When one hears the call to be a foreign missionary, it’s easy to start thinking grandiose thoughts about what that life might look like. Perhaps we picture ourselves giving captivating talks in another language, with the natives hanging on every word. Or maybe we imagine accompanying several people in their walk with Christ; our disciples show up on time to every meeting we schedule and never miss an opportunity for growing in their faith. And, of course, there is the classroom full of well-behaved students playing musical instruments with near flawlessness.
The reality of life in missions is usually much less dramatic. In most cases it is strikingly ordinary. And just like any other life, there are things on the schedule we’d rather not do. I humbly admit that one of those things for me was home visits. Visiting the elderly and sick in their homes is something that FMC missionaries do at almost every mission post. It’s something that I did when I lived in Ohio as well as when I went on a mission trip. It is a beautiful life-giving act, but somehow I subconsciously thought that home visits were what you did when you didn’t have other (read: more important) ministries.
Once our travels for language school, visas, and the summit were behind us, we started to settle into a routine, being sure to give time each week to the ministries entrusted to us. That included dedicating Thursday mornings to visiting the sick, elderly, and lonely.
I remember that first week of home visits. I began my rounds more out of obligation than desire. I was tired from interrupted sleep the night before and a bit cranky as a result. But as my feet walked along the dirt road that led to the first home I decided to visit, I could at least offer a prayer to the Holy Spirit and ask that He might lead me where I need to go.
My first visit was to Tomas, a man who had suffered a stroke the previous week. Tomas is a bit of a character—he enjoys discussing religious matters and is quite outspoken. Once he gets talking, it can be hard to get a word in edgewise. That must be why his wife frequently talks over him. (Trying to understand two people talking to you at once in a foreign language is quite the feat.) Tomas had once been a leader in the local church community. I don’t know the details of the falling out, but he claims that the church would be full on Sundays if he were still involved. He was grateful to be visited by a Catholic missionary. Apparently members of other sects have stopped by, and based on the conversations he recounted to me, I wonder if they ever have the nerve to return.
Being so opinionated, Tomas can be difficult to converse with. He made a few comments that day which caused my blood to boil within. But I listened to his complaints and tried to speak a word of truth when I could. After reading the Gospel of the day and praying for his continued healing, he and his sweet wife Wilma expressed their sincere gratitude for the visit and their desire that I return soon.
As I departed from their house, I made my way to the home of Selina, an older woman who makes and sells peanut butter. (At this point I was really looking forward to picking up a jar of natural peanut butter goodness more than anything.) But en route I passed by a simple concrete home where a woman was standing outside sweeping. We exchanged customary greetings, and when I asked her how she was, she responded with something about being in her home all alone. That was a clue from the Spirit that I need to stop here.
I entered the home of Linere and began to chat. She told me that she has several children, but only one daughter contacts her regularly. That is an all too common issue among the elderly here. Her loneliness was evident.
She mentioned that she didn’t sleep well the night before. My rough sleep allowed my to sympathize with her, and I commented about how I was in a bad mood as a result. She chuckled. I wonder if my humanity surprised her. It seems as though she appreciated hearing me say that. All too often people put missionaries on a pedestal and believe that we are nearly perfect. (Lord, have mercy!)
After our visit, I stood up to leave and almost tripped over Linere’s rocking chair. We shared a laugh as I told her about how clumsy I am. She expressed her gratitude for my visit, saying that I was like an angel who came to see her, and that she would be happy the rest of the day because I had been there. What an honor it is to lift people’s spirits in this way. God used even this cranky and clumsy missionary to alleviate someone’s loneliness and brighten their day.
I made my way across the main road to the home and modest peanut butter and jelly factory of Selina, whom I had only met once before that day. I was afraid that I was interrupting her work, but she seemed grateful for the break. Selina is a evangelical Christian full of the Holy Spirit. We chatted about life, love, God’s timing, and about how unfortunate it is that more people don’t read the Bible or have a relationship with Christ. Time passed quickly as we conversed. I sincerely enjoyed our exchange. She told me next time I needed to have a teaching prepared to give her. Someone asks to hear a teaching? That’s music to a missionary’s ears! This conversation paved the way for a Bible study that we would later start.
I walked back home renewed, giving thanks to God for the encounters of that morning. He worked through even my less-than-willing spirit to bring joy to His children, and I in return was filled with His joy. I am reminded of the scripture verse about carrying a treasure in earthen, or ordinary, vessels:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. -2 Cor. 4:7
These are the ordinary moments that make up a life of mission. The Holy Spirit shows up, and by His power, the ordinary becomes something beautiful.