Friday, April 17, 2009

The Ugly Missionary #3: Living the Life

I’m sorry for posting about ugliness here at the Koffi House. I do it for a purpose, however. I write these stories so that we will see what we should not be; how we should not think; and what we should not do. There aren’t any “old scores” I’m trying to settle. (Some of these stories will include my own actions.) Rather, I want us to evaluate and adjust, consider and repent, so that we will be effective missionaries wherever we are.

Bart is definitely a Type-B personality. An hour lunch break could easily turn into a two and a half hour affair when the conversation gets going. Bart would spend long conversations sipping on fruit shakes in boutique tourist-oriented cafés telling his missionary colleagues how he just couldn’t ever find enough time to do language study. Yes, Bart was pretty laid back.

This was Bart’s third “tour of duty.” His first was to an austere Eastern European location with a lot of history, cobblestone streets and ancient cathedrals. He would often reminisce about his “old world” European lifestyle and the things he missed about living there—going to cafés and pubs, watching football (soccer) matches, touring through other European cities, the sophistication of people there in general. Bart had served seven years before disagreements with other missionaries who wanted him to put in more hours at the church caused him to leave.

Bart’s second missionary station was in Northern Africa. That didn’t last too long—just over a year. Bart found the Muslim way of life a bit repressive for his style. But when the subject of “Africa” or “Islam” ever comes up, Bart is quick to share a few stories from his life experience.

Finally, Bart landed in The Location. This is his first assignment in a more “tropical” environment. Of all the cities available, he chose to work in the largest tourist town. It offers the biggest selection of European restaurants, resorts and swimming pools. Bart enjoys taking his children to the local resort’s pool for swimming every weekend as he makes use of their golf course and driving range. His wife has joined the fitness club there and works out three times a week.

Along as he has air-conditioning for the hot days, the climate here is agreeable to Bart. He spends all of his time in sandals, shorts and sunglasses. Among The People sandals are common, for sure. Shorts—not unless you’re playing sports or working around the house. Sunglasses—only the pimps and young men in the drug-culture gangs would wear them here. But Bart takes comfort in the fact that he’s a foreigner and points to the tourists as his example. He knows The People know he’s a foreigner and expect him to be different; so he lives in their good graces.

Living in a tourist town in a tropical country can be kind of trendy. But after a while Bart became unsettled about some of the inconveniences he had to put up with. Namely, those were the nationals. He hated it when local servers at the restaurants would never quite understand what he said. “They’re in the tourist industry—they should learn English better.” It was one of Bart’s constant gripes.

And then there was the fact that there aren’t any good supermarkets or furniture stores around. Bart had to ship his furniture in large containers from overseas. Other items he had custom-made by local carpenters. But they would never do a good job and the quality was always sub-standard. Bart would just complain about how The People did everything substandard. It wasn’t like home. It wasn’t like Europe. He would often joke about how “stupid” The People were. “All they do is shoddy work, and then they want to get paid!”

One night, as Bart was going out to eat at a French Fusion restaurant with a friend, he bumped a parked car with his new SUV. Bart’s SUV was fine, but the car was scratched and the fender cracked. When the owner ran out to look at it and expected Bart to take responsibility, Bart told him, “Your car was already messed up and ugly!” Bart walked away laughing telling his friend in the restaurant what happened. “He’s just trying to get money out of me!”

Yes, Bart is living the life. It would almost be paradise if it weren’t for The People.


  1. Wow! I am a casual follower of "Stuff Christians Like" who followed the link from Katdish to your site. I have been catching up on your back blogs. As a pastor in a small, traditional New England church I am overawed by God in you. I will pray for your BAM every time I read your blog. Our denomination has learned over time to partner with indigenous ministries. I believe very strongly in this concept. Keep up the good work and the powerful teaching through your blog.
    Pastor Tom

  2. I just found your site and am finding it very interesting and insightful. Thanks. wb

  3. Hi Pastor Tom--Welcome to the Koffi House. I am glad you have liked what you've read. Please feel free to browse through blog archive. I've only been blogging here since February, so it is all relatively new. Thanks for coming by and I'm glad you're serving there in New England! Does your church have a website?

  4. Hi Warren--Welcome to the Koffi House. Thank you for coming by. Feel free to add your thoughts anytime!

  5. We are currently redesigning our website. The old one is probably run out, and the new one is a few weeks from being up and running. I'll keep you posted.
    Pastor Tom

  6. Did you say Bart is a missionary? And what kind of missions exactly is he involved in? Are there people sponsoring him for this type of missions? Because it sounds more like an extended vacation of an extremely spoiled and arrogant man. Not what I picture when I think of a missionary... (This isn't you BEFORE you figured out what missions is all about is it?)

  7. Hi Annie... Most of my "Ugly Missionary" characters are amalgamations of a number of different people. Sometimes, myself included. I change names and details, but try to convey real pictures of what people are sometimes like "on the field."

    You ask about Bart... you might be surprised how many missionaries out there are like Bart, or who are partially like Bart! Perhaps they do a Bible study once a week or manage a project whose program they believe is their ministry. Not too uncommon. Unfortunately, many supporters (those people who help sponsor missionaries) are much too forgiving of missionaries (because they just think "being a missionary" is amazing) and too uneducated. Many times they're blinded by the feeling of "I could never do that" so they are automaticaly impressed with someone who does.

    Missionaries are people, so don't be surprised when missionaries do some crazy things. We would like to think that only those who are spiritually motivated and spiritually focused actually go to the field--but that is not always the case. And that is part of why I'm writing this Ugly Missionary series.

  8. Missionaries must be gettin paid a little better these days...

  9. Misconception #1: Missionaries are all spiritually motivated and focused on the field.
    Misconception #2: Missionaries live in poverty and are always worrying about where money will come from.

    Being a missionary might be one of the best ways to get a lot of money with little accountability. We are protected by people's misconceptions and general assumptions that we are so amazing.

  10. Wait...

    You're not amazing? Bummer.