What I Want You to Know is a series of
reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their
personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the
unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to
this series,
click here. Today’s guest posts is by EJS.

I’ve been a
“missionary” since 2005. I’ve been involved in evangelism, medical
ministry, child care ministry, literacy, education, women’s
co-operatives, and I could continue; but I won’t. I’ve gone out into
the field with the backing of organizations and churches and also gone
out on my own. I’ve raised financial support, lived off my own savings,
and worked for money (known as tent making) while on the field. I’ve
been stoned (with real stones) and been loved on by the local country
folk. While I haven’t been around as long as some or done a whole lot; I
just wanted to share a different perspective of being a missionary that
you might not get from a mission conference, mission magazine, or
missionary talk.

Let me start by saying here that I HATE calling
myself a “missionary”. In fact, I never do. I usually say something
like “I live and work in country X.” Followed by: “I connect people in
the US to sponsor girls in secondary school” or “assist in helping
single mom’s start up small businesses” or “help sell products from slum
women’s jewelry co-ops here in the US.” Somehow I feel when people
hear the word “missionary” there are a whole bunch of expectations they
have that I won’t ever meet in a million years. And believe it or not,
there also are some expectations regarding missionaries from the
nationals in country X too.

Being a missionary does NOT mean I
read my Bible more than you do, pray more in a day than you do,
understand what God is telling me more than you do; or anything of that
nature. It also does NOT mean that I love getting hand-me-down
clothing, or that I don’t like to wear jeans or lacy undergarments, or
that I hate getting my hair cut. It also does NOT mean that I enjoy
being around very sick people, or that somehow I can stand being in a
vehicle with a bunch of construction men coming home from work who
probably haven’t showered in a couple days, or that I want to have
people in the market stare at me or follow me around or shout things at
me because I look different than they do.

Being a missionary
DOES mean that I’m a person who has financial worries. I’m a person who
stays in touch with my family and friends via email, phone, and social
media. I’m a person who is worried about global terrorism and what that
means for the place where I live. I’m a person who gets to see her
entire family once a year. I enjoy listening to all types of music, but
I’m a little behind on the movie thing. I’m mean, I’m just a typical
person. I take hand-me-down clothing because I don’t want to hurt the
feelings of the people giving them to me. I don’t cut my hair because
I’m afraid of getting my hair cut wrong in country X. I prefer to wear
jeans because they are easier, but the culture of country X is that
women wear skirts. I visit people in the hospital because someone asked
me to go with them; believe me that is the last place I would choose to
go, especially in country X. I get nervous around drunk men because
I’m not sure what direction they might stagger and fall; what if I
happened to be in the way? Would people laugh at me or help me? I also
get nervous taking public transportation by myself since I’m not fluent
in the language(s) of country X. Thankfully, English is one of the
languages of country X, otherwise I’d be sunk!

The reality of
my situation is that when I talk about the US, it’s where my family
lives; when I talk about country X, it’s home. I have culture shock
when I get onto US soil, not the other way around. When I visit my
family, I get teased about my funny accent; mind you I was born and bred
in the US. In some ways being in the US is a bit lonely; friends have
adapted to a life without me in it, when I’m in the US they are so used
to me not being around that they fail to remember that I’m actually not
an ocean away. People expect me to be the same person I was when they
saw me last, but I’m not. People ask what country X is like to be
polite, but don’t really want to listen to a real answer.

What I
want you to know about being a “missionary” is that I’m just an
ordinary person building relationships in a culture that is not the one I
was born into. Not everybody gets a chance to do that; I would
encourage you to give it a try. You won’t regret it.