't weird people who just didn't care that they had to uproot. They get homesick and "miss" too.
  • They deal with the needs and necessities of daily life in this world, just like the rest of us. They often do this in foreign places, but it's still the stuff of life.
  • They have talents and time and troubles, just like the rest of us. They use them to provide for their families and live for Christ, just like believers in their native lands.
  • They have relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, and loved ones. They often have a piece of their heart in two lands, but they still have a heart.
  • They have had their sinful lives changed by the gospel, have had to submit to a Will greater than their own, and worship the One they serve. They don't stop growing, submitting, or worshiping ever.

That sounds a lot like us, the people outside the pet store window. And that tells us that missionaries need and want friends, too. They may even need friends more, if they spend a lot of time in isolated or stressful areas of ministry. Friendship with them is different in some ways, because it may happen long distance and with times that lack "visual" contact. But communicating with missionaries has never been easier with the technology of today! Missionaries make great friends.

Little did she know that being kicked out of Rome for being a Jew was really going to be used by God to divinely spread the gospel in Europe. Her life was being used for purposes great than she could imagine. So, how are missionaries freaks? In a nice way, so you can relax. Philippians 3:20 says that, "our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Missionaries have the privilege of being constantly reminded that no believer is intended to be just a citizen of this world. We are truly citizens of heaven. People who minister cross culturally are always aware of this, because they are always going to feel somewhat "foreign" in their adopted land. They will never be truly "one of them." But all of us as believers are meant to be freaks in this way. We are not of this world, and we are eagerly awaiting our Savior. This is a perk of being a friend with a "freak" missionary; they help us to remember that we are the same, and yet we are strangers. We are foreigners on this earth, and we are here to help usher citizens to Heaven. We have this in common with our missionary friends. We help them stay grounded in this life, and they help us stay focused on eternal life.

So go ahead. Step around the glass and ask if you can hold a puppy … I mean, reach out in friendship to a missionary. Both of you are freaks and friends, and you will both be blessed.

Do you have a "freak friendship" that has blessed you?

2 COMMENTS ~ Click here to leave a COMMENT:

Kristi said...

Every year when it was missions conference week at Cedarville, Rachel and I would joke that we were going to co-author a children's book called "I've never met a mean missionary." LOL.

I was blessed with a family and church families that were extremely involved in and aware of missions. I grew up with missionaries as frequent guests at our table and in our guest room, especially since we lived across a field from our small church! I am so grateful that I had the unique opportunity to know missionaries as real people - when we prayed for them as a family it was praying for family friends, not just weirdos who lived in some other country.

And I surely can say that I know it was not easy for the Sanders family to uproot. I still get teary when I think about the couple of days I spent with you guys in your house and Jeff's office helping you to get ready to go. You both really modeled the joy and sorrow of submission - thank you for that formative time in my life and allowing me to be a small part of that whole experience!

Our current church's missions activity is much less "hands on" for the church body. This troubles me because it was such a rich influence in my own view of the world and spiritual walk. I'd love to see that change.

Stephanie Kozick said...

I'm blessed to have this type of friend in Mary Romeos :) She taught me the fine art of doing life in a foreign land and how to be flexible when the smallest tasks sometimes take the biggest part of your day. She taught me how having coffee together is a necessity sometimes and not a luxury.

My friend Mary balances ministry and life in a wonderful way!

Thanks, Julie, for your words...I'm sooo glad to have you for a friend too!