Are Missionaries Unbalanced?

Scott AtteberyGeneral3 Comments

Portrait of a boy with the map of the world painted on his face.

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?

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3 Comments on “Are Missionaries Unbalanced?”

  1. Sam

    Very well said, brother.

    Since returning from a mission trip last year, and receiving God’s assurance that being a missionary to the Philippines was the next step in our family’s journey of faith, nothing here has seemed right. Let me explain:

    I returned here last spring to 2 sons already having begun their spring baseball season. I went to the first game and sat there and wondered why we spend so much money and time with this when there are kids in other parts of the world that get up every day and wonder where their meals are going to come from.

    I also returned here as Spring Turkey Hunting season was just beginning. This is normally a time I anticipate with all I have, as I am an avid turkey hunter. However, I couldn’t get into it. I ventured into the Spring woods 2 mornings the entire season last year. I simply felt as if I was wasting my time and effort.

    These are only a couple of examples of things that “changed” for me since I knew that God had called my family to serve Him as missionaries in another country other than our own.

    After we began the process of becoming missionaries, and started getting things prepared and ready for us to depart, God has allowed me to enjoy a few things I have always loved doing. Having said that, it is always in my mind that I have a higher purpose, and to not get too comfortable.

    I hope this makes sense.

    Sam

  2. Jim Brewer

    Makes perfect sense Sam. I have been close to several missionaries and for the most part, they would say amen to your thoughts. I have personally traveled to many countries with medical missions teams and I have the same feelings about waste by the average church and the average church member. Prayers and blessings bro.

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