22 January, 2015

Should missionaries be fashionable?

It's an interesting question. Missionaries have had something of a reputation in the past of being old fashioned, or just odd. It is a challenge for someone who's been living in a different country with vastly different fashion to come back to their home country and fit in. 

That isn't so much the case for our family dwelling in the metropolis of Japan, but imagine those living in the jungles of PNG or Africa. Or the mountains of Nepal. Coming from Japan to Australia we usually end up being overdressed! Aussies are so informal.

It is less of a problem these days, I suspect, with missionaries travelling to their base of support more often than in the days when international travel was expensive and slow.

But we do live on a missionary budget, and therefore aren't free to buy a whole new wardrobe every few years. That doesn't mean we're happy to wear just anything that gets passed along to us.

The question still lingers. How much should I pay attention to my appearance? Is that unspiritual?

I'm on the conservative side anyway, and that wouldn't have been different if I hadn't been a missionary. Actually I think that now in my 40s, I'm less conservative than I was as a teenager.

When you think about it, it is a conundrum for our profession. When we're in our sending countries we are public speakers, we make public appearances. How we present ourselves is important.

I've thought a bit about this in recent months, one reason being that I'd never had my ears pierced. In our last year in Japan I began to look at how much fun other women were having with their earrings and wonder if I were too late to join in the fun. Additionally, now that I've got short hair, I'm aware that it is easy for me not to look very feminine.

Or maybe its a cumulative effect of being the only woman in my home, over the last few years I've had a growing desire to be more feminine than in the past. Shock! I've never been a girly-girl, don't like lace or pink (though that is changing). I've rarely worn skirts in the past, but that has changed in the last five years too.

Anyway, with the encouragement of a friend (whose fashion sense I trust), I had my ears pierced about six weeks before Christmas. What was interesting is that almost no one noticed. My boys thought it was fabulous, my husband bought me gorgeous earrings for Christmas. I know that two friends noticed, but didn't want to say anything in case they were mistaken. I don't know if anyone else felt the same, but didn't say anything.

But getting back to the conundrum that missionaries (and Christians in general) face, here is a verse that is worth taking notice of.

1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.
So the true beauty is in the heart, but I don't think that that precludes us from taking moderate steps towards keeping our appearances on the outside looking beautiful too, as long as that doesn't override our concern for internal beauty. 

So, while I'm not a theologian, I can look at the Bible and consider the example of the Proverbs 31 woman:

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come (NIV).
It seems to me the older I get the more I realise that moderation in most things is the best thing. What do you think about this question of fashion and missionaries?

1 comment:

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Some good thoughts here Wendy. My feeling is that when I'm in Cambodia I need to be dressing in a way that is suitable for my profession (as a primary school teacher pants/trousers are far more practical and modest than skirts, but also culturally appropriate and setting an appropriate example to students. That means I don't wear skimpy tops, plunging necklines or shorts that are more than an inch or two above my knees. At home I feel I need to dress appropriately for whatever event I'm at, and since I'm usually in Australia during winter I'm finding it something of a challenge to have nice clothes for that because that's really the only time I need winter clothes, so most of my Australian wardrobe is beginning to look pretty tired (after 8 years overseas). Still it's possible to look neat and stay warm without spending too much. Fortunately I'm pretty conservative, so classic styles work well and don't date too much. The challenge is when you change sizes! Eek - my clothes don't fit!