What it takes to be a missionary
To be honest, the term missionary always TERRIFIED me. (Note the all caps; I’m not kidding.)
Missionaries were the cream of the crop on my mind. Holding well-worn Bibles crammed with bookmarks and highlighted passages, they knew the Bible backwards and forwards, had half of it memorised, and a verse for every occasion. The local language where they lived proved to be no feat; the average missionary could become fluent within two weeks. An "off week" was one where no one became a Christian through their efforts.
They didn’t struggle, they had life figured out. They were selfless people, willing to live anywhere and go to extraordinary measures to show God’s love to others.
To me, being a missionary was synonymous with being perfect.
And because missionaries were perfect, I thought I could never be one.
Even after completing missions training and a two-month outreach, I knew I wasn’t missionary material. Foreign words got stuck and mixed up in my throat, and even the ones that made it out of my mouth were garbled, incoherent, and met with blank stares. I depended on Google too much to inform me where that one verse that talks about that one guy was, and my eyes got that deer-in-the-headlights look when asked to preach. Nope, definitely not missionary material.
Then God called me to join OM and move to Africa. Did that mean I was a missionary? Well, if it did, I never owned up to it. I didn’t introduce myself as a missionary. I skirted around the edges, saying things like, “I work for a missions organization” or “I’m a photojournalist with an NGO.”
Anything but the "M-word."
It was too much pressure to call myself a missionary. I was afraid that, if I did, people would expect more of me, that God would expect more of me.
And that, my friends, is absolutely RIDICULOUS. (Note the all caps, I’m not kidding.)
Firstly, I’ll let you in on a little secret: missionaries are regular people.
Crazy, eh? Missionaries come in all shapes, sizes, ages, nationalities, personalities, occupations, and walks of life. They aren’t sitting high up on a pedestal but walk the same dusty roads as everyone else. They have hard times and break down; being a missionary doesn’t exempt them from the pain and hardships of the world. Missionaries are regular people.
Secondly, God expects me to respond to His calling on my life.
Whether that is living in a mud hut or a three-bedroom house. I don’t believe His standards for me differ depending on where I live or what job I have. No matter where I am or what I'm doing, He expects me to act as His child. The characteristics of a "good missionary" are the same characteristics all Christians should exemplify.
Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.
Being a missionary doesn’t mean the list of characteristics grows longer, nor does not being a missionary make any of the traits optional.
So what does it take to be a missionary, if not perfection?
I think it takes willingness.
“I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China. I don’t know who it was. It must have been a man… a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing, and God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward. And God said - ‘Well, she’s willing.’” - Gladys Aylward, a British missionary who served in China in the mid 1900’s.
[ Willingness ] : the quality or state of being prepared to do something; readiness
Willingness to try new things. To be flexible. To be open. To learn. To teach. To listen. To speak. To go. To stay. To follow Christ, even when the end goal is obscured. Willingness to act as God directs, no matter the circumstances.
“God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
If God wants you to do it, He’ll make a way. It’s not about your ability, but rather your availability.
Think Moses: just your average shepherd who doesn’t like public speaking. God called, God equipped, and Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Though in the beginning, Moses tried to beg off and made excuses. (It always amazed me that Moses had the audacity to make excuses to God, until I realized I do it all the time.)
Moses did what the Lord commanded of him. He became a leader. He went to Pharaoh. He parted the Red Sea, for crying out loud! After some self-doubt and grumbling (which I'm sure we can all relate to), Moses was willing to move as the Lord directed.
That’s what it takes: willingness.
“Here I am. Send me.” - Isaiah 6:8
I’m in my third year overseas now. I still use Google to help me find verses, but it’s getting easier and easier to remember references. I still stumble over foreign words, but I keep trying and pushing through with a smile on my face. I still panic when asked to give a sermon, but then I pray and seek God for inspiration.
I’m here, and I’m willing.
Occasionally, the term missionary still gives me a scare, but only when I tack on my own pre-conceived notions and impossibly high expectations.
In its simplest form, I think missions is about loving those around you. Taking the love that God gives you and sharing it with others. His love is a bottomless ocean; it will never run dry, and neither will those who welcome it.
Don’t be frightened by the terms and definitions. Don’t set standards that set you up for failure. Just be available to go where God calls; be willing to do what God asks.
“Some call it mission work. It can also be called loving others.”