Nine common misconceptions about missionaries
During my years of service with OM, I have come across various opinions and ideas regarding my work, my life, and even my mental state. Some people (mostly non-Christians) don’t hesitate to share their negative feelings towards missions in general. At the same time, there are Christians that put missionaries on a pedestal and declare them to be saints.
I believe the truth lies somewhere in between.
Here are nine misconceptions I have heard or I shared myself before joining the mission field:
- ...know everything about the Bible
While some missionaries have studied theology or a similar topic at the university level, most simply have a good knowledge of the Word of God. But we do not know everything. Where possible, we go to church ourselves to learn more and also have devotionals within the team to personally develop spiritually.
- ...are all professionally trained
In OM, new-entering missionaries typically receive a two-week basic training at the beginning of their service, called the GO Conference, and then are sent off to their fields of work. As every volunteer will face different challenges and have different responsibilities, it's impossible to train everyone professionally. Missionaries with more responsibility or who serve in a more delicate field like finance or personnel come into missions with prior experience, but many missionaries are just people with a heart to serve.
- ...are enjoying holidays in beautiful countries
Missionaries work all over the world and see many beautiful countries and places, but it's almost always work-related. Here in Central America, for example, we have two fixed weeks of holiday over Christmas/New Years and one during the rest of the year. The rest is work, work, work. We're not just on holiday--we promise.
- ...only do evangelism, all the time
The idea of missionaries always wandering the streets with their Bibles, evangelising everyone they come across is pretty wrong. Evangelism (even though incredibly important) is only one of the five pillars of OM. (The others are church planting, mentoring and discipleship, relief and development, and justice.) Missionaries all have different jobs, from helping build wells in Africa to training new Christians in Europe. Also, many of us have administrative responsibilities to follow up on, as well, either part- or full-time.
- ...brainwash people
We share our beliefs with people, and that's all we do. We respect the beliefs of others, and if someone does not want to talk to us or says, "No, thank you," we respect that, as well. We also don't give away help only under the condition that someone become a Christian, but rather to anyone in need. Missions is about speaking the truth in love, just as Jesus did.
- ...are only caucasian
Yes, many missionaries are white, but many aren't. If you ever have the privilege to take part in an international missions meeting, you will see faces of every colour, race, and culture you can think of. In the offices of OM around the world, most volunteers are locals, rather than "white people."
- ...live in scarcity
Well, the truth is that many missionaries are often short on money, but that's because they put much of what they get into the ministries they participate in. The misconception is that missionaries generally sleep on the ground and deny any comfortable lifestyle. Some do, but most of us own a comfortable bed and hot shower. We are, of course, open to sleeping on the hard floor and taking cold showers when travelling and doing ministries, but we're not destitute.
- ...waste their time
When I first started as a missionary, some Christians told me I would waste my time and potential, that I should stay in my own country and work. Often, we don't see the fruit of our work, and it can be frustrating. But in everything we do, we try to have a loving attitude and trust that the Lord will provide in ways we can't.
Matthew 28:19-20 is pretty clear on the fact that missions isn't a waste of time, but rather an obligation to go and serve.
- ...are crazy
We definitely aren't! (At least, I don't think so.) We're simply dedicated to our work.
Missions can be a radical lifestyle, but it's also incredibly rewarding!
What misconceptions have you heard about missionaries?