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What is a missionary, and am I one?

As I sat with a few ladies in the home of one of the women in our church, laughing and crying and sharing life, I couldn’t help but pause in the midst of it to observe the scene before me. We sat in an 8’x8’x8’ “living room” with white walls, long past their pristine beginning, in red upholstered chairs with oak arm rests and legs, like you’d find in a doctor’s office waiting room. There was a mini fridge in the corner and a 12” analog television, complete with bunny ears, and a small DVD player attached to it sitting on the floor.


In the opposite corner from the mini fridge was a pile of plush blankets piled on the floor, arranged as a crib, and a wooden mobile suspended from a beam in the ceiling, that twirled in the breeze that occasionally let itself in through the open front door. To be honest, most of these things don’t stand out anymore when I visit someone’s home. What is more recognizable is the heart beating behind the tenderly arranged blankets and carefully arranged furniture.


As I sat in my red upholstered doctor’s office chair, I listened to the heart wrenching struggle of its owner over the last few months. She held her active, attentive, wild-eyed four-month-old daughter as she told the story, all the while the little one’s entry into the world being the cause of her mother’s anguish.

Her mother had had a cesaerean section to deliver her. The active youngster was oblivious to the fact that her mother subsequently underwent five additional surgeries and procedures to amend the complications that followed the botched incision that ushered her into the world.

As we all listened, silent and riveted, to the account of this woman’s chilling month long stay in the hospital, she said something that caused a mist to form and swell in my eyes. She recalled one evening during which she arose from her bed to use the bathroom. As she made her way down the hall to the nearest shared patient bathroom, she hugged her chest and prayed,

“Touch my soul and heal my body. Even though there are relatives that could take care of my baby, I want my daughter to feel my love for her one day, so touch my soul and heal my body.”

I was awestruck. She had the most tangible, albeit desperate, reliance on something so much bigger than her. Not just something, someone.

In the modern world of healthcare I come from, complications can always be fixed. The bill always gets paid. People always go home “better” than when they arrived. Here, none of those things are guaranteed. Complications have an uncertain outcome, there aren’t insurance companies to ensure you get the treatment you need if you can’t pay for them, and people very often go home worse than when they arrived.

What is to be done?

There aren’t enough non-profit organizations, wealthy benefactors, or social programs to assist every single family and person that has a need, health wise or otherwise.

The only answer is in that Someone. The only Someone that intimately knows every one.

I don’t know when the term missionary was invented, and for all intents and purposes, it can be a great word to categorize what in the world we are doing here in this third world country. But, I feel like somewhere along the line it became a term for someone who can meet the needs of the needy, or at lease attempt to. And, in an indirect way, I think we may be doing that, but it certainly doesn’t describe what I experienced sitting in that little “living room” with those precious souls listening to a real life horror story.

Even though I had visited her in the hospital, and was now sitting across from her in her home, I had been utterly powerless to help or change her situation. Ignorant of her options and the extent of the facility’s resources, I couldn’t help with her surgical complications; and, having no source of my own income currently, I couldn’t make the slightest dent in her nearly $4000 hospital bill, which is nearly five times the average household income for a Malawian.

So, what kind of missionary am I then? I’m not the kind that can meet the needs of the needy, apparently.

On the way home from my visit with this walking miracle, the echo of the Apostle Peter’s words in Acts 3:6 resonated through my mind.

“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.”

As we walk the dusty streets and bounce around in dilapidated old minibuses from area to area in Malawi, we are living our lives relying and leaning on that Someone, the Lord Jesus Christ. We have nothing of any worldly value to give anyone, but what we do have, we give without reservation.

When we were about to leave this courageous woman’s home, her husband thanked us for giving our time to visit. All I could say was that I knew the only way to safely keep my time was to spend it. Spend it with people. Spend it listening and loving. Spend it without reservation.

I’m not sure if I am what would be defined as a missionary, but I know that what happened in that woman’s home was real and unforgettable. So, if that is what being a missionary is, then count me in.

7 thoughts on “What is a missionary, and am I one?

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  2. Dear Lisa,

    Your story really touched my heart. You ARE a missionary because you give people Christ. And I am so thankful for the work you and Matt are doing in Malawi.

    But we do often wonde “Who are we that He is mindful of us?” (Psalm 8:4)
    We are His hands and His feet. We are His heart in this fallen world. We have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the excellency of Christ can shine forth. It is He who lights our lamps, so we can carry that light into darkness.
    2 Sam 22:29

    God bless you, precious daughter, and we will see you soon.

    • Thank you, Mommy! We feel Him using us, but in such a way that we don’t even know how it’s happening. It’s such a humbling privilege to stretch out your hand and consider that it’s the hand of God reaching out to touch someone’s life. 🙂 Thank you for always being such a sweet supporter! Love you! 🙂

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