I’m currently sitting in line at a Manila court house to get my daughters birth certificate. What I need, apparently, is the certified true copy. This, of course, is different from the NSO authenticated copy which I can apparently get by going to the NSO office in three days along with an LBC envelope, the endorsement letter and my ID, at which point they will send the legal paperwork in one to six months which I will then use to get a passport at the American embassy and a visa at the Filipine embassy; both separate processes requiring their own paperwork collection.
At least I think that’s what the clerk said. Her Tagalog was too fast.
And what I’m doing here is missions. The papers, the fees, the headache, the brain numbing attempts to understand fast Tagalog. This is missions. For the very simple reason that if I want to live here (along with my daughter) this is what I have to do.
Sometimes—fix that—most of the time, missions is not extraordinarily glamorous. I once read a satirical mock ad for a “hyper-realistic war game.” The game offered an authentic army experience—meaning you stand by your truck for two hours waiting for your sergeant’s signature because most likely he’s somewhere else waiting for someone else’s signature. Later, if you’re lucky, you might have a chance to fill the truck with gas before embarking on another flight of adrenaline-pumping paper-pushing that takes up the rest of your day.
And some days that’s what missions feels like too. It would, of course, be tremendously more exciting to hack my way through the jungle to tell people clad in palm leaves about Jesus for the first time. But besides the fact that palm leaves don’t work like that, that isn’t remotely what my life looks like. Most of the time it isn’t what missions looks like either.
I understand that there’s nothing like a great story, and that my legal paperwork saga isn’t it. And I don’t blame people for compiling the very best stories into missionary biographies. It is, after all, nice for our kids to read exciting missions adventures—maybe it’ll help them go to the mission field.
Except that it doesn’t work. Perniciously, in fact, the overly dramatic missions biographies of yore probably hurt more than they help. As a kid I was scared God might call me to missions because I didn’t like wrestling with snakes. As a young adult I felt inadequate because I knew I wasn’t half as heroic as the people I had read about. The heroic vision of missions is not only untrue, but profoundly unhelpful.
So what if we just did a novel thing and told people the truth? What if we dropped the snakes, head hunters and miracles and told them about the most dramatic story of all—the power of the gospel changing lives. Living in Manila, I don’t use a canoe to evangelize anyone. But every week I stand in front of a congregation and preach the gospel. I don’t waste time hacking through jungles; I meet people in taxis and busses and start conversations. I get to help normal people—struggling with life, marriage and sickness—and tell them the greatest miracle of the universe: the fact that Jesus Christ died for their sin and He’s ready to change their lives forever.
Does that make me a real missionary or just the regular, boring, pedestrian kind? I don’t know. Actually I don’t even care. I’m telling them about the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s plenty enough dramatic missionary for me.