I'm old enough to remember very distinct times when missionaries would come to church and give their presentations. We're talking the whole missionary setup: portable viewing screen, portable slide project with individual, manually loaded slides that "cla-clunked" when the corded remote button was pushed, and the cumbersome cassette tape player hooked up and blaring a crackly rendition of Ray Boltz's "Thank You" (sorry, that song was cliché even then!)
The slideshow would commence with a series of standard images: children with little or no clothes on, women with children draped on them or labored by many burdens necessary for life, a primitive Jeep-esque vehicle slogging through a mud road with straw village huts in the background, crowds of people simultaneously bathing and gathering water out of dirty streams of water. You get the idea.
And the goal (intended or unintended) was to provide an innocuous level of guilt to keep the money coming in. Sometimes, if the presentation was really bad or the slides too horrific or if, God forbid, the slide projector jammed or the syncing with the tape player was off, the tension in the congregation was palpable. I remember as a young kid fidgeting in the wooden pew thinking, "This is so uncomfortable - for me and them."
Thankfully, missionary support raising has come a long ways. Thankfully, in my opinion anyway, mission organizations and missionaries are more polished in articulating the work God is doing in their ministry. Thankfully, I've grown to appreciate a missionary presentation.
But I have never wanted to be a missionary. Never. It's never been on my radar, never been a curious thought. Even now, when I/we tell people we're moving our family to Tanzania, their response is: "So you're going there to do mission work?"
See, I'm not called to be a missionary in the classic sense of the term: living a meager life in the bush of some apparently God-forsaken middle-of-nowhere land, learning a native language and translating the Bible into it. God bless the people that do that work, it's just not for me.
I'm called to teach. That's right, teach. However, wherever, to whomever. Teach. I'm already a "missionary" in the sense that I'm proclaiming the Gospel to people who desperately need to hear it: middle-class West Michigan high school kids. Teaching English, History, Bible, whatever, it doesn't matter to me where as long as that's what I'm doing. I've been a missionary in Muskegon for two years now and God has richly blessed that ministry. Now, I'm continuing my mission work, along with my family - doing the same thing, teaching - in a different part of God's big world.
The school we'll be working with serves a privileged part of Tanzanian society. It costs money to go there. One of the stated missions of the school is to train the future leaders of the community and country. In other words, I will, we will be dealing with poverty, but from a top-down approach. But I'm fulfilling my calling and our family is fulfilling our calling by going and teaching, building relationships with students and teaching them about God.
So are we going to be missionaries? In a sense, yes we are. We're partnering with Christian Reformed World Missions, we're raising financial support, we're going to Africa. But in a different sense, no we're not. We're just doing the same thing we're doing right now: loving students and teaching them, we'll just be doing it in Africa.
My point is this: if you're a Christian, then every aspect, every task, every job is a mission. And I believe as Christians, we ought to be open and obedient to fulfill our calling, our mission wherever, whenever, however, with whomever God directs us. This reminds me of this story of Martin Luther:
“Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, 'What should I do now?' As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist?
Luther asked him, 'What is your work now?'
'I’m a shoemaker.'
Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, 'Then make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price.'"
So. Am I a missionary? No. I'm a teacher. Am I a missionary? Yes. I'm a teacher.
Are you a missionary?