22 December 2009

Yes, I'm a Missionary. Aren't You?

Last night at a Christmas party, an older woman asked me about my ministry in Korea. After I’d told her, she exclaimed, “Oh, so you’re not a missionary! You just work there.”

Although I can honestly say I handled the comment with poise, in retrospect, I cannot help being offended. Why? I hardly use the term ‘missionary’ to describe myself. It’s usually a label given to my husband and me (and colleagues) rather than advocated by us. And those that consider us missionaries usually find the job title applicable because of our passions rather than our professions. We are educators. We live overseas. Are we missionaries?

I believe I told this woman, “We are all missionaries. God calls us to serve Him in different ways. Mark and I know that the Lord wants us to be in Korea, doing what we’re doing there now. God leads others to stay near home and serve Him in America.” She didn’t seem to get it, and I feel frustrated now as I consider that limited perspective.

When my cousin was admiring our work overseas, I told her that she has the same influence at her own job in Hawaii. In fact, I’d argue that it’s harder to serve the Lord in a culture completely familiar. Being in Seoul keeps us focused because we cannot sit comfortably. We are reminded daily of the reasons we follow Christ whenever we hit culture differences or dilemmas. He led us overseas. He gave us the desire to live cross-culturally. He inspires us constantly to live love and joy and peace, to show truth and excellence in our decisions and speech, to make the most of each opportunity—whether it be in humanitarian work, leading by example, or straightforward evangelism. How is this different than Christians who live in their home country?

It shouldn’t be. "Missionaries" are not specially anointed people who are called to share the gospel. Everyone is called to share the gospel. Some people are led to live elsewhere while others remain where they are. Everyone’s life work should be furthering the Kingdom.

Maybe it’s easier to defer this responsibility to ‘missionaries’ and ‘pastors’ than to claim the command for oneself. Please do not lift these people up on to spiritual pedestals because of their professions. They are fulfilling their roles, and it would be silly if every Christian had the same role, just like it would be outrageous for us all to have the same gifts.

Then, the question “Are you a missionary?” actually means “Are you serving God where God has placed you?”

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