I grew up devouring every mission story I could find, living and reliving the adventures of Mighty Mary, Singer on the Sand, The School House Burned Twice, only to name a few. I romanticized being a missionary, I dreamed of how fulfilling it would be to go to a foreign land and win souls for Jesus. While I was not able to serve God in that way, it was with mixed feelings 6 months ago we saw our daughter and son-in-law leave the US to serve God with Peru Projects.
We have been blessed to be able to communicate with apps that allow us to see and talk with them frequently. Not having to wait months to receive letters, or to wait and wait when they do not come. But we decided it was time to go and see their world for ourselves.
Ed and I have never traveled outside the US other than an occasional visit to Canada. So with the help of our (best in the world) travel agent – Jessica, we set about getting tickets, arranging for Covid tests, getting packed and praying for bravery.
It was our flight from Huston to Lima that opened our eyes ever-so-slightly. The only English being spoken on our flight was directed to us by the flight attendant. God gave us a friend who helped direct us in the Lima airport to immigration, then helped us to the baggage claim area and pointed us to customs before going on her way. I must admit seeing our daughters excited face over the fence was a very reassuring sight!
In our special time with them we learned to take cold showers, used a variety of different bathrooms, heard and saw different animals, BUGS and INSECTS, sights and smells. We learned to sweat at a whole new level without the comfort of air-conditioning. We ate foods we had not tasted before. Shopped, traveled and communicated, all in ways we had never done before. I could go on and on about the wonderful time we had being in their world.
But what I want to share is how I learned that being a missionary is not romantic! It is hot, exhausting, unexpected, as Bradley says being fluid is too rigid. The structure of mission life is that there is no structure, at least as we are used to it. Plans change and things change plans. Everything takes longer, language barriers, travel constraints, weather, things breaking down from the harsh environment, illness, visits, visitors, always stretching patience. There is a lot of waiting; waiting for a trip to town, waiting for propane, waiting for furniture, waiting for each other, waiting for parts, waiting for the right time, waiting for time as a family…. There is a lot of working too, making things from scratch, whether that is food or shelves or doors or curriculum or friendships. And meetings… I thought we had a lot of meetings here in the US, but I had no idea how many meetings it takes to run a mission!
Bradley thrives in Mission life; all the unknowns, the whole package of what it means to be a missionary in a foreign land bring him a happy face and big smiles. But the thing that brought special joy to my heart, the thing that brought me great comfort, and that holds me at peace when I am back home; is that my daughter is a much stronger person then I ever knew before. I watched her be so brave, braver than I will ever be. She is finding her own way in a world where God has called her to serve. She waits where I would pace, she trusts where I would question. She drives where I would fear to go. She does not feel she is learning the language fast enough, but I watched her communicate and accomplish what she needed to do. I also saw that she loves the people of Peru. The children seek her out, they feel her love and care, she shares herself, her time, her resources with them openly, and she is happy when she can make them happy. Even though her adaptation may seem slow to her, I am so in awe of how God has and is helping her grow and serve Him in Peru.
The romanticizing of missions is dangerous – it comes with the idea that there is a certain way to serve. It comes with expectations of one being worthy because they are more adaptive, or easily fill the mold. It is dangerous because we go with expectations of what success should look like. And when it is different than we think it should be we question our value, our abilities, our contribution. We think the rougher the road the more valuable the one who survives it. One thing I heard my kids say while we were in Peru was how even in missions people comment on how “you are not really in the jungle”. It is as though some view missions like a competition, as though their service was more valuable because the grass hut with the dirt floor is the real measure of sacrifice. I was saddened by these comments. Jungles are different wherever you live. And personal sacrifice for Jesus cannot be measured by another person’s standards.
No, missions are not romantic. I learned so much from Jessica and Bradley while in Peru. The experience will last my lifetime. It has helped me understand that I can serve Jesus where ever He needs me, wherever He calls me, because He will give me the strength to do all that He asks. Missions can be cooking, cleaning, shopping, and sacrificing my plans so others can have more time to do their work for Jesus. I learned that a missionary is not a preacher, a teacher, a pilot, or a mechanic. You are not a missionary just because someone has given you a call. Mission’s is living each day at Jesus bidding, by His direction, fully surrendered to His will wherever that may be.