About a year ago, I had an idea. It was an idea inspired by numerous conversations with friends who felt they had no voice. These friends were well-liked, but held deep concerns and even fear about being transparent with their friends and family. They were, in a sense, living double lives, hiding their reality from those who should love them unconditionally and support them mightily.
I am, of course, talking about missionaries.
It’s not that my missionary friends set out to hide anything. In fact, many of them made attempts early on to be very open about the realities of their lives, only to discover that they were being judged and misunderstood. At some point, it just became easier to smile and nod and tell happy stories than it was to be real with people and suffer ridicule. Perhaps that sounds hyperbolic…until you’ve lived it.
My idea? A simple blog post to express what many of them were feeling, but were afraid to say publicly. I thought that perhaps I could express ideas in a general way that might help foster authentic conversations between missionaries and their supporters.
With that one blog post, Ten Things Missionaries Won’t Tell You, I discovered that not only were there missionaries all over the world with whom these words resonated, but that there were also people all over the world ready and waiting to criticize and judge not only the missionary community, but also me personally, simply for being human.
The anxiety of my missionary friends, I discovered, wasn’t unfounded. People actually are as nasty as they feared.
Consider a few comments on my original blog post:
“Sounds like he needs to come home…”
“Just goes to show how low down and sneaky these missionaries are.”
“…it’s a [blog post] from someone who does not know God.”
Now consider that I made it clear I was not speaking about my own experiences, but those of real life missionaries, some of whom have been living difficult lives in harsh places and doing the kind of work that most people consider honorable, but would never offer to do. My attempt to advocate for missionaries managed to paint a target on my back.
Well, I guess I’m a glutton for punishment – or perhaps my passion about this stuff just outweighs my fear of criticism – because a couple of months after writing that original blog post, I had another idea. Driven by the over 200 responses from missionaries who thanked me for expressing what they either couldn’t or wouldn’t, I decided I needed to write even more about the realities of missionary life.
What began as a blog post grew into a book, and now, that book is ready to be read. Missions Unmasked: What I Never Knew About Missionary Life is an attempt to lift the veil on much of what it means to live as a missionary. It is both a pastoral confessional about my own shortcomings in supporting missionaries and hopefully, a frank conversation starter to help us move toward more authentic communication between missionaries and those who support them.
Not everyone will like this book. Some will say it’s too negative. Others will insist that this hasn’t been their experience. But perhaps the most common question people will ask is, “Who do you think you are?”
I’ve already been asked this question even before the book launches. Some people, especially those who know a bit of my story, read the title and assume this is a book about my life. And they wonder how I’ve had enough experience to write about missionary life. After all, I’ve lived in Kenya less than a year.
But this isn’t a book about my life, except in the sense that it chronicles my interaction with missionaries, both before and after I moved to Kenya. No, this is a book about a group of people I’ve been fortunate enough to befriend. It is a book with their stories, their experiences, and their life. It’s a story about all the things they’ve taught me – things I never knew before engaging in a different way with missionaries.
I’m not a missions expert. I’m a student. Missions Unmasked is my attempt to share what I’m learning with others who might want to learn from my mistakes and misgivings, rather than stumbling through on their own. My sincere hope and prayer is that this book can help bring freedom to missionaries and some new understanding to those who love them.
For the sake of fostering these much-needed conversations, I’m willing to be a target. For the sake of God’s work around the world, I’m happy to give voice to the missionary community. Who do I think I am? Just a guy trying to do right by my friends and to do what I can to encourage those working for God’s Kingdom around the world.
If you pick up the book and have something to say, let me know! And if you like it, I would appreciate a review at Amazon.com.