The reluctant missionary
Let’s play a game. I’m going to say a word, and you tell me what it makes you think (ok, you can’t actually tell me, but just go with it). Ok, I’ll start. Ready?
Come on, be honest! What did you think of? Big black Bible? African village? Socks with sandals? Straw hat?
Now, ‘missionary’ is not a word I like very much, mainly because of the connotations associated with it. Some people would describe me as a missionary and essentially, that’s what I am. But it’s not what I wanted to be! (and just for the record – that picture you had in your head 30 seconds ago is NOT me! Though I do have a big black Bible and even a pair of sandals…but I definitely don’t wear socks with them!)
No indeed. I had no intention of being here in France working with short-term outreaches. I grew up in West Africa, the son of a missionary, and returned to England when I was seven years old. Although I had (and still have) great respect for my parents, theirs was not the life I wanted for myself. At the age of 14 I decided I wanted to be a teacher, so that’s what I did. Paul, French teacher extraordinaire!
That lasted all of two years before I decided I’d had enough of that! And for anyone reading this that still teaches French, meilleures félicitations mon ami, et bon courage pour l’avenir! Anyone who teaches well, for that matter, deserves some kind of prize like the Victoria cross.
Taking a year contract in retail, I spent the time looking for the next thing, searching for God’s plan for my life, all the while praying for divine guidance. Nine months later my Dad came home after a two-week holiday in Senegal – the first visit back in nearly 20 years – and told me how much the local missionary school where I grew up needed a French teacher!
I politely explained that there was NO WAY I would be doing that. Having tried and left teaching, I had the t-shirt and the battle scars and was not looking to get back into it. I dismissed the notion as absurd.
Now, something you need to know about me is that I have a wonderful, Godly wife named Steph, to whom I owe a lot; including a structured prayer life. Shortly after I’d dismissed the foolhardy idea proposed by my Dad, Steph and I had a conversation that went something like this…
Steph: You know how we’ve been praying regularly about our future?
Steph: And how you’ve applied for about 10 jobs so far this year with no replies?
Steph: Well, don’t you think it’s a bit off that when an opportunity does come up you just say no?
She was right of course, as wives usually are. I downloaded the application form, filled it out, sent it off and a few weeks later I had a reply inviting us to start at the beginning of the next term in five weeks’ time! No interview, no telephone call, just a big ‘yes’!
I’ll admit neither one of us really wanted to go – me because I’d be teaching again and Steph because of the fear of the unknown (language, culture, huge creepy-crawly insects), but we both felt convicted that this was something God was asking us to do. We felt called to obey, like God was saying “are you really prepared to do what you pray?” A kind of now-or-never moment. When we thought of all that God had given up for us (His own son!) and all that He had given us (life and a hope for the future) who were we to say no to two years in Africa? So we went!
For the more astute among you, you’ll have noticed that I’m not actually in Africa anymore. The France adventure is a blog for another time, but Senegal was an amazing time of restoration, faith building, preparation and many other things. I am so thankful to our gracious, Heavenly Father for His gentle leading and prompting. So here I am, a missionary. Maybe not the kind you’d think of, nor in a place you’d expect, but a missionary all the same.