Friday, August 11, 2006

Why I Love My Job


In a little over a month my wife and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. Not our wedding anniversary (which will be 38 years in a couple of weeks) but 30 years as cross-cultural workers. I can still remember the day we made the approach into the Nairobi airport that September day. As I stared down on the plains of Africa, dotted by mud huts and wandering animals, I looked over at my young daughters, ages 5 and 1, and prayed that I hadn’t made a mistake and wondered, “What the heck have I gotten us into?” Those were the days before short-term trips. Today many people in our profession now visit the field at least once, maybe more, to check out whether they like it before they make a commitment. We made our decision to live in Africa on pure faith.

Three decades later our children are grown, married and have children of their own. Sandy and I live in Asia, on the other side of the globe from our family and friends. What drives someone to take on this lifestyle? The other day, while walking through the streets of this city of 12 million people, I started to list the things I like about this life God has led me to live.

- Talking with a young missionary recently she confessed that she sometimes feels guilty about wanting to live overseas because she is attracted to the adventure. I told her that I felt it was normal for a missionary to be adventurous. In fact, I wonder if adventure is not essential for people committed to living overseas. People who do not have a wonder about the world they live in, who are satisfied with the status quo of their home surroundings don’t do well overseas. It’s part of the missionary DNA to want to see what’s on the other side of the mountain, river or jungle. Today’s career worker is not unlike our forefathers of Livingston, Carey and Taylor, who were as much explorers as they were messengers of the Gospel. To be a missionary is to be adventurous.

Of course adventure can’t be the only reason to sell all your worldly goods and move to another culture. It doesn’t take long after one arrives in a foreign land that the reality of living among people who think, speak, act and eat differently than you begins to wear thin. For fourteen years I worked with a tribal group that was considered primitive. The first year in the bush was exciting and adventurous. The next thirteen years that adventure was often coupled with heat exhaustion, frequent bouts with malaria, loneliness, and frustration.

There have been times when I’ve thought about packing it in and returning to the states and doing something else. I know, however, that I would never be truly happy. Once one experiences life outside, “home” never seems to satisfy. Missionaries need the adventure. It’s part of who we are. It’s why I like my job.

(Part one in a series)