It was 1992, and after only two years on the field, we were “back home”, at least in the minds of our fellow Americans. But we planned our return to Italy, for God had transplanted our hearts.
We’d left full of big dreams and great plans. But finance trickled in, and we struggled to put food on the table. And an unsettled debt took a good chunk of that already small pie. So we decided to temporarily move back to the USA, and get things in order.
And when we shared, back home, just how difficult it had been for us financially, they said, “Well, you’re ‘real missionaries’ now.” With the obvious inference that real missionaries live in poverty, even lacking basic needs, like new shoes or winter coats for their children.
Lacking basic necessities makes someone a real missionary?
How could we respond to such statements? How would you respond?
No response came, then. But today, I have one. “No,” I would say. “That didn’t make us real missionaries. It only made us poor folk.”
Living in poverty doesn’t make anyone a missionary — just poor!
A real missionary is one with a task. Sent out to complete a mission.
A missionary is a real-life-and-blood being, like you. He can’t live on air, but needs food. His children can’t wear the same shoes through out childhood, especially if their feet grow at the rate our son’s did! A missionary, at least in many nations, needs a car to get around for his work. And missionary cars don’t run on Kool-Aid, which often isn’t even available outside the USA anyway.
Offerings have improved over the years, but still only cover rent and utilities. So for this and other reasons, we decided to also become tent-makers: people with a mission, but lacking means, and who don’t want to burden others.
And because tent-making does have many advantages.
We don’t have to spend time, emotional energy, or limited funds traveling home to raise support. Also because we work just like everyone else, it helps us fit in better. And we aren’t as poor as in early years, when we ate wormy cans of meat. But frugality, for us, is not only common sense, but still a necessity. But that’s really a testimony of God’s greatness. Because we have all we need, and then some!
Yet this warped definition of a missionary that hinders and slows missions work.
Because while tent-making has positive aspects, secular work does take time away from the other things the Lord has called us to do.
But please don’t misconstrue our meaning.
- We are not complaining, for we believe the Lord has used all these things for good and to bring us to a maturity we may have otherwise never reached.
- And we don’t write this as a financial plea. Because we’re grateful!
- For the Lord uses all this to teach us contentment, which is a huge blessing!
But we do call you to prayer. And to sense and sensibility.
Equating missionary with poverty is illogical. It is common sense that doing any task requires resources. And that anyone whose heart and mind are at ease can better apply themselves to that task.
Common sense says a “real missionary” is one who, having the necessary resources at hand, is getting on with his work. Fulfilling his mission.
And common sense leads our hearts to sensibility. Urging us to ask after the sent-out ones we know, to learn how they’re doing, and ask what they need to get on the with the task. To discover the dreams they’ve lined up on shelves. And what provisions they lack that keep them from being real missionaries, in the true sense of the word.
Have you ever questioned whether the missionaries you know are real missionaries? What yardstick did you use?
And what yardstick will you use in the future?