Confession #130: Five Misconceptions About Missionaries

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If you were raised in a church, chances are you have a pretty narrow (yet slightly accurate) missionary stereotype etched into your brain.

It’s okay. You can admit it, because before becoming a missionary, I did too.

As a child, missionaries were the ones who came to church once a year on Sunday nights (a time when I would rather have been watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and Rescue 911). Their clothing was typically a little outdated, the man’s beard a little too long, and the kids a little too unsocial. The man usually gave a presentation using some not-so-good pictures from a slideshow and spoke about things far above my head- things like underground churches, persecution, and unreached people. I was from the south, ya’ll. The Bible Belt. What did he mean “unreached people”?

I remember being told once by a short-term visitor that I was “more normal” than they expected for a missionary. “You wear cute earrings and watch the same TV shows as me,” she said. Perhaps being told you are “more normal” than one anticipated wouldn’t be an amazing compliment to you. After all, it does imply that you were previously assumed to not be normal. But for me, all I wanted to do was hug this young lady and thank her.

There are a lot of misconceptions about missionaries out there. Some are true. Some are not. But today I hope to set the record straight on at least a few:

1. We are not super Christians

Just because we live oversees “doing the Lord’s work” does not make us super Christians. We are just normal people following our calling probably just like you are following yours. We are tempted just as much as you. Sin just as much as you. Struggle just as much as you. Missionaries are simply Christians trying to be faithful, and that does not make us more super than you.

2. We don’t all live in grass huts

Not all of us live in some remote village in a grass hut without running water or electricity. Some of us do, this is true. But most of us live in fairly decent homes. Maybe our water isn’t necessarily clean and maybe our electricity is scarce, but we live rather comfortably.

3. We don’t spend all day everyday evangelizing

Just because we are “missionaries” does not mean we walk around 24/7 with a Bible in hand. Our work comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are nurses, doctors, or midwives. Some of us work in businesses, are administrators, or social workers. Some of us work in gardens, run schools, and teach trades. Some of us spend our days changing diapers and loving on babies while others manage community sport programs. And the list goes on.

4. We don’t all live exotic and dangerous lives alone

I realize it wasn’t a blockbuster, but have you ever seen the movie The Other Side of Heaven? It’s a Disney movie about a Mormon missionary featuring Anne Hathaway. Weird combo, huh? Based on a true story, a young man serves as the only missionary on a remote island in the middle of nowhere. He gets deathly ill, eats bugs, and faces tropical storms. It made for a good movie, but realistically most of our lives don’t like that at all. We get up, get our kids ready for school, go to work, eat spaghetti dinners, hang out with friends, and go to sleep watching Netflix.

5. We aren’t all happy all the time

We are living out our callings, yes, but that doesn’t make us happy all the time. Some days we are outright angry, frustrated, and ready to call it quits. We aren’t happy when we miss family, friends and the weddings, graduations, and funerals of people we love. We aren’t happy when the heat index is 115 degrees and our one lousy fan cuts off for the night. We aren’t happy when locals try to take advantage of us just because of our skin color. But we continue on and learn that if we ask, God can supply joy no matter what the circumstance.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Missionaries are normal people often living fairly normal lives. We may spend our days speaking a different language and eat differing foods than you, but when it all comes down to it, most of us are “more normal” than you would think. At least I hope we are…

What about you? What misconceptions do you have about missionaries? Don’t be shy. Share!

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