10 January, 2020

Why are these stereotypes of missionaries so hard to change?

In that nebulous time between Christmas and New Year we took the train into town to meet a couple of tourists. 

Special tourists. They were a couple from one of our supporting churches in Perth and happened to be taking a family holiday in Japan. They messaged us several days earlier asking to meet up somewhere between their hotel near Tokyo's waterfront and our place. 

There's an awful lot of humanity in that space and it's possibly not surprising that it's challenging to find a good place to meet and talk on a busy holiday-Saturday. Tokyo was partying and shopping and so we stood around at the "designated" coffee shop (that has over 120 seats) for more than 20 minutes to get four seats together!

David using boxes to illustrate how many 
extra tasks a missionary has to manage, 
tasks that take time that an evangelist or 
church planter could otherwise be 
using in people-ministry.
These tasks can be taken on by 
missionaries who specialise in these 
tasks, freeing others up to do their work.
It turned out to be more than just a casual catch-up. This man is a key player who has been pushing for several years for our small, relatively young denomination to have a group overseeing mission work. We talked for over an hour and a half. Conversation roamed around ministry in Japan, why the work is so slow here, missions networks in Australia and the tendrils that extend to Japan and extend out to the US also. 

But the biggest thing I took away from the conversation was how challenging it is to communicate that missionaries do more than just church planting or evangelism. We've been talking for over a decade on the importance of support ministry, but it seems that it's an even harder sell than we imagined. It also seems as though the education of missionary kids is okay, but what I do is mysterious to the point of being suspect of whether it is worthy to be called mission work at all.

I have to say that is discouraging. 

I can come up with dozens of metaphors that show how important the "behind the scenes" work and workers are: the support staff for Australia's cricket team, the ticket ushers, physios, administrators, and coaches at the Australian open, the canteen staff for the athletes at the upcoming Olympics. 

Or non-sport examples: the receptionist for your local dentist, the tech staff in a big business, and the logistics staff for an army. What about the childcare workers who enable both marriage partners to work or the garbage collectors who keep our garbage from stinking out our houses? Or the accountant who helps you keep your finances in order.

Or think about a hospital: cleaners, medical records, receptionists, electricians, plumbers, maintenance workers, and groundskeepers. 

All these people have the less visible and less glamorous jobs. But they are all important jobs.

I'm left wondering why missionaries are all expected to have the visible and "glamorous" jobs. Why are the stereotypes so fixed? Here's a great article pondering the same topic: In Defense of Second-class Missionaries

This blog post has been written this week during little bits of time between the end of my working day and the start of my evening family responsibilities. I hope it makes sense to you. I could write in defense of my own job, explaining in more detail about what I do and how that helps the message of Christ reach Japan, but not this time. This time I just want us to ponder why it is so hard to imagine that not all missionaries are evangelists and church planters. And what we can do about that. I feel like we're trying the best we can to communicate why support ministry is important, I wonder what else we could be doing?

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