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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 3a - living with missionaries

I spent May 16-25 in Nicaragua. There were a number of highlights; I'll try to capture some of them briefly without writing a book (which I think I could!).

Lessons from Living with Missionaries...

The "Missionary Pedestal" vs. Real Life

It came out as a joke... simply trying to be funny. But as I reflected on the truth behind it, I recognized an important truth.

We were at the volcano crater lake at the "Monkey Hut." The water was as clear as a swimming pool, with strange currents of warm water swirling about because of the underground heat source. Tiffany and her family were out in the water with me when she started making a ruckus (I chose that description because she would probably be mad if I called it "shrieking").
[ok - I admit I am prone to exaggerate for a good story] Nonetheless, the way Tiffany (the mom) was jumping around and ruckus-ing, you would have thought a 75 lb. volcano fish was trying to swallow a toe or something. I came over to see what was wrong and she was backing away from this little green fish the size of a goldfish. She said she wasn't used to seeing the fish in the water she swam in. And here's the key line... I said, "I think you've just fallen off the missionary pedestal."

By that, I meant the mental picture I had of her as the Queen of the Amazon... the super-missionary-mom who single-handedly raises children and orphans, cooks, cleans, walks miles barefoot to the store, etc., etc... And here she was scared of a little fish.

Now two things need to be said. Tiffany is an amazing mom and super-capable; but, she is just as "normal" as any mom I know who also has to juggle family, house-keeping, work, and a hundred other things. In other words, without taking away from all her REAL talents, the fish-episode was a good reminder that simply being a missionary or living in Nicaragua "for God" doesn't give her super-powers.

This observation was made more real by spending a week in the Hinton's home. Not that the place was a wreck, the kids little monsters, or any such thing. But their home and family were really not substantially different than mine or yours. And that leads to the point I want to make here (and a second I'll make below).

You'd think I wouldn't have had to learn that lesson... because people put pastors and their families on a similar pedestal. But guess what? My kids fight, I lose my temper, I'm scared of bugs, and sometimes over-extend my credit card. I get depressed, afraid, intimidated, and struggle with the same things you do... as do these dear missionary friends.

And here's my point... not so much about us as about you who might read this. We (missionaries and pastors) are not super-Christians. We're not even super-people. We are normal people trying to serve God in specific ministry settings. And God asks each of us to serve Him... in different settings. The point is that going to another country or going into ministry or becoming a super-Christian is not what it takes to serve God. It simply takes saying "Yes" to God.

One of the things we say at Good Shepherd is that we are ordinary people serving an extraordinary God. That was a lesson I experienced firsthand this week, and it's really humbling and inspiring when it sinks in!

Real Friends

The second part of what I gained through living with missionaries for a week is a blessing indeed. I have known Jason and Tiffany as a couple since they were married about 7 yrs. ago, and I've known Jason for about 9-10 years, since we met on a short-term mission trip before I came to Good Shepherd. We get together every time they visit NC and we stay in touch by e-mail on a regular basis. But there's nothing quite like staying in someone's home for a week - sharing meals, space, and the excited screams of small children.

I laughingly told Jason and Tiffany that I was the perfect houseguest for a family with two young girls. The regular squeals and piercing screams of sisters didn't frighten me in the least. In fact, it made me feel just like I was at home! While I missed my family, I think the distance was made easier by having Samantha and Aubrey around, and they were sweet to quickly adopt me as part of the family and share toys, games, books, and songs with me.

Friendships were a topic of deep conversation during the week. We all talked about the longing and the difficulty of finding, maintaining, and growing true heartfelt friendships. It takes risks; it often takes some proximity; and it comes, I believe, in the Lord's timing. We talked about how sometimes we get in our own way making friends and how hard it was to be stretched personally. And while those conversations didn't orient around our own friendship, I think God was allowing us to experience and practice the very thing we were talking about.

I called both Jason and Tiffany friends before I went, but their family holds a special place in my heart after the week living with them.

So, I don't know what exactly to do with that... maybe invite a family over to the Austell's to live for a few days? (if you can handle the truth!) Or maybe just be more intentional about pursuing friendships in the context of ministry... Or seek to be a better friend... Or ask God what He would "sharpen" in me to prepare me to be and have a close friend...

Probably all of the above. How 'bout you?

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