I recently came across this article by T. Norton Sterrett. It made an impact on me and I wanted to share:
Are missionaries unbalanced? Of course, they are. I am one; I ought to know.
A missionary probably began as an ordinary person. He dressed like other people, and liked to play tennis and listen to good music. But even before leaving for the field he became “different.” Admired by some and pitied by others, he was known as one who was leaving parents, prospects, and home for a vision. Well, at least, that sounded visionary.
Now that he has come home again, he is more different. To him some things, seemingly big things, just don’t seem important. Even the world series or the Davis Cup matches don’t stir him much. Apparently he does not see things as other people do. The chance of a lifetime to meet Toscanini personally seems to leave him cold. It makes you want to ask where he has been.
Well, where has he been? Where the conflict with evil is open and intense—a fight, not a fashion. Where clothes don’t matter, for there is little time to see them. Where people are dying for the help he might give, most of them not even knowing that he has the help. Where the sun means 120 in the shade, and he can’t spend his time in the shade!
But not only space; time, too, seems to have passed by. When you talk to him about jive, he looks puzzled. When you mention Duke Ellington, he asks who he is. You wonder how long has he been away.
All right, how long has he been away? Long enough for thirty million people to go into eternity without Christ, with no chance to hear the Gospel. And some of them went right before his eyes, when that flimsy river boat turned over; when that epidemic of cholera struck; when that Hindu-Moslem riot broke out.
How long has he been gone? Long enough to have two sieges of amoebic dysentery, to nurse his wife through repeated attacks of malaria, to get the news of his mother’s death before he knew she was sick. How long? Long enough to see a few outcast men and women turn to Christ, to see them drink in the Bible teaching he gave them. Long enough to suffer and struggle with them through the persecution that developed from non-Christian relatives; to see them grow into a stable band of believers conducting their own worship; to see this group develop into an indigenous church that is telling in the community.
Yes, he’s been away a long time. He is so different; but unnecessarily, so it seems. At least, since he is in this country now, he could pay more attention to his clothes, to what’s going on around the country, to recreation, to social life. Of course, he could. But he can’t forget, at least most of the time, that the price of a new suit would buy 3200 Gospels; that, while an American spends a day in business, 5000 Indians or Chinese go into eternity without Christ.
So, when a missionary comes to your church or chapel, remember that he is likely to be different. If he stumbles for a word now and then, he may have been speaking a foreign language almost exclusively for seven years, and possibly is fluent in it. If he isn’t in the orator class, he may not have had a chance to speak English from a pulpit for a while. He may be eloquent on the street of an Indian bazaar.
If he doesn’t warm up to you as quickly as you want, if he seems less approachable than the youth evangelist or the college professor you had last week, remember that he has been under a radically different social system since before you started at high school, college, or business. Maybe he just forgot to bone up on Emily Post.
Sure, the missionary is unbalanced. But by whose scale? Yours or God’s?