Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

From the Archives: Am I a Missionary? September 23, 2011

Filed under: Culture,Faith — Jen @ 9:24 pm

Wow – I just found some writing I did in high school and college!  It’s hard for me to remember what my 17- and 18-year-old self was like, and these offer a little insight.  I’m not sure why I have these particular pieces and not others.  I know there were many more school essays and college application essays that were also printed out and filed away somewhere.  I’m just not sure where.

 

I think this is something I wrote for Brio, a Focus on the Family magazine for teenage girls.  I don’t think it was ever published, and I’m not sure what prompted me to write it in the first place.  It’s dated August 16, 1995.  I love how knowledgeable I thought I was about missions. 🙂

 

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One of the churches in the U.S. that supports us sends us a regular “care package”, which is a box usually containing chocolate chips, angel food cake mixes, and Jello and pudding mixes which are all things we have trouble finding here and really appreciate.  However, we have also received swatches of cloth, thread, toothpaste, and even a box of dates (we can get fresh dates by picking them off the trees in our yard).  Examining the contents of these “care packages” gives us an idea of how people back home view missionaries.  They see us as living in a mud hut with no running water, having to know Arabic to communicate with people, and riding on camels to schools.  My life is quite the opposite.  I live in a modern house with three bathrooms and air-conditioning.  I nly know a few words of Arabic, yet I can still communicate with the locals because they all speak English.  In fact, I am studying French at the America school that I get to by car.  After school I might get some frozen yogurt at TCBY, and on the weekends I might stop at McDonald’s with my friends for a bite to eat.  In the evenings, I’ll watch an American TV show on television, or I might call one of my friends on the cordless phone to make plans to see an English movie at the cinema or go ice-skating at the indoor rink.  It sounds like I’m living in the U.S.  Am I no longer a missionary?  On the contrary.

 

When I was 13 and living in Muscat, which is much the same as Bahrain, an elderly American woman, who had been a missionary in oman during World War II, came back on one of her frequent visits to the Gulf.  She had been what our supporting churches would have called a “real” missionary since she had been a nurse working with the bedouin (desert nomads) in Oman.  On this particular trip to Muscat, this lady was going into the desert to visit some of the bedouin families that she used to work with, and she wanted my family to join her.

 

We drove through the desert in our four-wheel drive for a couple hours until we came across a group of makeshift houses in a cluster.  Our friend got out of the car and immediately greeted the owners of one of the “houses” with a warm Arabic greeting.  She then introduced our family.  My father, who speaks Arabic, was able to communicate while the rest of us simply nodded and smiled while we shook hands.  We were all invited into the “house” for traditional Arabic coffee and fresh dates.  This is what my mother, my brother, and I concentrated on while my father and our friend carried on  a conversation with our hosts.

 

We were informed that there would be a wedding there that night.  A celebration would be held in this “village” with singing, dancing, and the sacrifice of a goat for the 17-year-old bride and her husband-to-be, who was mostly likely in his late twenties.  It was actually an unusual marriage:  the bridge had been kept in her parents’ house for too long, and the only man who was willing to take her at such an old age was one who had already been married and divorced.  Girls are usually between 12 and 14 years of age when they marry.  In fact, the bedouin men asked my father where my husband was.  He told them that I was not married.  They said, “But she will marry soon?”  My father then explained that I had to finish secondary school, then I would go on to university, and perhaps after that I would get married.  They were shocked because by that age, their girls were beginning to plan their daughters’ weddings. The men felt sorry for me and were very kind:  they offered to find me a husband!

 

When we had all finished our food and drink, our missionary friend informed us that she would be putting medicine in some of the children’s eyes since many of them had conjunctivitis.  She asked us to help her.  We pulled the tailgate of a pickup truck down to act as a hospital bed.  children and their mothers gathered around us for their eye drops.  Most of them were quite calm, but one little girls was screaming and crying and kicking; she refused to remain still.  The nurse asked me to hold her head still while she dropped the medicine in the girls’ infected eyes.  I felt very important, assisting by holding the screaming girl’s head tight with both hands.

 

There I was being a “real” missionary.  This is the work that many churches in the United States associate with overseas missionaries.  However, that was the only experience of its kind that anyone in my family has ever had in the nine years that we’ve been in the Gulf.  That is the missionary work that our friend had been called to many years ago, but our calling is much different.  We were called to work with the English-speaking expatriates, who are here from other countries working as doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, engineers, maids, company managers, etc.  This does not make us less missionaries than our friend working with the bedouin.

 

This past year I found myself being a good example of a missionary.  I was sitting in the classroom of a teacher that I was an aide for, chatting with a friend of mine who’s half American, half Kuwaiti and was an aide for the same teacher.  It was the end of the day, and I happened to mention something about going to youth group that night.  She didn’t know what i was talking about and asked what youth group was.  When I explained it to her, she became very interested and asked if she could come.  Of course I told her that she could, and I was excited when she showed up one night.  Unfortunately, with her busy school schedule, she never made it to another meeting.  However, recently this same friend stopped me in the hall after class and asked when and where my father preached.  I told her that we had a service in Manama on Sunday nights at 6:30 and another service in Awali on Friday mornings at 11:00.  She told me that she’d see me on Friday morning.  That Friday, she showed up at the service with her mother, who probably hasn’t been to church since before she got married.  I was worried that after sitting through the service, neither of them would want to return, but afterwards my friend gave me a hug and told me she felt really good.  I said, “Great, so you’ll be back.”  She enthusiastically replied, “Definitely!”  She has managed to make it to as many services as she can since then, and her mother has been attending regularly since that first Friday!

 

This situation could have occurred anywhere in the world, and it doesn’t taken an overseas missionary to make it happen.  Being a missionary does not only mean learning a foreign language and bringing medical supplies and Bible translations into other countries, although this is a very important kind of missionary work.  I was being a missionary with the bedouin, but more importantly I was being a missionary in my American high school.  I would encourage other teenagers to look into overseas mission if that’s what they feel led to do, but don’t be discouraged if that’s not what God has in mind of you.  There are just as many mission opportunities close to home.  As long as you’re spreading the word of God and the love of Jesus, it does not matter if you’re preaching in a foreign language half way around the globe or if you’re inviting a friend to youth group in your hometown.

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