Last night as we were walking on a seaside path in Le Moule, Guadeloupe, 6-year-old Paul suddenly posed the question, “C’est quoi un missionnaire?” (What is a missionary?)
That’s a great question! (And one I get asked fairly often, in many different ways.) After a short moment of thought I said,
“Missionaries are people who leave the communities they come from and go to live in another place. In their new place, they work to share God’s love, to help bring some of God’s light to others, and to serve and learn alongside the local people. Missionaries also serve as a reminder to the people back home and the people in the new community that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we are united even though we may come from different places.”
Granted, missionaries can be a lot more than that or a lot less than that. Sometimes we don’t live up to those things. We are human. Sometimes we fail, things get in the way, or we stop listening to the One who called us. However, as I see it, that’s really the heart of my (our) work. To help share just a small piece of God’s love in a new place, to learn from the new culture and community, and to help serve as a reminder of worldwide unity and partnership.
So. Here’s one thing you should know about missionaries: There are many different types of missionaries. There are theologically conservative missionaries who are working with local churches to evangelize. There are theologically liberal missionaries doing the same thing. There are missionaries working as doctors. There are missionaries working as teachers. There are missionaries working on church building projects. There are missionaries working on well building projects. There are missionaries serving as pastors and administrators, and there are missionaries serving as engineers and interpreters. Some come from wealthy backgrounds and some do not. Some are highly educated and some are not. Some come from the United States and many (MANY) do not. Some speak English and some do not. There are many different types of missionaries.
And there you have it! We’re not scary (well, most of us aren’t anyway 😉 ). We’re just people serving God and others in culturally foreign contexts. Pretty simple, eh?
To my other missionary pals out there, what would you add? How do you respond to the question, “What is a missionary?”