“So, you’re gonna be, like, a missionary??”
I never knew how to respond. Moving to Malawi to work with a local nonprofit after college simply felt like the job I was being called to. Sure, it’s one of the poorest countries in the world and, yes, I had to raise support, but so did some friends of mine joining staff for Young Life and Campus Crusade.
Yet people simply saw the words “Africa,” “fundraising,” and “poverty” and dubbed me the only title that made sense in their mind: Krysti the Missionary.
I’ve come to hate the word.
Everyone has their own definition, but most people hear “missionary” and think of mosquito nets and huts, hiking boots and orphan babies. We see them as fearlessly following Christ’s Great Commission. We assume their spiritual life is an 11 out of 10.
We deem them saviors of the world. What we don’t realize is that by placing these expectations on people who are simply partaking in international ministry is actually hurting them and ourselves.
When we assume a higher level of spirituality, a higher calling and a higher ability to change the world, we’re taking away people’s humanity. Placing expectations on mere humans to do God’s work—save souls—is a recipe for idolatry, confusion and burnout.
Missionaries often aren’t given the freedom to be real people because they’ve been placed on a pedestal they never asked for. On my bad days, during the times I felt like I was making no difference whatsoever, I didn’t know who to turn to because everyone back home was convinced I was changing the world.
I felt like the ability to be honest was taken away from me—I was presumed to be a super human. Living on a pedestal is incredibly lonely. It’s also incredibly unfair.
I quickly learned that my aversion to the word wasn’t just me. Some locals hated it even more. Which made sense to me, as I tried to imagine how I would feel if people from another way of life started entering my home and instructing me on better ways to live.
What does it say to locals, when we’re sending missionary after missionary over to save their souls? What does it say about ourselves, that we feel the right to instruct other people on the correct way to live? Good intentions are great, but “helping” can hurt.
One too many missionaries have simply wreaked havoc and left people and pain in their wake. I felt horrible that I was automatically lumped into the same category, assumed to be cut from the same cloth.
I spent so much time trying to heal wounds deeper than I could fathom; every time the word got thrown around it was like another fresh cut.
As much harm as it does abroad, I think it damages the folks sitting at home even more. We praise people for following God’s call on their life, we rally around them in support, we are ecstatic that they’ve dedicated their everyday life to His work.
We write them a check, say a little prayer, hug them goodbye and then we go back to our normal lives, in our normal jobs, surrounded by normal people.
By distancing the missionaries from the lay folk, we distance ourselves from the mission of God. We forget that we, too, have been called by Him for such a time as this.
We forget that we, too, are working to bring His kingdom to earth. We forget that we, too, have been given a mission.
We were all given the Great Commission, not just those living in sub-Saharan Africa. We were all instructed to go and make disciples of all nations which happens to include the very nation we call home.
We were all told to baptize in His name and instruct in His love. That is the great mission of our God and we are all called to be missionaries of it. We need people in Malawi, Taiwan, New York and California. Your GPS coordinates don’t rank your service any higher or lower in the kingdom.
Your Mission Field
We’ve fallen into the lie that working full time for the Kingdom is only possible under certain job titles. Yet I have friends proclaiming the gospel in elementary school classrooms, financial investment meetings and behind the counter at Starbucks.
We’ve come to believe that the only people needing to be saved are the impoverished in developing countries. But in reality, your local grocery store is full of people needing Good News. The souls of your co-workers, friends and neighbors mean just as much to Him as the souls of African orphans.
We all have the same mission, though the mission field differs for each person—it comes with unique hardships and challenges, accomplishments and joys. I love the look on some people’s faces when I tell them I am currently a missionary … to the tech world.
Specifically serving the circuit board industry. My current mission field looks a lot different than my previous one—my San Diego office with hardwood floors is a stark contrast to the red dirt of Malawi.
Yet my God works everywhere; He calls us everywhere; He equips us to serve everywhere. Our mission field may change, yet our mission never does.