The National Missionary Convention has ended. This was the first time I've attended, and I'm so glad I came. I've been fascinated by missionaries and foreign places and foreign people since I was a little girl and a missionary from Africa visited our tiny church. I remember two of the stories he told:
The primitive tribe he lived with would eat python meat. The pythons there got huge, so one snake would feed them for a while. But the special bonus was when they killed a python that had just eaten a gazelle, because they'd have two-for-one meat.
The other story was about an old, old man in the tribe who always asked the missionary how his propane refrigerator could have a fire but make the food cold. The missionary would explain how the refrigerator worked, the old man would say he understood, but the next time the old man saw the missionary, he asked the very same question again. Every single time. The missionary said he hated to admit it, but even though he was sad when the old man died, he was a little relieved.
I've been drawn to Europe and Africa as long as I can remember. Asia is interesting, but not fascinating, and I have no desire to go to Latin America. I don't really like saying that, though, because quite a few of the missionaries (or missionaries-to-be) have said they had prayed, "Lord, send me where you want to, but not this one place." And of course, the Lord sent them to that one place.
One man said that when the head of a particular Bible College in Ghana asked him to come and replace him at the college, he said to find someone else. The other man asked him if he'd prayed about it, and he said, "Well, no." After he prayed about it, he realized he needed to go, so he and his wife will be leaving for Ghana in a few weeks.
As much as I got out of the workshops, the best part for me was the conversations I had. The exhibitors filled up the exhibit halls and spilled into the hallways. One was for a medical clinic in a remote part of Zimbabwe. The woman I talked to isn't medical, but she's gone there to help several times. She does whatever they need, like making cotton balls, writing down vital signs as the nurses read them to her, and helping mothers get their babies in the slings for weighing them at the well-baby clinics. Her husband does maintenance work when it's needed.
We talked about living conditions there in Zimbabwe. Inflation is now over 1200% a year, and over 25% of the country is infected with HIV. When mothers come to deliver their babies, they're asked if they'll consent to an HIV test, and if they're positive, the baby is also at risk. She said the sooner HIV-positive babies get the drugs, the better their chances are of avoiding AIDS. But the clinic doesn't give out medications for free. In that culture, free items aren't valued, so the clinic charges a nominal amount, or the patients would discard the drugs.
Another woman working in Zimbabwe said, during her workshop on hard times, that she and her husband don't know if their property will still be theirs when they return in January. When they first arrived in Zimbabwe, the government gave them some barren land--nothing grew on it, just dirt--and they drilled a well, built buildings, planted a garden, and started to work helping the people of that area. But recently, with President Mugabe's "Land Reform," a regional government leader has decided he wants their property and has put in a claim on it. They've hired an attorney to fight his claim, but she has no idea if their attorney is good enough to win. Whether or not they have any property to return to, she and her husband are determined to continue helping the people there, who desperately need it.
A similar "Land Reform" problem has hit a missionary couple in South Africa. Property her husband's father bought for the mission back in the 1950s was put in the father's name, rather than in the mission's name. Since he's White, the land is subject to confiscation, while the property adjoining it (which was purchased at the same time by a Black co-worker of the father) is not at risk. This couple also has an attorney working to save their property. The main difference at this point between Zimbabwe's and South Africa's Land Reform programs is that South Africa will pay for the property they confiscate, provided the title was recorded in a certain way.
There are so many other people helping in so many different places, and even though the needs are overwhelming, the help the missionaries are able to give will change the lives of the relatively few they can reach. Educating tribal groups in Thailand who otherwise have no schools at all. Raising discarded and orphaned children in Romania, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, and so many other places. Rescuing Thai girls from the sex trade and educating them, so they have the chance for a better future. Training preachers in Ghana, Ukraine, and India. Giving physical, practical relief when disaster strikes around the world.
And yet, as much as I learned and as thrilled as I was talking with the different people there, I don't feel compelled to go out on the mission field. I may be at loose ends trying to figure out what career change to make after my mom and I drive around the country in her RV, but foreign service isn't it. Have I prayed about it? "Well, no..."
What missionaries do reminds me of that story I've read in emails and heard my minister tell during a sermon:
A man is walking on the beach, and he sees hundreds and hundreds of starfish that have been washed onto the sand. The tide is going out, leaving the starfish to bake in the sun. Down the beach he sees a little boy picking up a starfish and throwing it into the water, and then another one. The man walks up to the boy and says, "Why are you doing that? There are too many of them. They'll all die before you can get to them, so throwing a few in the water won't make a difference."
The boy looks at the man, then reaches down and picks up another starfish. "It makes a difference to this one," he says and throws it in the ocean.