I used to have a very warped, one sided view of missionaries and now that we've been international ones and are transitioning into stateside ones...well...I'm finding myself battling between my preconceived notions and reality...back to notions of what this whole 'thing' should look like now. Shoot.
I offer this to you today...some of it explains where we've been...some of it explains where we are, and hopefully you'll laugh with me, although I don't mind horribly if you're laughing at me either...
Spotting a missionary. (& Caption this photo)Aug 13th by Jon
(In the Stuff Christians Like book, a book that declares and fulfills on the promise that God will make you rich if you buy it, I have a chapter about the danger of complaining around missionaries. You can’t whine about the amount of cinnamon in your coffee because most missionaries have a spider story that will trump your caffeinated woes. But how do you spot a missionary? Great question and one that Malin, a dentist missionary in Kenya answers in an awesome way. The photo of the family is the funniest thing I have seen in months. I love this post and hope you do too.)
8 ways to identify a missionary.
1. Missionaries wear funny clothing.
I never intended to where bright-striped Kikoi shirts with tassels. I don’t think my wife Sara imagined herself in Kanga dresses with large shoulder pads. But I’m telling you as my shirts begin to look like I was worked over in a rugby game. And as all of Sara’s dresses have strangely faded to the same shade of gray, those Kikoi shirts and Kanga dresses become really tempting. So at your next church mission conference if you see a missionary dressed like a banana, cut them a little fashion slack.
2. Missionaries throw car safety rules out the window.
My first week at Kijabe I see 8 missionary kids hanging off the roof rack of a Toyota Land Cruiser bumping down the road. The next day I see a baby girl in mommy’s lap cupping the steering wheel rounding the corner Britney Spears style. (I think the baby honked at me too?) Last week I see four teenagers perched on the doors of a Landrover like they are windsurfing. I don’t pretend to understand this recklessness, but on the other hand I think the car seat Nazis back in America have gone too far (8 years old and/or 80 pounds)? By this standard, once my small daughter Amelia reaches 16 years of age she may have to take her drivers test sitting in a Graco Snug Ride.
3. Missionaries can’t dance.
It’s a strange thing to live on a continent where tribal dancing is about as natural and common as breastfeeding in public; and not be able to dance. Go to a mixed church in Kenya and watch the congregation during the praise time. The Kenyans fall into a comfortable, beautiful, African rhythm. Then look over at the missionary. He wants to dance to fit in, but he’s really terrified inside. But he’s smart; he looks to the left to see how they are dancing. Then he jumps in. Clapping on the offbeat, shuffling his hips a little but not too much, and bouncing his neck like a bobble-head. Then the internal debate begins, “do I dance with elbows pinned to my waist or elbows out like wings?”
4. Missionaries seem to always be on “Furlough.”
What is Furlough? It is the time when a missionary leaves the field to come home. According to Webster’s Dictionary Furlough has 3 definitions:
1) A leave of absence or VACATION. (that doesn’t look good to your sponsors)
2) A temporary layoff from work. (It’s not a good thing to be laid off when the Big Guy is your boss).
3)A leave of absence from a prison for a prisoner (Did the missionary break-out from the compound or dutifully serve his full sentence?).
The connotations of furlough proved to be about as positive for the missionary as the former mascot “The Crusader” was for the Wheaton College student. Just like the Crusader; Furlough has also been discarded. So what is the current preferred term? A missionary now takes a “Home Assignment;” implying a task, a duty, a post or a position. Much more dignified!
5. Missionaries are longwinded.
I know when I meet someone and they start talking about their trip to China and all the cultures, towns, language, and people they met. Well, if the story is longer than a few seconds my eyes glaze over as all I can think of is, “But did you get to walk on The Great Wall?” So if I start talking about the Meru tribe, on the NE slope of Mt. Kenya, in Eastern Africa and their Bantu origin and your eyes glaze over…I’ll understand. You just want to know if I saw a lion on safari?
6. All missionaries have a prayer card and we never look that good in real life.
You know what I am talking about those cards with photos of the missionary family smiling, a snappy phrase up above, and always an “if you would like to partner in our ministry” that we all have sent out or given to you. We really do wonder…,do they make it on anyone’s fridge?
7. Missionaries sound different.
If I were to say to my patient, “How can I help you? What’s going on with your tooth?” it would elicit a blank stare from my Kenyan patients (I know my Swahili should be better). But if I were to say, “Tell me where the pain is biting you. Are your teeth shaking? Do you have potholes in your teeth? Do you want your tooth upended?” I’d be understood. We adapt to be understood.
8. Missionaries have big families.
More Kids means More Money. It’s true. Missionaries may be the only occupation I know of who earn an instant raise the moment they have another child. Almost all mission agencies (appropriately so) set a monthly stipend for their missionaries based upon the size of their family. Little Johnny is born and Bam… up goes their salary. I always though the Duggar family with 19 kids and counting (featured on TLC network) would be a great missionary family (I don’t think Jon and Kate and their 8 would still make the cut). Why would the Duggars be great missionaries? The Duggars are Christian. They built their own house. They homeschool. Because of their publicity as reality TV stars I think they could easily raise support. And my rough calculations show that with 19 children the Duggars would be living comfortably at a 200 K plus stipend per year, and their family is just getting started. And can you imagine sitting between the Duggar kids on a 12 hour plane ride to Amsterdam?
Where I am right now is that 'We adapt to be understood.' line. I'll keep you posted on how that's going. I'm sure it will be hilarious.