guest post by Larry Dinkins
This year I am Missionary in Residence at Dallas Theological Seminary. My job is to mobilize as many of the 1000+ students on this campus for missions. As I chat with them, I want to be honest and portray the rigors of mission life in a truthful way, but at the same time I count the last 40 years of my work with the Thai through OMF a blessed privilege and as such want my students to see all the positives and benefits of missionary life. I mention this, because of an article written by Joe Holman, a missionary to Bolivia, who entitled his article, “Ten Things That Your Missionary Will Not Tell You.” There is an element of truth to what Joe says, but I feel it only confirms a negative stereotype that is in most people’s minds about life on the field. I’ve always been told that it is “easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar” and so I wanted to give a positive spin to the ten negative assertions made in Joe’s article.
1. Sometimes, most of the time, living in another culture is hard.
Yet, most would agree that living in your own culture is not that easy either. As I interact with students here at DTS, I’ve discovered that most find living in their home culture in these perilous times increasingly difficult. It is true that America is more comfortable materially than say Thailand or Bolivia, yet the challenges of living for Christ in this present secular environment are often just as daunting as any field missionary in the jungles of Bolivia.
2. It is lonely and your friends and family from the States have forgotten you.
In this age of technology and instant communication, I find that interaction with the home side is only enhanced, not diminished. I am able to call my 90 year-old mother every day and have Skype calls with supporters on a regular basis. I’m sorry that Joe has an overall feeling of abandonment by friends and family, but for me it has been just the opposite. I also reflect on Mark 10:29-30 which promises that God will give new family and friends one hundred-fold to those who leave their friends and kin for the gospel sake. True, relationships were affected when I left the States, but I gained a very close new family in OMF as well as with my Thai and tribal brethren.
3. We are normal people.
Joe rightly observes that people tend to put missionaries on a pedestal. However, that is not unique to missionaries; just ask most any pastor or church worker. People already know that Christian leaders are “normal” and confirm that estimation daily when they read the latest newsflash. Those who have read my monthly prayer newsletter over the last few years will clearly see that this missionary has “feet of clay” and is indeed an ordinary believer who is trying his best to serve an extraordinary God.
4. We never have enough money but feel guilty asking for it.
I’m not sure how Joe goes about fund raising, but this is my 40th year in OMF and due to the policies of my mission, I have never been called upon to “beg” for money. Over those 40 years I have never had an over-abundance, but God has faithfully supplied the needs of my family of 6 time and time again.
5. We feel like our children are getting shortchanged by our choice.
If you look closely enough, you will indeed find MKs who reflect negatively concerning their life on the field. Yet growing up in the States is no guarantee that children will not feel “shortchanged” by their parents’ choices. Child raising is a challenge and fraught with risks no matter what your address. There were many aspects of our children’s education that were less than ideal, but I like to feel that my children were only enriched by the rich experience of languages, cultures and Christian role models that they encountered.
6. I took a great vacation but I cannot tell anyone.
When I heard this quote I thought of the definition of a Puritan. Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. Joe felt guilty when he took what many people would consider an extravagant and expensive vacation. My mission owns a bungalow right on the ocean in South Thailand. My whole family have taken some pretty awesome vacations in various places, but my kids would choose this bungalow above them all. Interesting enough, our bungalow is unusually economical and supplied us with family-style meals, a pool, library, laundry service, etc. (Interested? Read my recent blog: Taking a Sabbath at the Pines.)
7. We hate being judged by a standard that our judges do not follow.
Joe feels that many on the home side and especially mission committees are critical of his ministry results, yet they themselves are not that effective in their own ministries. Once again, I’m sorry that Joe has had that experience. However, I have had eight supporting churches over the years and none of them have been “heavy handed” in their evaluations of my effectiveness. I truly enjoy coming home because I know that I’ll get a listening ear and helpful support emotionally, by way of prayer and financially.
8. Saying good-bye stinks…and it is not the same in the States.
I was recruited by missionaries who had 7-year terms and was thankful to learn that my term would be 4 years. It did mean saying “good-bye” in those days meant extended separations. However, today 4-year terms are rare due to frequent trips back to the home side. Instant communication also lessens feelings of separation. I am finding that I can make a yearly trip back to the States without disrupting my ministry in Thailand due to an abundance of cheap flights. Not all missionaries can do this, but the situation is much better today than in times past.
9. Going to the States is hard.
I resonate with this statement in one way. After a difficult first furlough I began to plan for my second furlough and expressed my concerns to a fellow co-worker, “Mike, I’m concerned about reverse culture shock.” Mike asked, “Where are you going on furlough?” I replied, “Back to my home state of Oklahoma.” Mike grinned, “Don’t worry about it. Oklahoma doesn’t have any culture to be shocked by!” There certainly will be adjustments returning to a home culture after many years. However, our family always looked forward to all of the positives that a year at home afforded us.
10. I constantly feel like I have to prove myself to you.
To me, Paul gave the best answer to this assertion, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor. 4:3). If your ministry is lived out in front of man, you will always feel inadequate and sense a need to prove yourself. Ultimately, however, we will not give an account to man, but to God at the Bema Seat (2 Cor. 5:10). At this judgement, Christ will do a proper evaluation of our service and even our motives for ministry.
A short blog is too brief to tell you all the positive things that I have experienced on the mission field. Four decades of work with the Thai have had its fair share of challenges, but overall I count it as a special privilege to have been called to minister the gospel in Thailand - “The Land of Smiles.”
guest post by Larry Dinkins