Posts Tagged With: missionary myths

Missionary myth #5: outrunning rhinos or bumming on the beach

There are many misconceptions about missionaries in general, and even more about our lives and ministry as “missionaries in a tribe.” Probably one of the most common misconceptions we run into is what people think life is like for us as missionaries who live in the jungle.

Since most of you reading this don’t live in the jungle, it’s not hard to see why you may have trouble imagining what it means to be a missionary in the jungle. So I won’t blame you if you’ve thought some of these things. But please, don’t blame me if I chuckle at some of the things you’ve thought. 🙂

Rhino internet 2Hearing the word “jungle” makes some people think that our job often requires hacking through thick rainforest undergrowth with a machete, swinging from vines, avoiding quicksand, and outrunning rhinos on occasion. Like we’re some sort of combination of Tarzan and David Livingstone, with maybe a little Indiana Jones thrown in. 🙂

While we have used a machete (called a bush knife here in PNG) to cut a few branches now and then, we don’t swing from vines, I’ve yet to see quicksand, and the largest land animal here is a pig, a crocodile, or a small type of emu (known as a cassowary), so……no rhinos. And no lions, tigers, or bears. (Oh my.) There aren’t even monkeys here.

Others, however, hear that we live on an island in the tropics, and instead of envisioning us with a machete and a pith helmet, their minds conjure up images similar to their memories of that weekend they spent in the Bahamas or some TV ad for a vacation in Fiji. They picture us lounging under umbrellas on the beach, sipping lemonade. Or maybe napping in hammocks and then drinking from coconuts with those little umbrella thingys in them. They imagine us sunbathing, snorkeling, and maybe going to a luau or two.

In the interest of full disclosure: we do have hammocks, and we do take naps in them sometimes. To try to sleep on a mattress in the middle of the day is like lying on a sponge under a heat lamp in a puddle of your own sweat. And we have gone snorkeling a time or two when we were on a break in the town of Madang.

But coconut straw iStock photoI rarely drink lemonade, and we don’t lay under umbrellas on the beach. There are no luaus, and it would be ridiculous to try to sunbathe here. We’re right off the equator. The sun is HOT here. It will cook you. If the humidity doesn’t dissolve you into a puddle first.

As far as coconuts go, we do drink coconut juice, but that’s from green coconuts, not the dry ones with the thick white flesh. And here, you either split a crack or carve a hole in the coconut to drink from it. There are no straws or little umbrellas involved. 🙂

So what is it actually like, being a missionary in the jungle?

Well, we live in the tropics. Which means, we have two basic seasons: rainy season and dry season. In rainy season, it rains. A lot. Like a couple weeks ago, we got 10 inches of rain in one week.  And it’s cold – like a chilly 67 F on occasion. In dry season, it still rains, but not as often. Sometimes in dry season in our current bush location, we can go a whole week or two with nothing more than a sprinkle. But enough about the weather. Let’s talk about life.

We live in a village surrounded by jungle. The village is made up of a dozen or so hamlets, which are like neighborhoods. Hamlets consist of a handful or two of thatched roof houses, where families eat, sleep, and hang out. People hike to their gardens a few times a week to plant, weed, or dig up some roots to eat. They also spend time at the river; bathing, washing clothes, or looking for fish and crawdads.  Their daily life consists mainly of finding food to eat.

How do we fit into this? Right now, our job description involves a lot of time with people. Our task in this season is to connect with the Mouk church and become Mouk so that we can be sent out as missionaries from the Mouk to the Anem people. So we’ve spent time learning the Mouk language, studying the Mouk culture, and building relationships with the believers.

That connection is initiated and facilitated by the believers here. They invite us out to different hamlets, where we sit, talk, cook, eat, and read Scripture together. We laugh together, we cry together, we pray together. We take part in each other’s daily lives so that a connection is forged that will continue even when we’ve moved on. We’ve spent time nurturing and developing a unity between us and the Mouk church, because our role is to be an extension of them.

So while it may not be as relaxing as lounging under an umbrella on the beach, connecting with other believers refuels us in a way that nothing else can. And though it’s (seemingly) not as exciting as swinging from vines or outrunning rhinos, it’s thrilling to us to be a part of Christ’s Body here.

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missionary myth #3: missionaries aren’t afraid of bugs, spiders, snakes, etc

I (Rachel) don’t know how many women have told me “I could never be a missionary, I’m afraid of snakes and spiders!” Well, if not fearing creepy crawly things is a requirement for being a missionary, then I’m not qualified for this job! I share the sentiments of many other women towards all critters which creep and crawl and scurry – a feeling of both fear and loathing.

Though missionary work in many places in the world will not necessarily increase your chances of encountering snakes and spiders, it is true that being a missionary in a tribal (i.e. jungle) context does bring those critters into my life more often than you probably see them in the US. For example, since moving to the jungle for bush orientation, I have had numerous encounters with creeping and crawling things, such as:

· On December 27, while in the bathroom, a 6-inch praying mantis landed on my back, crawled up into my hair, and wouldn’t let go despite my repeated attempts to remove him.

· On December 28, I wasn’t feeling well and was napping in bed (a thin foam mattress on the floor), and a small 2-inch centipede decided to snuggle under the sheets with me (and ended up stinging me).

· The next evening, while walking down some wooden steps, a rhinoceros beetle decided to hitch a ride on my ankle, and just clung to my ankle and hissed and hissed while we tried to pry her off.

· We’ve had three episodes with rats – once right before we left the village for a medical trip, and twice more since then. They’ve gotten into the house twice and eaten some food, but mostly they seem to hang out downstairs, where the bathroom is. The live trap we brought with us seems to work pretty well so far (it’s caught 3 under our house, and 2 in the house next door), and thankfully the people here in this village aren’t fans of eating rat, so we didn’t have to eat any of them. J

· On January 27, while Josiah was gone trying to get our computer working again, I had another centipede adventure. I felt something on the other side of a bath towel scrape my finger, and dropped the towel like a hot potato. I wrapped that towel in a big plastic bag, grabbed the bush knife and Mortein bug spray and took the towel down to the cement pad under the house (all the houses are built up on stilts here). There I dropped the towel, and used the bush knife to gingerly open up the wadded-up towel, and out came a 6-inch centipede! He made a run for it, but I pinned him down with the bush knife, and sprayed him with the bug spray. It took about 10 minutes of hacking at him with the bush knife, and spraying him with the bug spray before he died.

· Last night was a rainfly night. I don’t know the science behind it all, but basically if it’s been a while since it’s rained, and then we get a big rain, our evening is going to be full of rainflies. Any light you turn on becomes a magnet for hundreds of rainflies, all buzzing and flying in dizzy circles. They dive bomb the food on your plate, crawl all over your skin and hair, and will even fly into your mouth or up your nose if you aren’t careful!

· The arrival of the rainflies also brought out those critters that like to eat rainflies. Last night, as I was on the porch trying to brush my teeth amid a flock of rainflies, I noticed a shadow that kept flying by the edge of the porch where I was standing. “What is that?” I called to Josiah. “Probably just a moth” was his reply from inside the house. But as the shadow swooped by again, he could tell it was too big to be a moth. “Nope, that’s a bat”…enjoying the feast of bugs on this particular night.

While I am not one to scream at bugs or rats, I have been fairly startled in a number of these encounters, and emitted a few yelps. J And the combination of all these different adventures with critters, especially in such a short time, has often left me wondering – "am I cut out for this job?" (though I haven’t doubted that this is what God has for me) But the fact that I fear bugs, spiders, snakes, rats, etc, doesn’t mean that I can’t be a missionary, even a missionary in a remote context. God’s grace is sufficient, even when rats scurry into the bathroom at 4am. God’s strength is manifested in my weakness, even when I am stung by a centipede. Though I will probably never overcome my fear of creepy crawlies, I don’t have to be overcome by my fear of those things, and they (the bugs or my fears) certainly aren’t a good enough reason to not go make disciples of all nations. God uses even these things to grow us in our walks with Him!

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Missionary Myth #2: Missionaries are always begging for money

This is probably one of the most common myths we encounter while traveling around and speaking in churches. Another way to put this myth would be the belief that when missionaries are raising support (a.k.a. “on deputation”), they are just going around to friends and churches asking people to give them money. We really started encountering this belief once we transitioned from being missionary candidates in training to being missionaries headed to the mission field. Once we officially entered the phase known as “deputation”, or “ministry partnership development” or whatever you want to call it, some people began to avoid us like the plague, as if the fact that we were getting ready to go to the field meant that we were going to be begging every person we knew to sign on the dotted line and commit to giving us half their income each month.

To be honest with you, we don’t go around begging people for money. In fact, most of the time, we don’t even mention that we need financial support in order to live on the mission field. If people ask “do you need support?” we answer them, but we’re not going around shoving offering plates in people’s faces or trying to manipulate people into giving money to us. For us, it’s often hard to talk about even needing support because we’ve encountered people who believe that missionaries on deputation are just begging people for money, and that’s not at all how we want to come across. I don’t deny that there may be missionaries out there who beg people for money, but the vast majority of missionaries that I know don’t.

However, one thing God has been challenging Josiah and me with recently is that we shouldn’t be afraid of letting people know that we do need financial support. If this whole venture (being missionaries in Papua New Guinea) were about us, then it would be selfish to ask people to partner with us financially. But going to PNG as missionaries isn’t about us, it’s about God and about spreading His glory among the unreached. Reaching the unreached is on God’s heart, and He’s just given us the privilege of being a part of what He’s doing. Beyond that, He gives churches and believers here in the U.S. (and elsewhere) the privilege of being involved in what He’s doing in Papua New Guinea. God funds His work through His people giving generously and sacrificially. Believers here in the U.S. have the privilege and opportunity to be a part of what God is doing through giving, praying, encouraging, being our friends, etc. This is not about us needing money, it’s about God bringing the unreached to Himself. We get to be a part of what God is doing through being ones who are going, and you get to be a part through sending (and going). And God is the One who gets all the glory.  1 Corinthians 3:7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”  So, “Go, Send, or Disobey” – John Piper

Read our previous Missionary Myths

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Missionary Myth #1: tribal missionaries are “outdoorsy”

I’m starting off with this myth because it was a misconception I had for a looonngg time. When I first heard about tribal missions (what is this?), I thought, “well, that sounds like a great occupation if you’re an adventure-loving, thrill-seeking, outdoorsy type of person.” I figured most tribal missionaries either grew up in the jungle, or had lived in a cabin in the woods most of their life, probably went camping every weekend, and could probably be a contestant (if not a winner) on one of those survival shows on TV.

I honestly have NO idea where I got that idea in my head. I’m sure outdoor/adventure/survival/Boy Scout skills would be really handy out there in the jungle. I know it would help to be at least vaguely familiar with (or at least interested in) the out-of-doors before opting to move your whole family into a steamy, tropical rainforest environment that’s only accessible by plane and then a 3-day canoe trip.

However, just because those skills and interests might be helpful in tribal missions does not make them a requirement, nor does it mean that every person involved in tribal missions is ‘outdoorsy’. Exhibit A: yours truly. I grew up in the heart of a city that had 1.5 million people. I was surrounded by tall buildings and traffic, people and pollution. Still to this day, I find the sunrise on a city skyline to be one of the most beautiful sights in the world. What can I say? I’m a city girl.

So, when God burdened my heart to be His ambassador to those who have never heard the Gospel before, I wasn’t exactly thrilled that living out in the middle of nowhere came as part of that package deal. Taking the training that New Tribes Mission offers has certainly helped me feel better equipped to survive in the out-of-doors, but it didn’t transform me from a city-slicker to a Girl Scout by any means. Thankfully, God provided me with a husband (Josiah) who grew up in a tribal location and has every outdoors/jungle skill imaginable (and then some!)…but still, I’m not ‘outdoorsy’. And that’s okay with me. God isn’t asking me to do only things that are comfortable, easy, or line up with my preferences and interests. His heart is for people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people to have a relationship with Him. And if making Him known to the ends of the earth means I have to get out of my comfort zone and into the jungle, then so be it.

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missionary myths (intro)

Did you know…

…that some things you believe about missionaries may not be true? I always thought that since I grew up as a missionary kid, I had a healthy and/or accurate perception of missionaries. Not true! Believe it or not, there are some misconceptions out there about missions, missionaries, what missionaries do, etc…so we decided to share with you some of the most common “missionary myths” we’ve heard (or believed ourselves!), where those misunderstandings/wrong ideas may have come from, and what the truth really is. While we can’t speak for all missionaries out there, we’ll at least attempt to explain what our perspective is so that you don’t believe some of these things about us. So, here goes a series on “missionary myths.” They won’t be in order of priority or importance, just however the writing juices flow. 🙂

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