I give my kids Tylenol. Can I call myself a doctor?

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I hope nobody takes this blog post wrongly.  I am not trying to brag about myself or to put anyone down.  I’m not trying to be negative, I’m just expressing a frustration that most of my co-workers in the foreign mission field also feel.  These are my true feelings and thoughts.  I’m being honest.

It’s a really popular thing in churches now days to throw around the word “missionary” and to apply it to many different contexts.  For example, some people say “my office is my mission field” or “I am a missionary in my school.”  This kind of rubs me the wrong way.  I don’t deny that these places are full of people who need to hear about Jesus.  And I don’t deny that Jesus gave the Great Commission to all Christians (Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”).  And I don’t deny that it can be hard to be a light in the darkness.  But these uses of the word “missionary” kind of bother me because, you see, I AM a missionary.  A real missionary.  I have taken the “go” in that verse to literally mean “go to the nations.”  It’s more than my occupation, it’s my entire life.

As a real missionary I have made decisions for my own life that have ripped through my family.  I chose to go, so my kids have come with me.  And that decision tore the heart out of my parents who had to say good-bye to their grand kids.  That decision impacted the aunties and uncles and cousins and sisters and brothers that we left behind too.  You see, I’ve made the hard choices that a missionary makes when she loves God more than she loves her family.

As a real missionary, I have spent YEARS learning the language.  I have put in the hours of hard study.  I have laid down my own desires and submitted myself to another culture, another way of thinking, and another way of communicating.  I have been stripped bare of my own identity.  The “missionary” who just walks across the street to be a witness to his neighbor will never be required to make the same kind of investment.  I have done the hard work to become a missionary.

As a real missionary, I have sold all my possessions (except a few boxes of treasures and memories) and made an international move MORE THAN ONCE.  I sold the rocking chair that I rocked my babies in.  I watched my dishes walk out the door.  I put my electronics in the hands of a garage sale shopper on a Saturday morning.  I spread all my possessions across my lawn for my neighbors to pick through.  I looked at the pitiful wad of dollar bills and quarters that I accumulated in exchange for all my worldly possessions and I knew, despairingly, that this pittance would not cover the cost to repurchase these things overseas.  It was going to cost me something more to reestablish a home in a foreign country.

As a real missionary, I have swallowed my pride over and over again to ask churches for money.  We need support to do what we do.  To an American, this feels like begging.  I didn’t like it.  It can be humiliating, but this is the way our organization is run.  So week after week we would “shlep” our presentation table around the state like a traveling salesman.  We have done the leg work to earn our support as missionaries.

We have made the sacrifices to earn the title “missionary”, so to hear others appropriate the title for themselves when they haven’t made those same hard sacrifices kind of bothers me.  It’s like me giving my kids Tylenol and then calling myself a Doctor.  I didn’t work for that title.  I didn’t pay for that title.  I didn’t invest my life in becoming a doctor, so when I rob the Doctor of his title I also rob him of his earned respect.  I am not a Doctor.  I am a mother with an eye dropper full of over-the-counter pain-killer.

In the same way that I am not a Doctor, I’m also not a super hero.  I don’t expect great honor.  I don’t want to be put on a pedestal.  I don’t want to hear the praise of men.  I’m not fishing for compliments or pats on the back.  The only thing I am dying to hear from my heavenly Father is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Here’s your eternal home… and you never have to move again.”

Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

10 responses »

  1. you are to caught up in your “title” & being a “real” missionary then the task at hand that all of us have been called to do & that is bringing souls to Christ. what are your rules so I know how far away from my home I have to travel to be a missionary. if I go to another state to bring souls to Christ am I a missionary or do u require me to travel where English isn’t spoken. A doctor has to go to school for 8 years to become a doctor. A Christian merely has to travel somewhere & save souls to become a missionary.

    • Hello Anthony, welcome to my blog. Before you decide that you don’t like what I say here, I invite you to read a few more of my blogs to gain a clearer perspective of who I am as a person.

      By the way, are you friends with Amy Farly?

    • BTW, when you fill out your forms for the IRS do you write Missionary as your occupation? I do. But it’s more than that. This blog is part of what it means TO ME to be a missionary. It’s not about distance traveled, it’s about the whole package deal. Go down the paragraphs like a check list. Have you left your family? Have you invested educationally? Are you stretched culturally? Are you financially up to your neck in it? Is your whole life wrapped up in it? FOR ME that is what it has meant to be a missionary. In my view, just walking across the street to witness makes you a witness. It’s what all christians should be doing- it doesn’t require a special calling or a particular kind of dedication. I’m not interested in Titles, but I am interested in calling things by their correct names. We all have different roles to play in the Kingdom and I don’t see switching the labels around as being particularly healthy for anyone.

  2. We all need to GO whether it’s across the street or across and ocean. “Missionaries” can sometimes be elevated on pedestals like they’re super Christians. Then ordinary Christians can feel like they can’t do anything in their Jerusalem. We need people obeying Jesus wherever that leads them!

    • Agreed. We all need to Go. But my point is that crossing the street doesn’t make you a missionary, it makes you a witness. It’s just doing what Christians are supposed to do. I’m not saying a missionary should be elevated to a pedestal. I’m saying don’t call yourself a missionary if you’re just witnessing.

  3. Pingback: I don’t want to be the Howard Stern of blogging « Monkeys in My Bag

  4. I think, and I could be wrong, that people call themselves “missionaries” in whatever field they be in because the truth is any FIELD that a person is in IS their mission field. Maybe its overused. Maybe its used incorrectly. But, regardless of your field, if you are part of a community, your mission field is your neighbor, your grocery store clerk, your fellow shoppers at Wal-Mart, your clients, your co-workers. No I haven’t given up all my possessions to go live in a tiny hut in Africa but there are plenty of people who “give up” for the cause of reaching people around them. We give up time (to hold a conversation), we give up money to help a family or an organization, we give up resources to give to others less fortunate. Now, maybe that seems offensive to you that I would equate giving up time to hold a conversation to giving up family to move halfway across the world. But, ANYONE who cares enough about their mission field, where ever it is, knows that it requires sacrifice. I don’t want to say I was offended because I wasn’t really. You have the right to your thoughts and the right to share them. But I have two final thoughts…One, I didn’t appreciate how you continually used the phrase “real missionary.” Having been in ministry, moved many times, started over in many different communities and “cultures” (yes, there is a huge difference between urban and rural) I know all too well what it feels like to immerse and acclimate yourself to a new culture and community. Secondly, while I appreciate how difficult it is to learn a new language I can also say that walking out into this world we live in and relating to people who don’t know Jesus in a relevant way is very much like learning a new language. I take my hat off to anyone of the faith who seems to effortlessly communicate with non-Christians and create positive life-giving relationships that often result in someone coming to know Jesus! It’s taken me YEARS just to get to where I am and will take me many more to get to where I would like to be. So that I can be effective here in my mission field. In Wisconsin.

    • Clearly you are entitled to your own opinion, but speaking as someone who has done evangelism in both my native tongue and a foreign one- it’s much harder to do in another language. Give me English ANY DAY!

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