It has been pointed out to me in numerous ways that missionaries are viewed as if on a pedestal, high above the average Christian. In other words, there is an expectation that missionaries are more spiritual, don’t sin as much and that they suffer and endure hardships for Christ better, etc.
In many ways this makes missionaries the spiritual superhero of the average churched Christian. That is unless you actually know a missionary or are related to one. A healthy dose of humor/cynicism is usually available if you talk to the brother of a current missionary.
Distance builds up the ideal
Part of the mystique that is created for a missionary comes from physical distance. When you only read missionary letters and hear about the projects that have been accomplished or events of some magnitude in a foreign country, the distance tends to cloud the judgment. Not to take away from the accomplishment at all, there are of course missionary scammers but most all of the ones I know are honest to the core and do great work.
The clouding of judgment comes from not being able to see the details of how things went down. You have not had the chance to see the character flaws and growth through the process. You didn’t know how many relationships got trampled to get the project done… and yet we are in the business of changing lives, right?
You may not realize how crude and incompetent the missionary’s cultural/language skills are and how much of his suffering is self inflicted stupidity. Missionaries turn out to be very average people – in fact, a bit under qualified for the job in many cases.
Missionaries have sacrificed
Now that we have looked at the feet of clay and realized that these missionaries are just average like everyone else, let me point out another feature of missionaries. The fact is they chose to go and you didn’t… no shame to you but that’s how it is. In most cases they knew full well their limitations and if they didn’t they soon learned them. Still they went and stuck with it.
Basically they took a dare that goes like this. God has called (everyone) and I will answer that call and trust Him to give me the strength, grace, growth and resources for whatever the job brings. That alone is a huge step of faith and with it comes spiritual growth and maturity. Beyond this there is the every day running of this lonely race in a strange land. This also brings growth and endurance.
I once ran into an American in Bolivia who was truly suffering and would sit me down to unload his troubles about every 2 weeks. He was married to a Bolivian and was living with his in-laws and taking care of his two children while his wife was away in the USA working. Life was hard on him largely due to language, culture and false expectations on every front. I tried to give him the training survival course on thinking Latin, but he was a hard study.
After a year and a half he left the country on the quiet to avoid local family feuds. His way of describing the difference between us and how we dealt with the situation was “you have a mission to keep you going”. In other words if you are just in it for yourself, you won’t make it.
The pedestal is false
So that mysterious spiritual pedestal that missionaries are put on by the average Christian is a bunch of baloney. Just like you, missionaries put their underwear on first and then their pants. They are not superheroes.
The decision to take the dare and walk by faith will lead you to grow and mature even if you don’t end up on the foreign mission field. This dare will take you out of your comfort zone, where everything is under control, and force to you walk an unknown path – this path you will not walk alone.