I got it again today. The big brush-off. At least this time it was on a blog and not face to face. Still, it was stinging. It was the same old, same old, your not a "true" missionary because you don't work in some foreign country somewhere.
I've been getting it every since God led us to be North American missionaries nearly 15 years ago. Of course our mission agency is behind us. The people who really know us encourage us. The folks that live here that see what we really do encourage us. But, if I go outside those areas then I'm hard pressed to find a person who would call us "true" missionaries.
I remember the first time I got the brush-off. It was from at a large college missions conference that we were part. At the end of the conference they had us all sit up on stage and answer questions. One of the students asked "Why should I go on the mission field with your agency." One of the other missionaries spoke up and said "I can tell you why! Look around you in the United States. There are churches on every street corner. In the country I work in you can hardly find two churches within fifty miles of each other. Now, you tell me why you should go on the mission field!"
That stung. That made me feel like I wasn't doing the Lord's work as a missionary because I wasn't in some country where churches were far apart from each other.
I heard about something similar a few years back. A missionary was home on furlough from Papua New Guinea when he got a knock on the door. When he answered a lady began telling him about the Lord. As they got to talking the lady said that God had called her to leave her home in California to come to this small town in Pennsylvania to be a missionary. Later the missionary on furlough was outraged as he was relaying this story to a friend. He was incredulous that someone would leave their home in one part of the U.S. to come to another part of the U.S. when there are millions of folks around the world that need to hear about Jesus Christ.
Again, when I heard this story, I felt like nothing.
There have been many similar instances since then. A few weeks ago I was attending a friend's church on a Sunday that a missionary speaker was featured. After service, during lunch, we had a chance to sit at this missionary's table. He asked us what our occupation was. When we told him we were full time missionaries his face lit up. He then asked us where our mission field was. That's when it happened. When we told him that we worked with low income folks in a small town in Tennessee it was as if a balloon had been deflated. Oh, he kept a courteous smile on his face, but that was all it was - a courteous smile. He didn't have a whole lot more to say to us.
Today, I got it again. I was researching missionary stories to tell to children when I came upon a website that featured blogs from missionaries around the world. I was excited! After all, I'm a missionary and I have a blog. I would love for my blog to be featured! Then I read the details. Oh, yes, they take North American missionary's blogs...if you work with cross-cultural people. It's okay if you work with Hispanics in south Texas or with Native Americans in Colorado but if you just work with low income folks in Tennessee this isn't the place for you. Not that you aren't a true missionary, mind you, they just work with cross-cultural missionary blogs.
I know, I'm sounding whiny and ungrateful. There are many, many folks who see what we do and support us prayerfully and financially. And, besides, are we not supposed to work for the Lord and not for man? Please don't think that I'm putting down foreign missionaries either. I know that it is a huge sacrifice to leave their families, home, and, really, everything behind to go into a country that is totally different than their own. They go for years at a time without seeing their families. I think of my friends Howard and Karla who left everything to work with the people in Bolivia. I think of Chuck and Kathy who have spent over 20 years now planting churches and reaching the folks in France. I think about my pastor and his wife Tim and Karen who spent years on the mission field in the Ukraine and in India. I know that they suffered. I know that they went through culture shock. I know that they got homesick. I know that they told people about the Lord that would have never heard about Him if they hadn't had gone.
I feel guilty for even writing this post. I feel like I am being selfish or self-seeking. However, I also feel that sometimes North American missionaries are overlooked. Not just my family, but others as well. What about my friends Donna and Hazel who diligently work in rural Kentucky with the children and adults there. They go into the schools weekly to do character classes. They hold a Bible club in the center that they run. They work with their church. And they do all of this full-time. If they had to go out and get jobs to support themselves they wouldn't be able to do all that they do.
Or my very good friend Lois who does work similar to us in Georgia. For years she's worked with the kids from the projects, boys and girls club, Hispanic community and her church. That is her full time job.
Or what about my many friends that work in inner city Philadelphia? Is their work not as important to the Lord as the folks who travel to other countries?
If folks stop supporting them because they aren't "true" missionaries on the foreign mission field then what will happen to their ministry?
And, finally, what about one of the most important reasons why we aren't on some foreign mission field? God called us to be where we are. Trust me, I sat through many, many, many mission conferences in college and in my home church in Florida. I heard the speakers. I heard their stories and about the need for more workers in the countries where they served. I dreamed and prayed of someday being a missionary in a foreign land. But, you know what? God didn't call me to some foreign land. He called me to Tennessee. If I were to try to go on the foreign mission field then I would not be effective because that was not God's calling. I need to be obedient to God. If the folks that went on the foreign mission field stayed home they wouldn't be as effective as they should be because they were disobeying God. We all need to be obedient to God and serve Him from where He called us to serve.
Maybe someday God will lead us to the foreign mission field and we will serve Him there. Until then, He's called us to work with low-income folks in small town Tennessee and that's where I'm going to stay until He tells me differently.
Well, that's my soap box for today. I feel better now. Thanks for listening to my ranting and raving. And, most importantly, thanks for all of your prayers for our ministry.