It was 1992, and after only two years on the field we were “back home,” at least in the minds of our fellow Americans. But we were planning our return to Italy, for that was where God had called us and planted our hearts.
As we set out on our journey, we had big dreams and plans. But funding trickled in, and we struggled to put food on the table. Plus unsettled debt also took up a large chunk of that already small pie. So we decided to move back to the USA for a while and get things in order.
There, we shared how much we had struggled with lack of finances. Only to have someone tell us, “Well, you’re real missionaries now.” With the obvious inference that real missionaries live in need. Lacking even basic things like new shoes or winter coats for their children. (Because yes, that was how tough it was sometimes.)
A real missionary
The lack of basic necessities is what makes someone a real missionary? How could we respond to such statements? How would you respond?
No response came to mind then. But today, after 30+ years on the field I have one. “No,” I would say. “That didn’t make us real missionaries. It only made us poor folk.” Living in poverty doesn’t make anyone a missionary. It only makes them poor!
A real missionary is a person sent-out on a mission – with the resources needed to achieve their task.
Missionaries are just people like you. Their children outgrow clothing, their cars break down and need fuel. They need a roof over their heads and food on the table. And on top of that, ministry costs often have to come from whatever support they receive.
“Tent-making” can help
Our offerings have improved over the years, but still only cover rent and utilities. So for these and other reasons, we became bivocational (or tent-making) missionaries. As citizens we can work here, and it’s a real blessing for us.
But it’s important to remember that many missionaries can’t get work permits. And if they could, they would often be taking jobs from poor people with a desperate need to work.
We chose tent-making because it offers other advantages as well. We don’t have to spend time, emotional energy, or limited funds traveling home to raise support. And also because working just like everyone else helps us fit in better. Yet holding down a secular job takes time away from the work God has called us to do. So there are pros and cons.
A call to common sense
Please don’t think I’m complaining or making a financial plea. We are not as poor as in our early years, when we had to eat wormy cans of meat. We now have all we need (and then some). And our hearts overflow with gratitude.
A call to prayer
Rather, this is a call to common sense, sensiblity, and prayer
Equating missionary work with poverty is illogical, and a hindrance to it. Common sense tells us that completing any task requires resources. Common sense says that “real missionaries” have what’s needed to complete their task. And working to fulfill their calling.
Tent-making can help and has many positive aspects. Yet secular jobs take time from the work God has called the missionary to do.
And sensibility urges us to:
- Check on the ones we sent out by asking them how they’re doing.
- Inquire about their basic needs, physical, financial, and emotional.
- Discover the vision that propels them forward, and what they dream of doing.
- Learn what keeps them from being real missionaries, in the true sense of the word. People who are sent out to fulfill the mission God has called them to complete. And pray about how you can help equip them.
Have you ever questioned whether the missionaries you know are real missionaries? What yardstick did you use? Which will you use in the future? And how will YOU help them measure up?
Image: Wallet by Emil Kalibradov | Man walking by Mabel Amber.
6 thoughts on “You’re Real Missionaries Now”
Oh Sheila, this is about 95% reflective of our life here in France (minus the overt comment about what constitutes being a “real missionary”) and the reason I teach English as well. Lots of mixed emotions by times – challenges to face & lessons to learn, which build our faith if/when we allow them to and teach us about God’s faithfulness. Wonderful post!
I can well imagine, Mike. Most of southern Europe is much the same, I think, bringing many valuable lessons. Often hard lessons. But as you say, God is always faithful through it all! And no matter what!
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Wonderful! And how very true, my friend. God does provide, but He often chooses to use communities to help in that provision. And He is the One who is sufficient for our needs–but you’re so right. Poverty isn’t a sign of being a missionary; it’s often the barrier to fulfilling our roles. Thanks for this, my friend.
Thanks Dayle. God always does provide, and thankfully he can even show us creative ways to get around some difficulties. For us, this wans “tent-making.” Because after all, the important thing is fulfilling our role and getting the job done! But one way or another, this does take finance, for sure.
I am thankful we can be missionaries wherever we go. Whether at home or far away from home, we can show His love to others. 🙂
Yes, amen Mimi! We are called to do that anywhere and everywhere God sends us!
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