When I read Amy Lepine Peterson’s post about her favorite childhood missionary book this week, I had to pull this book from my bookcase and dust it off.
The Girl Who Wanted to be a Missionary was part of the Church of the Nazarene’s Caravans program, which was sort of like Christian Boy/Girl scouts. It was also part of the Children’s Mission Curriculum. The fact that I still have means it is pretty important. I remember it being one of my favorite books as a kid.
I re-read the book last night. It told the story of Susan N. Fitkin, who started the world mission society of the Nazarene Church and was its president for many years. Susan was a minister and evangelist who worked to raise money for and awareness of missions work overseas. Though she never got to be a missionary herself, she was an integral part of the Church of the Nazarene’s missional focus.
The book contained words that I hadn’t read in a while:
Phineas Bresee (one of the founders of the Nazarene Church)
General Assembly (a quadrennial meeting of international Nazarenes)
Harmon Schmelzenbach (famous Nazarene missionary to Swaziland)
By the time I finished the short chapter book, tears were running down my face. My reaction was part nostalgia, part guilt, part sadness, part thankfulness. I grew up in a denomination that felt like a family, and for that I am grateful. My family’s story is part of the Nazarene canon. Though we are no longer a missionary family, my parents’ work in Thailand lives on. I see it every day in Facebook posts from my friends there.
Still, there’s a feeling of brokenness, too. There’s the guilt from walking away from this “family,” and there’s the ache of my own struggles with faith and doubt. Sometimes it feels like after everything my parents did over there, after all the sacrifices they made, after all the work they did in the name of Jesus, God slapped them in the face.
And it hurts.
(Susan Fitkin lost a son, too. Yet she kept on working on behalf of missionaries, even redoubling her efforts to finance overseas work. She and her husband never let their son’s memory die, though. They financed several different building projects that were named in memory of their son Raleigh.)
The truth is, I don’t know what to do with these feelings. The truth is, I used to be the girl who wanted to be a missionary, too.
But now the words evangelism and evangelical don’t seem to mean what they used to mean, and instead of giving me purpose, they just make me feel lost.
My daughter is nine years old. When I was nine, I already knew what missionaries were. The song People Need the Lord was the soundtrack to my entire life. I knew that the 10/40 window was an area of land between 10 and 40 degrees North that was the world’s least Christianized and also hardest to get into to do mission work. I already knew that in a year or so, I was moving to Thailand.
My daughter’s life seems so small compared to mine at her age. She’s never been overseas, and she hasn’t heard many missionary stories other than my own. Her parents aren’t at the top of the ministry hierarchy. She lives in a place where most people speak her language.
Here is what I have to come to: It’s okay that my children’s experiences are not like mine. It’s okay that they are growing up in a different church, in a new era, with teacher parents, not missionary ones. It’s okay that they won’t have stories of living in a place where there are Flood Days off of school instead of Snow Days.
They will create their own stories. They will tell their stories, of belief and unbelief, of family and frustrations, of baseball and books. They will use vocabulary that is different than mine and will cling to words that remind them of their youth. They will make their mark on the world with their own words.
Until then, I’ll just keep telling them my old stories, with my old words, words that ring of both sorrow and joy, with hope that some of them land on my kids’ hearts.