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.
In the few Thai church history books that exist, Jacob Tomlin and Karl Gutzlaff are credited with being the first resident Protestant missionaries in Thailand. Arriving on August 23, 1828, the two men only stayed for a few years before moving on to other parts of East Asia. Unfortunately, despite their good intentions, they didn’t have a lot to show for their efforts in Thailand before leaving for good in 1831 (Gutzlaff) and 1832 (Tomlin).
When they arrived, they already spoke Chinese and set to work distributing Christian books in Chinese, which attracted considerable interest from locals, especially the many Chinese residents of Bangkok, as well as opposition from Catholic priests. But they were not only concerned to share the Gospel with Chinese speakers and they set to work learning Thai. With a massive amount of help from some unsung local assistants, Gützlaff and Tomlin produced a translation of the New Testament in Thai, though the quality of their work was of dubious value and the king of Thailand said he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. They also started work on an English-Thai dictionary, and got up to the letter R. Aside from these modest literary accomplishments, Gützlaff and Tomlin’s efforts resulted in several inquirers but only one baptized convert, a Chinese man named Boon Tee (Koë Bun Tai).
If they had stayed, they might have accomplished much more. And if we look at only what they accomplished during their short stint in-country, it is questionable whether they deserve the high praise they receive in the annals of Protestant history in Thailand. But what they did do was get the ball rolling for Protestant missions in Thailand. How did they do that?
If you read missionary literature or listen to talks on the missionary call, there are lots of qualities that come up as essential to being a missionary: a commitment to God and the Great Commission, a love for the lost, flexibility, ability to learn language and work as a team, and so forth. Together with a good grasp of doctrine and the fruit of the Spirit, these are all really important for both becoming a missionary and remaining a missionary. I specifically say “remaining” a missionary because the qualities that lead a person and their church to think they are ready to become a missionary are not all that’s needed to survive and thrive in cross-cultural ministry over the long-haul.
In that vein, I’d like to “fill out” the above list of missionary qualities with some rarely mentioned but equally essential qualities that all cross-cultural missionary should have. Or if they don’t have them, they need to develop them. Otherwise their overseas ministry will be a short one.