The following is a reflection based on my previous experience as a medical missionary in Haiti.
A rather awkward and uncomfortable side to the missionary life is the “pedestalization” that we undergo.
During a refreshing and grounded conversation with two visitors, both volunteers who survived the earthquake and have since returned to work, we spoke of how we have all reacted adversely to the near-idolization we have experienced. It is a disturbing phenomenon, though understandable, as I have certainly fallen guilty of the same type of thinking about friends and popular personalities. During my visit home, I heard many say, “I could never do what you do – I think it is amazing and you are amazing!” or the like. One aspect of that statement is true – the work I have the privilege of participating in is truly amazing and awe-inducing. But I must disagree with the other two parts of the comment!
To those who think that they could “never” do what I am doing – all I ask is that you respond to the urging in your heart to serve in whatever capacity God is calling you to. I am a firm believer that we have the grace to do exactly what is asked of us in the moment, whether it is working in the orphanages and hospitals of Haiti or caring for the home you live in, cooking dinner for your family.
Whether it is working long hours at your chosen profession, spending the day in prayer within the confines of your room, creating the best artwork you can, or diligently working a difficult job to provide for those you love.
If you are responding to or pursuing your heart’s desire through your vocation, doing what you believe is right, and if you are determined to leave the world changed for the better, then you are doing the same thing I am doing. The ways that our lives and gifts are used are different but no less important.
I remember holding myself to a ridiculous standard, believing that there was no mission or vocation as noble as international missions. That any job I might look for in the States would not be enough for God to be satisfied with me. What a lie! I have had the privilege of working in the developing world for many years since my first college graduation 12 years ago but have served in equally critical ways in the States. Like my summer working as a home health care aide, caring for a woman with post-polio syndrome, and spending hours each night making her comfortable. Or learning to host at a restaurant, learning good customer service at a local bread franchise, or cleaning the bathrooms at a medical office.
During the four years I spent working at an elite hospital, caring for critically ill children and their families, I still had yearnings for international work. Thank goodness I was able to begin learning from my little patients and their absolutely heroic parents. Their mission was to love their little children through perilous surgery and recovery, with years of potential chronic illness. For some, it became sharing their grief publicly and reaching others through an excruciating legacy.
Over and over again, in my mind and heart, I could observe how personal each individual’s mission is meant to be. I also realized that a parent who valued the care a nurse provided their child was just as appreciative of countless other, mundane details. The small things mattered, too– the room’s cleanliness, quality of the food, freshness of clean blankets or sheets, or the availability of a particular toy or movie. The climate in the room, or the smile on the face of the person transporting their child to surgery. These aspects of patient care had nothing to do with how good a nurse I was–they were provided by people perhaps seen as behind the scenes or brushed off without a second thought.
And to the third part of the statement, the–“you are amazing”–part, it could not be more untrue! As my fellow volunteers and I will gladly attest and willingly admit, we are sorely human, the weakest of the weak. I have negative thoughts, I have experienced depression, and given in to despair. I complain, doubt my abilities, and I am sure I annoy my roommate (though she is too kind to say anything). I miss the creature comforts of home, I obsess over what I will wear to work (yes, even here!), and I could go on about my negative attributes. We are all usually good at doing so.
The wonderful, underlying gift we must be willing to recognize is that we are inherently weak and imperfect but still given a remarkable opportunity. God has entrusted us with the formidable task and responsibility of living this life in the service of others. This much may go against the popular grain of “looking out for Number One,” which seems to be the trend. But I can assure you that when, in spite of my weakness and ineptness, I step forward and choose to humbly walk in acceptance of my imperfection, a perfect love can be demonstrated through me. That is the amazing part–the Power that works through imperfect, fragile people and affects transformation in minds, hearts, and lives. The Power that changes the world.