Missionary. I never liked that term. Never did I apply it to myself, even when I was living in Romania. In fact, I often corrected people who called me one.
The word “missionary” brought back strange memories of my fundamentalist upbringing. Talk about a missionary, and I pictured the man in Germany who visited the States once a year with his wife and 16 children. I don’t remember much about his sermons, only that occasionally he jumped up and down on the first pew during Chapel.
Missionaries were people who didn’t seem to fit into their own culture, so they went off to discover they didn’t fit in another culture either. We praised our missionaries, prayed for our missionaries, emulated our missionaries, and commissioned our missionaries. We spoke of their sacrifices. In school, we were obligated to read missionary biographies and were then tested on the specifics of their lives and devotion.
There was a disconnect between the missionaries I saw paraded through school every year and the grand biographies written about the people who gave up everything for Christ. I didn’t want to be called a “missionary” first of all because I didn’t want to be put in the same camp with the weirdo’s I’d seen. I also didn’t want to be called a “missionary” because I didn’t feel like I was in the same league with the heroes of the faith who had gone before. I wasn’t a weirdo. I wasn’t a hero. So, I wasn’t a missionary.
Add to my confusion the constant drumbeat of people asking me to share my testimony of how God called me into missions. I didn’t want to tell the story of my “calling” into missions, because it was so not dramatic. I had no revelation from heaven; no mystical dream; no prophetic utterance; no heavenly force driving me down the aisle in tears.
One of my classmates surrendered to missions when she was five years old. Everyone in the church was ecstatic. My teachers would constantly encourage her in front of the class, reminding us all that we had a friend who had been called to be a missionary. At that age, I just remember my friend getting a sucker after she had committed her life to mission work. If I wanted a sucker, I should go down and surrender to the mission field too. But I was only five! I didn’t want to be a sucker, just so I could get one.
I didn’t have an experience like my friend’s. Not even when I was older. When I finally decided to move to Romania in 2000, people kept asking me how God called me to missions. How did I know what I was supposed to do? How did I know where I was supposed to go? I’m afraid my answers were always disappointing. I simply felt God, through His Word and through a variety of circumstances, nudging me to Romania. But not forever. I didn’t know how long I was supposed to stay there. God didn’t reveal His will for my life all at once. It was a day-by-day process of depending on Him and looking for direction.
So when I was in a group setting and people would ask if I were called to full-time missionary service, I never knew how to answer. My story didn’t fit the cookie-cutter version I’d grown up with. I hadn’t been down the aisle to surrender to missions because of the Holy Spirit conviction. God had simply pressed Romania onto my heart and compelled me to go there, for as long as He wanted.
Because I didn’t want to admit that I was a missionary, I finally decided to tell people I was going to Romania “to do mission work.” It seemed so much more neutral. It took the focus off myself and put it on the work I was doing. Plus, I avoided the weird looks on people’s faces when I didn’t measure up to their idea of a missionary (whether the strange kind or the hero martyr).
Eventually, however, I succumbed to the pressure and stopped avoiding the term. I felt unworthy to wear the mantle of “missionary,” but there was no stopping it. Other people saw me as a missionary. I just saw myself as a young guy “on a mission.”
written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog