The only time I have ever wanted to be a missionary of any sort was when I met a Franciscan sister from Togo. She was radiant, especially because her love of Christ was obvious in every word she spoke and movement she made. I was drawn to her and as she spoke of her order’s work with orphans in Africa I was taken in. I wanted to move to Africa and work alongside her. Yet a week after she had returned to Togo my imaginings of all things exotic and romantic had died away and God reminded me in prayer that He wasn’t calling me to Africa or anywhere else. He wasn’t asking me to be a missionary.
I suppose now would be a good time to define what I mean by missionary. At the risk of being simple, I only mean a person who goes to an area in poverty and helps at no cost to those receiving aid. The person could be going to a rural village in China, a shantytown in Costa Rica, or “the wrong side of the tracks” in Joplin, Missouri. The mission could be life-long or over spring break.
I have never felt called to do this kind of missionary work. I have heard the testimony of friends and family who have gone to third world countries and aided in rebuilding after natural disaster, tended for the weak and sick, or taught Bible songs to little kids in a foreign language. They speak of the power of the experience, how seeing true poverty has made them re-evaluate their lives, what joy looked like on the faces of people who had nothing, how they have never appreciated life and small gestures like they should have. When they speak like this part of me wishes I would have gone with them but the other part of me knows it’s best I stayed behind.
It’s true that there are some pretty shallow reasons why I have never gone on a mission trip. First of all, they usually take place somewhere hot and sunny. I hate being hot and I hate the sun. I’m paler than Jim Gaffigan and so there’s no way I’m going to have my skin burn because I sweat off all my sunblock. Secondly, while I have a basic knowledge of how to use power tools that does not mean I should be building anyone a home. I can barely assemble a bookshelf from Target let alone a roof. Lastly, I’m lazy.
Okay, I’m not lazy in general but I am when it comes to the type of work that has always been presented to me in mission trip opportunities. Work in the hot sun all day building a church in the rainforest? No, thank you. But I could have worked all day long peeling veggies, setting up tables, washing dishes, and I would have done it with a smile. I remember asking specifically on several occasions, “If I go could I work in the kitchen, making meals for all the volunteers?” The answer was always “no”. So I stayed home. God gave me the gift of hospitality and a love for working in the kitchen. He did not give me a gift or a love for the things that are typically done on a mission trip. Without really knowing it as a young adult, I sensed that God gave me gifts and talents that I could and should use for His glory. To ignore them and try to make myself do things that He had not gifted me in would not have been a good idea.
And that brings me to my real reason for not having ever gone on a mission trip. I have known for a long time that God was calling me not to some exotic location, but that He wanted me to use my gifts in a much more familiar place. I have a belief that my kitchen is my mission field. Before I was married I often baked cookies with and for the Newman Center students I worked with as a way to invest in their lives and show them I cared. At this stage of my life – where I have 4 little kids and a husband – I cook, bake, and clean for them and the friends and family we invite to our home. And I have a dream that when my kids are in school their friends will want to hang out at our house. I will feed them home-made chocolate chip cookies and always welcome them at our dinner table. I will know my kids’ friends and have relationships with my children and their classmates so that they are comfortable talking with me and sharing their lives. I dream that my husband and I will witness to them what a good marriage looks like, what a happy family is. Our children will want to sit on the counters, telling me about their day as I make their dinner or put away the dishes. As my children and their friends come into my kitchen I will love them, educate them, and challenge them. I will teach them to pray and to trust in God. I will share with them the Gospel message. Instead of helping to build a chapel or home in the heat of the sun I will help my kids and their friends build character and virtues near the warmth of my stove.
God did not call me to Calcutta. He has called me to my kitchen and from there I will preach the Gospel.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/BEngstrom-e1314017018199.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have four children: one in Heaven and three wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She is the Assistant Director for Behold: A Catholic Conference on the Dignity and Vocation of Women and she blogs at Learning to be a Newlywed.[/author_info] [/author]