Tsidiky (Smile) needed help. Her daughter had just given birth and was not doing well. They had been in the hospital and, overwhelmed by patient upon patient with fever, the hospital sent them home immediately. Smile’s daughter was still very weak and unable to feed her baby; she was scared.
Smile cooks and cleans for some of our friends here, missionaries themselves from England. These friends speak French but Smile speaks the local Malagasy dialect. Since we see these English friends a good bit, I often translate bits of things for them (things that aren’t clear between them in French). So recently, our friends asked me to query Smile about her daughter. As soon as I asked Smile, the story poured out of her. She had wanted to ask off from work to tend to her daughter because no one else would care for her (the baby daddy was out of the picture), but she hadn’t known how or had the confidence to ask through the language barrier.
In the end, as I translated for both sides, our friends arranged for a French doctor to come by and check on Smile’s daughter. Smile had the rest of the day off and they gave her some money to take care of her little girl. That night, I could hear her smile over the phone as she profusely thanked me for enabling her to cross the language barrier. “Without you, nothing could have happened,” she said.
It has been said that missionaries are essential workers during this crisis. It’s true, the good news of how to be transformed in the midst of this crazy world is always essential, in times of global crisis or no. But I’ll be honest, sitting here at home today, distancing myself from others, while for the most part the world goes on around us, I do not feel essential.
In one sense, I’m clearly not an essential worker. I am not a nurse working an ICU shift, nobly caring for others at perhaps the highest personal risk. I am not, like a few friends in essential construction, working as normal everyday to make sure life can carry on. What I can do, what we are doing, is what we do best: we’re building bridges across cultures.
Missionaries do more than just tell people about Jesus
If you have truly grasped the story of how God became man to rescue us from evil and restore the world to perfect harmony, it transforms you. It compels you to tell everyone you can. That is what we call a Christian. A missionary is different. I would argue that even moving to another country and another culture doesn’t make you a missionary. Missionaries are Christians sent with the goal of communicating the good news in another language and culture. That one goal splinters off into thousands in real life as language and culture comprise so much (i.e. What words do you use to speak about Jesus? What should a Christian look like in this culture? What even is this culture? What do they hold most valuable? What mistakes has my culture made in the past with this culture? What even is my culture?).
Suffice it to say, being a missionary doesn’t mean I just tell people the story of Jesus in Madagascar. There are actually a lot of people already doing that (which I’ll get to in a moment). I do that because I’m a Christian, and I have just as much ability to do that working construction as I do as a missionary. I’m a missionary because I have devoted my life to adopting a way of life and way of speaking that acts as a bridge across cultures—a bridge upon which, I believe, Jesus’ scarred feet can walk into a Malagasy person’s life. And even that, I don’t do alone.
Missionaries don’t work alone
Jesus didn’t save us to just be his friends; we are invited into his family. One of the blessings of being a missionary is discovering hundreds upon thousands of brothers and sisters you never knew you had! Please remember, Christians like these are busy telling people the story of Jesus everyday. There were already hundreds of churches here before we came. It’s the same for a lot of the world. Are all the churches healthy? Loving people and telling the right story? Of course not. Just like our churches in America! I can say with confidence, however, if all the missionaries in Madagascar suddenly left, as they say here, sanatria (“heaven forbid”), there would still be people telling the story of Jesus.
In fact, as pertains to our work here, often the greatest gospel gains in our area have occurred while the missionaries were not here (visiting family, for instance). God started 6 churches here through missionaries (and all of those we had Malagasy brothers and sisters helping us). The other 194+ that we have now were planted solely by Malagasy believers, without missionary help. God is not restricted to American missionaries to reach the world.
Why are we here?
It’s scary being here. We’re locked down on an island with closed borders and limited medical care in the middle of a pandemic with two young kids. We’ve absolutely had thoughts of trying to get back. But God has us right here, right now. Why? I’m not exactly sure to be honest. I don’t think you should call me an essential worker. Just call me a missionary. Call me a bridge-builder.
Because in the end, I know Tsidiky (Smile) is right. Our friends were the ones who helped her—provided care. We just got to be the bridge, from one culture to the other and back with the love of Jesus. And I think it’s for things like this that God has us here. As things progress, pray with us that our presence here might continue to be a bridge for hope, help, and the Gospel here in Madagascar.