Every once in a while I go through a “What the heck am I doing here?” phase. Other missionaries might relate to this feeling. I look at the things that consume my time every day, and I feel like very little that I do has spiritual significance. I sweep and mop floors, I fold laundry, I teach ordinary school subjects to fifth graders, I make dinner, I pack lunches, I pick up toys, I walk to the grocery store to buy bread… I do all the ordinary daily life tasks. However, here it takes me twice as long to do most things with twice the effort that it would in America. All that to say, daily life kicks my butt most of the time!
I start thinking about how easy it is to live in America, how I could do twice as much in half the time and still have time left over to minister to people. I wonder why I’m here. How can THIS be considered Kingdom work? I imagined being a missionary to be more like living on a missions trip! But it’s not. Daily life becomes daily no matter where you live. I DO love when teams come down on trips because I get a taste of what drew me to missions in the first place… but that’s not how I live every day.
It’s a part of my personality package to search for significance and meaning in my life. I would be happy and fulfilled if every detail of my life had spiritual implications, but I just can’t reconcile washing the dishes for the Kingdom of God. That doesn’t equate in my mind. If I were the apostle Paul, I would want to spend all my time preaching and none of it making tents. But the bills must be paid- so I teach school. Dinner must be made- so I go grocery shopping and prepare meals. Children must be cleaned- so I do laundry and bathe the kids and teach them to brush their teeth, etc.
I start to feel like a fake when I call myself a missionary and the next question is, “well how many people have you gotten saved?” It’s as if my life is being weighed in a balance and I come up short. I am worthy of my calling only if X number of souls have come into the Kingdom. When that’s not how the Kingdom works at all. God’s Kingdom is not mathematical. If it were, then the worker who worked all day long would receive more wages than the ones who arrived on the job in the last hour or two of the day. But in that parable, Jesus said all the workers get paid the same regardless of how long they worked. That’s neither fair, nor logical, nor mathematical. If that’s not proof enough of the inefficiency of the Kingdom, then just look at the life of the missionary for more evidence.
If God were interested in the efficiency of numbers and equations then He wouldn’t ask a foreigner to go to a strange country, learn a new language, and speak to people with child-like simplicity and painful inaccuracy of pronunciation and grammar. That just doesn’t make sense. But He does. This is how He works- mysteriously and sovereignly. But I still think he could do this thing quicker and cleaner if he called and equipped locals only. Why throw the messiness of missions into the pot?
When I am deep into my “what the heck” phase, I see all the messiness of missions. You can’t bring cultures into close proximity without both of them being changed- and not always for the better. Early missionaries brought sicknesses and diseases that the natives didn’t have the immunity to fight off. Imperialism was a blight on early missions efforts- and this deadly fungus is still infecting the image of missions to this day. Modern technology literally destroys simpler and older ways of life, often creating new problems even as it solves others. Nothing we do is clean cut and free of the tarnish of human motivations. Everything we touch becomes tainted, and God asks us to put our hands all over every detail of this life. “How could he WANT it this way?” I question.
I don’t have any answers to this question. I muddle through my own feelings of uselessness and futility even as I long for purpose and meaning. I long to be useful. Yet the only thing within my power is my own obedience. I wish missions were clean and tidy. I wish obedience was simple and easy. But it’s not. It’s daily. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It is impossible to sound the depths of the human heart and it is impossible to write up a how-to manual for building the Kingdom of God. It can’t be done.
Kitchen sink, Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeangenie/178780382/”>jeangenie</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</>
washing dishes in Honduras Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/lonqueta/3532526536/”>Lon&Queta</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/People/”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>