Blog - Grasping Vocation

From a Missionary:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Out of deep respect for the mission board she served under, she has asked that I not use her real name. So I'll call her Grace. At 12 years of age, she prayed to receive Christ—a commitment that unfolded in her understanding a few years later. After qualifying as an RN, Grace worked as a nurse for a time, then as a computer programmer for the U. S. Navy. Then, as now, she believed she was serving God full-time, offering her work to him not out of duty but out of gratitude for all he has done for us.

Through a Christian couple in her church she learned of an opening in cross-cultural mission work in Bangkok, Thailand. Her motive: “I wanted to refresh the people there just as Onesiphorus had refreshed Paul” (II Tim. 1:16). So she applied and the mission organization accepted her. “I felt great confidence,” she recalls, “that this was of God.” For the next six-and-one-half years she served first in Thailand, then in Laos, as an administrator in relief and development work, including a handicraft project that enabled women in refugee camps to generate income.

In 1997 Grace returned to the United States—for two reasons. First, she felt the need for more business education. And second, as a 40-year-old single woman with limited retirement provision through the mission organization, she wanted to save more adequately for when her earning days would end. After receiving her Master's degree in International Management, she began working as a contract specialist for the federal government. She continues to work in that role today.

Her career to date spans three phases. Phase One: work here in the States. Phase Two: work in foreign countries. And Phase Three, work back in the U.S. “I largely used the same skills in all three phases,” she says. “The main difference was in the locations.”

Nothing, though, had prepared Grace for the “bounce” she experienced in Phase Two. “Once I let Christians know I was headed for Bangkok,” she recalls, “I suddenly began receiving frequent invitations to speak. Now that I carried the label ‘missionary,' they just assumed I had something to say worth listening to. This surprised me, because the mission board hired me for the same skills I had been using in so-called ‘secular' work. Christians placed me on a pedestal because I was willing to 'sacrifice and suffer' as a missionary. I felt hypocritical, because for me my work required neither. During Phase Two, Christians showed keen interest in what I was doing—so long as it was called ‘mission work.' People constantly asked how they could pray for me and my work.” 

Then came Phase Three. When Grace returned to work in the States, the letter-writers stopped asking about her work. The prayer support ended. “I was still doing the same things here as I had been doing there,” she says. “On the job for the government, I was still engaged in serving God full-time. But in Phase Three, from Christians, I experienced mostly an absence of interest in my work. I felt demoted.”

As we talked, Grace reflected on what she had learned from this up-down elevator ride. She saw a “Christian pecking order,” with missionaries at the top, then pastors and then “lay” people. A major problem with this pecking order? “All that attention on the pedestal puffs you up. It feeds the ego in you,” she said.

How can Christian leaders counter this double-mindedness that exalts “full-time Christian service” and virtually ignores “secular” work? At the 2004 Forum of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in Thailand, the Issue Group produced a paper that included the section, “Making Churches Marketplace Friendly.” Among its long list of suggestions:

· Invite people to give short testimonies on their workplace experience.

· Show videos of people at work . . . so that the church can pray more meaningfully for them.

· Identify and profile Christian role models from the world of work.

· Pray for Christians when they travel on business, not just when they go to Christian conferences.

· Design a discipleship curriculum that includes courses on time management, personal budgeting and stress management.

I'd be interested in hearing other suggestions from you.

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