The Pillow That Made Me Re-define My “Missionary Spirit”

“I am a missionary!” What a wonderful title to have! I say it with pride and most of the time with arrogance. Arrogance? Let me explain. Who is truly demonstrating the character traits of Jesus? Is it “I” who with such pride know the word “missionary” and apply it to myself? I, who have studied the lives of famous missionaries and try to emulate their words and actions? I believe that in every “missionary’s” life a time comes when a startling truth is revealed to him or her. A startling truth I am just beginning to understand.

For the last many months I have been working among a people group whose religion and ethnicity are far different from the one I grew up in. I have been “serving” them in the best ways I have known how. And yet as I sit and write these thoughts down, I am putting on paper a confession:  I am not the missionary I should be here.

When I give, I give from my abundance. I have a whole room for myself, a mattress, four blankets (for when the weather is cold), a heater, three sets of drawers to put my personal belongings in and a large metal chest I “borrowed” from donations. I also have more than 25 books with me, and an antique looking little table someone was throwing away. I have a nice carpet on my floor so that my feet don’t feel the cold tiles. My room is nicely decorated – though often very messy from the work related papers strewn about. I visited my family in a different country for Christmas and I am planning another journey later this year. I chose to leave my country of schooling to come here to be a “missionary.” When I came to this country to serve I had a large duffel bag full of “necessities” and things that would make my time in this far-away land more comfortable.

Now let me describe to you the lives of those who are really reflecting the attributes of Jesus–even though they don’t claim to be His children. They did not choose to leave their country. War and threats of death chased them from their comfortable homes, jobs, and lives, to flee to a country that didn’t want them, where living conditions were bad, to say the least, and where work was scarce. In the size of room I have to myself (10 ft. x 10 ft.), a whole family would stay. At night, the floor is a sea of bodies. During the day, it is the kitchen, sitting room, and whatever else it needs to be. Of the families I have been getting to know, most of them are sleeping in a room just a little bigger than mine and sometimes more than 14 people sleep there. When I give from my plenty…they give from their poverty.

There is a family that has “adopted” me and calls me “daughter” and “sister.”  I went to share the afternoon meal with them one Sunday and the discussion turned to the youngest in the family who I will call Tom. Tom was discussing the intricacies of how the different people in his family sleep. With glee, Tom informed me that his oldest sister can’t sleep on a bed because she rolls off, and that one of his other sisters sleeps with her feet tucked up close to her body and her knees in the air to prevent putting her feet in the face of the other brother…But, Tom told me that sometimes her feet still kick his head around.  With the telling of this last part he curled up with laughter, during which his sister told me how Tom slept. When she told me that Tom snored if he didn’t use a pillow, Tom’s laughter abruptly stopped so that he could defend himself.  He insisted that he did NOT snore. The sister, who I will call Amy, told how Tom had somehow rolled off his pillow one night and was disturbing her with his snores and she had to put him back on the pillow. The discussion continued on about pillows and I volunteered that I didn’t use a pillow. At this Tom went wide-eyed and asked, “Why, Miss?” and I told him that I didn’t need one and that I really didn’t have one to use. My comment was soon forgotten as eight-year-old Tom’s stories drew us into other conversations.

That week Amy was sick, but she still came to help us out with our work. One day she looked so bad I sent her to my room to rest a little. I was glad I did, because when I went to check on her she was looking terrible and obviously needed to be lying down. Later the next week, I got a call from her and she said that her parents had something for me and wanted to know if I was at home. I was, and a few minutes later her dad came up to the door with a bag.  Guess what was in the bag!  A pillow!

I immediately called Amy back and told her and her family, “Thank you very much!”   I wanted to know WHY they had given me the pillow? Amy said this, “My mom thinks of you as her daughter.  When I went up to your room, I laid on your bed and realized that you really didn’t have a pillow. When I went home I told my  parents…”

Amy’s mom has serious health problems that put a real strain on the family’s income. The dad is blessed to have a job now, but so many of my families have lost their jobs during the last few months that nothing is assured. The oldest son, who is eleven, works to help make money so that his mom can have the medicine that keeps her alive.  He also uses any extra money he can get to buy new clothes and shoes for his three sisters and younger brother. The dad’s paycheck goes towards food and rent, which is just barely covered. Yet here is this family–who I thought I was serving–modeling Jesus’ character better than I ever have.

What is a missionary? A missionary is a person who reflects the characteristics of Jesus to those around them so that they will be attracted to the real Jesus–the only true hope available in our world

Over the last few days I have been re-thinking what it means to serve others. So often we give from our abundance and think that we have sacrificed something…yet have we really done anything? If I have a hundred dollars in my pocket and I see someone suffering, don’t I go and buy something to break that hundred into a smaller amount and then give only a fraction? When I have five pairs of pants and I decide to give away one of my old pairs…what have I lost?

When Amy went to my room she was feeling terrible…yet she noticed my “need.”  Which one of us “missionaries” would have had the time or energy to notice that something was missing from the comfort of our host? Amy and her family are not Adventist. They are not even Christians. They are Muslims who have been driven from their homes by politics and war. Yet they don’t see me as a threat to them or as another one of those foreigners who are ruining their lives and the lives of millions…Instead, they opened their arms to me and made me feel at home in a foreign country that was so unlike my own. They gave me a place to come and relax from the stress of work and fed me from their food. Often what they have given me was from the very last that they had. So who is the missionary? Who are the ones who are really looking out for their neighbors and seeking to help even when they don’t have?

It is my prayer that I will learn to be as good of a missionary in terms of reflecting Jesus’ love to others as this family, and so many other families, have been to me. They, in their time of most dire need, wouldn’t turn away a hungry mouth; who even if there was only one last piece of bread left would give it to satisfy the hunger of someone who may even have more then them. What will it take for us to emulate this kind of a missionary spirit? The Spirit of Jesus!


*The volunteer who shared this story wishes to remain anonymous.

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