People, places and the missionary position

I like labels. Not as much as the EU Commission who have taken the art of labelling to a new high, but I confess to having a bit of an attraction to those labelling machines that you see. Such a device would be the perfect complement to my love of order and having things in boxes. Boxes with labels, well that would be just peachy.

Most of us feel comfortable with labelling people. Of course it can be a hurtful thing, designed to repress and putdown, but aside from that negative aspect it is a shorthand way of describing somebody, what they do, their character, aspirations and so on.

I have had many labels. Amongst them have been scientist, officer and spy. I clearly cannot expand upon one of the items in the list as this would have to be the last thing that you read. My move to Chiang Mai, Thailand to work with an NGO led to the potential of a new label – Missionary.

I confess that for me the label “missionary” came with some connotations that I didn’t know that I was comfortable with. An online thesaurus offers the following synonyms to the word: clergy, evangelist, messenger, pastor, preacher, teacher, apostle, converter, herald, minister,missioner,promoter,propagandist, revivalist, clergyperson.

If someone referred to me as a missionary, or included me in the “missionary community” I tended to mumble a sort of apology, “oh no, I am in a paid position, and just fundraise”. Judith, my wife, and youngest daughter, Charlotte, were official labeled by Thai Immigration as “followers” so they were off the hook. Well they were until they joined Partners Relief and Development International. And so they crossed the line. No longer “followers”, but owners of their own “B” Type Non-immigrant visas and work permits – they were volunteers, but the Thai Government classes everything as work.

So were they now “missionaries” and was I now the follower?

I decided it was best to have a look at those around me who were definitely labelled “missionaries” – obviously not in a Paddington Bear sort of way. Most of them met Terry Virgo’s criteria for being a missionary in that they were “muppets”. I know that this label does at first viewing seem to come under the hurtful category of labelling, but those of us who know Terry know that is not where he was coming from. The thing about a muppet is that it has “no visible means of support”. The community that I hung out with were in the most part reliant on friends, family, churches and others for their finances. Under that criteria Judith and Charlotte were definitely missionaries, and what is more I was their major donor – sole donor actually. Of course it didn’t take too long before it dawned on me that I was actually reliant on donors too, given that I worked for an NGO. Let’s not be hasty that is just one criteria for being a missionary.

So these people around what else did they do? Well in summary they loved people. How they acted out that love varied from the purely spiritual – wanting to see people saved – to the immensely practical – wanting people to have a better life through education. Of course

these spiritual and practical outworkings of love are not mutually exclusive and all those I met had an element of both.

Another common theme was commitment and sacrifice. On the face of it, and from a worldly perspective, a missionary’s life in Thailand can be very comfortable. A cursory look sees the missionaries renting nice houses, with a cleaner at least a couple times a week, perhaps even someone to keep the garden tidy. They are often seen eating out, and drive reasonable cars – hardly most people’s view of a missionary’s life. Of course that is just the superficial level. Look deeper and there is commitment and sacrifice. Long hours, difficult and sometimes life threatening situations, and the constant knowledge that the funding could stop at any moment, or the visas could be cancelled. Added to that separation from family, the constant loss of friendships as people move on, plus children who grow up in a cultural nomansland. And if that was not enough there are the disappointments, soul searching times seeking the Lord, where it appears His grace and favour have been withdrawn, putting in doubt as to whether the cost has been worth it.

Given all this I discover that my concern about being labelled a “missionary” does not come from a lack of comfort with the connotations that come with that word. No it stems from my fear that I am not worth to have that label. When I became a Christian Jesus asked that I take up my cross and follow him. From that point I was a missionary, I was on a mission for Jesus, to love people spiritually and practically. The only thing that is in question is what sort of missionary am I being.

Loudon

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s