Who Exactly is the MIssionary?

TOO/TOO/TOO – That was my reaction to all of it.  TOO over-the-top; TOO uncomfortable; TOO embarrassing; TOO awkward; TOO self-righteous.  And yet it is a printed part of our established book of worship. . . . .The Sunday morning before our group of travelers left for El Salvador, our church had a service of commissioning for us.  During it the pastor asked each one of us to come forward, and he blessed our various body parts for service to others – ears to hear, lips to speak, hands to touch . .  you get the drift.  The lessons and hymns were all carefully chosen to reflect the theme of “mission.”  A special mission cross was placed in the front of the sanctuary where it always remains until the “mission team” returns.  Being a person who prefers to be low-key, flying under the radar, being in the spotlight is not my cup of tea.  I just wanted to pack and go.  What happened to the idea of serving with humility as in the New Testament story of the poor widow giving her two small coins without fanfare?  The only notice I hoped for was a driver at the other end of the journey – at the San Salvador Airport – awaiting with our group’s name on a card.

Can you tell that I am VERY uncomfortable being called a “missionary”?  The term conjures up early images of the Bible-toting, Puritanical New Englanders traveling by ship down around the tip of South America enroute to reform the native Hawaiians.  Not only did they try to change the Hawaiians’ thinking to a dogmatic religious doctrine, but also their clothing to types unsuitable for a tropical climate.  They introduced disease that the Hawaiians had no resistance to and destroyed their culture. 

The term “missionary” connotes to me a very lop-sided high-and-mighty “I’m better than you are” attitude which makes me cringe.  So DON’T call ME a missionary because I don’t want to be associated with any of those images, thank you very much.  Fortunately the role of missionary has changed dramatically from that archaic, traditional thinking and is now one of working alongside people in need to support them. The buzz word for this model is accompaniment.

Yes, I visit regularly, but only on a short-term basis.  Therefore, I continue to shrink away from using the term “mission” related to anything I do.  I am the mere interviewer, recorder, and reporter/writer of individuals’ stories.  If my work can serve to raise a bit of awareness and I can be a bridge of understanding from one culture to another urging people to support and be tolerant of one another, I consider it an accomplishment, and maybe I am an agent for change in some minuscule way.

Enough of a digression and strong feelings related to the word missionary.  Back to the title. Who aare the REAL missionaries?  To me the REAL missionaries are the Salvadoran people themselves.

Maria Trinidad (“Trini”) recognized a gift in a young man living on the street and felt that his life was precious and worth saving from the gangs.  She saw to it that he received housing, food, and an education; now he is a physician.  His is not an isolated case.  With limited resources and using her own funds to keep her program alive, she herself, with only a few volunteers, has managed to shelter, feed, and provide work for thousands of people who otherwise would be on the streets. 

Who are the REAL missionaries here?  It seems to me they are those who serve from within their own countries giving selflessly to meet the needs they are surrounded by and choose to be a part of the solution.  Maria does this because this is who she is, what she does.  Serving is as much a part of her as a body part; her heart and soul exemplify mission and define her being.  She calls no attention to herself.  She simply takes care of those around her whose needs are so very great.  Now THAT is a missionary in my book!


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.