On Christmas day, we celebrate and open gifts from under the tree. Our son receives his gift and takes no time to rid it of its exterior wrappings. He has anticipated it’s arrival, and this is the gift he has expectantly and hopefully waited for. It is a dear gift.
Similarly, I think of myself as a gift sent half way around the world, Am I hoped for and expected? I have come as a missionary, as a gift to this strange place. Will I be a dear gift?
My first gift I received in Liberia was a tall piece of metal – hollow, with two handles on it. It looked like an ashtray off one of the old BC Ferries. The young man who gave it to us had walked about five miles with it over his shoulder. Inside he had placed some dirt and a plant that would keep growing for the next seven years until the whole thing was stolen from our yard. I never understood why he brought the gift and have never seen the young man again. I think he was from the community where we were building our house. Whenever I think of him walking for five miles with a 25 pound piece of metal on his shoulder as a gift I ask, WHY? Why did he bring it?
I wonder if Liberians ask themselves that when they see me, WHY? why did she come here?
I thought I knew what the gift of a missionary was! I thought I knew: the gift of reconciliation, the gift of hope, the gift of salvation, the gift of eternal life. The idea of giving these gifts is well reasoned and Scripturally sound but the truth of the matter is that most people did not want my intended gifts as much as they wanted practical things: shoes, school fees, food, clothing, medicine, employment, cell phones, computers, jewelry, money, association, recommendation, contact with the West.
The longer I am here, the less I have of all the things people want. And the more I realize that the gifts I came to give are treasures that I myself am still mining. I must not waste nor cast these treasures indiscriminately about me for their belittlement and mimicry. My possession of these treasures is a result of faith, not my ability or wealth. These gifts are worth so much more…They are the gifts that mean we can stand secure in the face of turmoil. They are the gifts that mean we can live at peace amidst our enemies. They are the gifts that give us a vision that goes beyond the daily grind and the mediocrity of material gain. They are the gifts of true joy and satisfaction with God’s plan for my life that I can rejoice in other’s blessings.
How can I wrap these gifts and give them? Who will want them? My gift is so designed and wrapped that it is seen in how I respond to my adversaries. It is seen in how I face injustice, how I face dishonesty, it is in how I face poverty and greed and ridicule. It is in how I dress and drive. It is in how I talk to the beggars and how I reach out to the foreigners and the marginalized members of our community.
I recently read about the underground railway that brought many slaves from the southern states into Canada. I was amazed to find out the great involvement of the Quakers. They were perfect for the job of helping slaves to freedom, easily identified in their peculiar dress, already on the fringe of society because of their beliefs and practices, they had right on their side and a network that was fluid and flexible. Their gift was their availability and visibility.
Personally, I struggle with my purposes and callings. I know, without hesitation from the sound teaching I received, that there are priorities that I must serve. God, Family, Commitments. But can I find fulfillment in serving these priorities. I often feel that if I become a servant to these entities I will waste away and be Martha-lized in life. But this is where I am learning to mine treasures of Joy, Peace, Patience, Love and Faith. Maybe as I store away these treasures I have gotten while waiting for those who I have come to as a gift to appreciate, they will see the value in these treasures and thereby see the value in me, a missionary gift.
Written Easter, 2011