So, what’s it like being a missionary?

A few months ago, a good friend asked me how things were going on a day that was particularly difficult to answer.  These were the thoughts he prompted then, shared now on another day of mixed outcomes and feelings (today’s additions are italicized).  Yes, we’re all fine, and our colleagues reassure us that our adjustment hiccups are normal.


“So, what’s it like being a missionary?”

It’s expanding your world by moving 8,000 miles and then shrinking it to the places you can walk without a car. It’s choosing a car to buy because your favorite thing about it is that it doesn’t distract you from learning to drive on roads where all your perceptions are backward.  It’s becoming adept at shifting a manual with your left hand.  It’s going to America for a brief visit and having to relearn how to drive on the right, and then forgetting which country drives on which side while chatting with a friend.

It’s trying to figure out how to share the joys without bragging, the frustrations without complaining.

It’s learning to buy food in South African rands per kilogram instead of US dollars per pound. It’s realizing you can’t pull off that much math in your head and hoping it’s a good deal anyway.  It’s figuring out later that you just punch the price into the currency exchange calculator and divide it by 2.2 pounds per kilogram.  It’s figuring out that you can afford meat and that the charcoal will be ready sooner if you hold a pedestal fan over it.

It’s trying to learn to read 56 000,54 like you used to read 56,000.54.

It’s heading to Rhodes Memorial for a meeting and taking in its breathtaking view, high above the city. It’s taking shelter from the blustering chill and reading up on why Cecil Rhodes is so controversial a figure.

It’s the adventure of exploring things like a tourist, the banality of fixing toilets like a homeowner, and the frustration of relearning how to pronounce your own language like an infant.

It’s getting used to electric fences, driveway gates, alarm systems, and double-keyed entry locks. It’s walking out to work and meeting Kelly/Kali, the homeless woman promising to pick up her mess after she finishes rummaging through our garbage bin for anything she can use. It’s going back into the house to grab her some pears and wondering if they’re ripe enough.

It’s living here a month and then moving from the guest house to our own house, but then realizing we don’t have any pots or silverware. It’s discovering that no one here has ever heard of pepperoni, and hearing that Dominos Pizza imports it, and finding out that a little taste of home can be amazing (even though you never had Domino’s before moving here).

It’s finding out weeks later that you still haven’t bought a can opener.

It’s learning where to get good biltong and realizing that beef jerky will never taste as good as it used to.  It’s learning how to make your own so that you can still get it someday when you move back “home.”

It’s realizing that “home” is now here and there and both and neither.

It’s making new friends quickly and sharing adventures. It’s saying goodbye to them when they move home three weeks later.

It’s finally playing that Settlers of Catan board game they’ve been talking about for years and finding out some missionaries get surprisingly cutthroat around a game board.

It’s finding out you can’t buy a TV until you get a license.  It’s making five trips to get the license and then carrying it for five weeks until you can get to the right store to buy the TV.

It’s being eager to start your work but wisely being told to hold off and ease in. It’s meeting a Zimbabwean missionary because you’re sharing a guest house, and it’s interviewing him because his work is an example of why you’re here.

It’s sitting safely in an office listening to the story of someone you’d endanger if you published it with their name.  It’s encountering the bravery of those working amongst the gravely persecuted.

It’s sharing pictures of beautiful places and wanting to get people and ministries. It’s bringing professional camera gear but using a point-and-shoot because it hadn’t all been insured yet.

It’s taking pictures of the ocean and sharing the gospel with a stranger on the beach.

It’s discovering that bookends are really hard to find here but remembering that biltong is worth the trade-off.  It’s buying the bookends weeks later but forgetting which shelf needed them anyway.

It’s not knowing some days whether it was a good day or bad day, even while reminding yourself that most days are a mixture and the decision usually a matter of perspective.

It’s strolling easily through some big difficulties and stopping in your tracks at some little ones.

It’s trying ostrich, zebra, crocodile and warthog for the adventure one day and craving KFC for the comfort another.

It’s having so many things to write about each day that you can’t pick which to do and can’t figure out how to explain it anyway. Even as a writer.

It’s remembering that sharing imperfectly is generally better than withholding the imperfect.  It’s being glad you came, even on the days you know you don’t sound or feel it.


Prayers, please

This time, it seems more fitting to ask generally for prayers about our continued transitions.  Thank you for supporting us this way.

Categories: Prayers, Updates, & Answers, Stories, News, & Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “So, what’s it like being a missionary?

  1. Pingback: Casual Friday: Be the gift | Paracletos

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