I’m not sure why the occupation of “missionary” is so funny to some people. Maybe there are jokesters out there who equate missionaries with the famed “Rabbi, Priest and an Irishman who walked into the bar.” But maybe it’s more Freudian than that. I have a friend who told me that once a pastor announced, “here come the moochinaries” in an attempt to humorously (or not) imply that missionaries just ask for money and mooch off of the rest of the hard-working church people. Apparently he thought he was clever enough to repeat his joke every single time our friends visited his church. I think I’d rather hear a joke about a missionary walking into a bar.
Then there is the joke we heard at Language School. I don’t remember the details of the punch to the funny bone, but it went something like this: Why are missionaries like manure? If you spread them around they make good things grow, but if you pile them up they just stink. At the time we were in school “piled up” with a bunch of missionaries. We had a lot of strong personalities at the school. And once the intensity of school and cultural adjustment kicked it, we had some Jerry Springer action on the campus. I thought that joke was cheeky and more than half-true, but I still did my best to avoid the drama piling up around me.
I have often wondered about the chicken-and-the-egg relationship between the occupation of missionary and people with strong personalities. I have seen a few cases where a “tough cookie” personality went to a very hard mission field and worked diligently to bust up the dry spiritual ground. Preparing the soil to receive the seed can take years of dry, dusty toil and it’s not a job for the faint at heart. But put that tough guy in a regular society and they just become a bulldozer of a person, hard to deal with and damaging to the image of missions.
But my wonderings cause me to ask, is it because they are tough personalities that they CHOOSE hard fields or are they more of a product of their tough environment? Must you be tough to survive as a missionary? and does that mean you are unfit for “civilized” life, like a bull in a china shop?
The way I see it, and the way I try to live my life, is that missionaries should be people oriented. Paul taught us to “be all things to all people that we might win some”, meaning that we must die to our personalities and our personal preferences in order to accommodate and get along with as many different types of people as possible. And in the process of being flexible and adaptable, we might win some to Jesus. I don’t have much use for the old battle ax of a missionary who blusters and bullies his way through life either on or off the mission field. I think there are better ways of getting things done and more important things than finishing a project… relationships are premiere in my taxonomy. And if anybody is going to be relational, it should be the missionaries.