Being a Missionary is Hard: An Embarrassing Story of Failure

Being a missionary is hard. I wish that it wasn’t so hard, but it is.

It’s not hard like 10 hours a day of chopping wood. It’s emotionally hard.

It’s not glorious. We don’t just go out, stand on a corner, preach and see hundreds of people come to Jesus. We don’t spend our days offering clean water to people who have never had clean water. We aren’t out there picking up orphans from the mud of an abandoned village and racing them to the nearest home. Some missionaries do, but that’s not our work.

Honestly, if you would look at the skeleton of our lives now, and the skeleton of our lives before we moved to the field, you would probably think that things aren’t that different. We have a car, a nice home, nice malls, and nice restaurants. We can go out to eat. We have Internet, and Netflix, and some friends just brought us our Wii.

There is this whole other set of daily routines that just can’t be explained that makes being a missionary hard.

Sense of humors are different.

Cultural values are different.

Things don’t work like they do in America.

I’ll share an anecdote to better explain the situation.

Every parking lot here in Guatemala gives out little tickets that you use to pay or validate your parking. Just recently us and some friends that were vising from the USA went to a local mall to spend some time just walking around. We had lunch, made a couple of purchases, and decided to make our way out to head to the airport.

Anytime that I leave a parking lot or garage, I know what the routine is. I have to make sure that I find my ticket. If I can’t find my ticket, they are going to charge me like 10 times the value of the ticket so that I can leave. I quickly dug around in my pockets and let out a short sigh of relief, feeling the ticket pressed against my wallet.

I made my way to the parking kiosk. Yes, we have parking kiosks that don’t even require human beings. It is just a vending machine that sells parking. I inserted the ticket, as I have done dozens of times. Then I put in my 10 quetzales, and waited to retrieve my ticket.

Except, this time it was different. The machine decided to keep my ticket.

So, I pressed the little “Ayuda” (help) button to tell someone that this machine decided to have a mid-day snack and swallow my ticket.

*riiiiiiiiiiiiiiing* *riiiiiiiiiiiiiiing*

NO ANSWER

I quickly glanced at my watch knowing that the people that were with us had a flight to catch.

I decided to just deal with it at the parking gate. Quickly I grabbed the receipt that said that I paid my parking and bolted out the door to the car.

Big mistake.

We slowly approached the parking exit, and the parking attendant was reaching out his hand for my parking ticket. I tried to shoot him a nice North American smile and explain the situation. I handed him the receipt that verified I paid my parking and expected to be met with an equally honest, Guatemalan smile as he pressed the button to let me out of the parking lot.

I was wrong. In an instant, you could almost feel the entire mall come to a grinding halt. All eyes were focused on me. Parking attendants starting swarming, coming over in their poorly tailored Secret-Service-style suits. They all had headsets, and they were all furiously talking into their headsets, to whom I can only assume is the Wizard of Oz. I never saw the man, but he seems to have power.

I asked the guy what the problem was. He told me that the problem was that I didn’t have my ticket. So I explained again, I already paid for my parking and the machine swallowed the ticket, here is my receipt, can I please leave? I asked him time and time again “isn’t what you want is my money for parking? Here is proof that I gave you my money!”

I then began to explain that my friends who had come to visit us from the USA had to catch a flight. We showed him evidence of the flight. Nothing. We showed him the receipts of what we had purchased in the mall. Nothing. This poor guy had absolutely no ability to help me out. He was just waiting for a message from the Wizard, who had apparently called for radio silence.

The big fear is that people are stealing cars, I get that. If we were stealing cars, 4 Americans and a 10-month-old is the worst possible cover for car-stealing in Guatemala. Or…maybe it’s actually the best. But, that’s beside the point.

I started getting heated. I needed to leave. We had already spent close to 15 minutes sitting. They kept telling me that I had to go back up to the parking machine and retrieve my ticket. I, at first, kindly explained to them that the ticket had been swallowed by the machine and wasn’t retrievable.

I spent another 15 minutes arguing with the guy. This time I wasn’t so kind. I was tired and frustrated of this silly system. Why would they put a guy at the parking exit that can’t even let people exit? Thousands of people go to this mall every day, this can’t be the first time that something like this happened. Their machine swallowed the ticket, shouldn’t they take the responsibility?

I sat at at the exit of a parking garage for 30 minutes because I didn’t have the parking ticket. I offered to pay any amount of money necessary to leave, but they wouldn’t let me. And, all in Spanish.

After close to 30 minutes, the Wizard broke his radio silence. They had checked the cameras, and verified that I had paid the 10 quetzales for parking (about $1.25). They opened the gate and I pulled into the equally frustrating Guatemalan traffic.

My blood pressure was through the roof. How could they treat ME like that? Don’t they know how things should work? Don’t they understand how to problem solve?

After we dropped our friends off at the airport, I started getting a real sick feeling in my stomach. Not sick out of anger, but sick out of shame.

Shame at my American pride that I knew how things should work. Shame at my inability to show grace to a group of guys who are just doing their job. Shame at my inability to control my tongue. I’m a missionary, for crying out loud! How could I lose control? Shame at my need to justify myself, to prove that I knew better and I did what is right. Shame at my pride for giving everything up to come to this country, and my anger that this country didn’t appreciate me the way I wanted them to.

It’s in these moments that I am so grateful for a Savior who didn’t come to earth with the arrogance that I came to Guatemala. By no means am I comparing myself to the Messiah and Guatemala to the earth. Too many missionaries have made that mistake. It is quite the opposite, actually.

Failures like what I experienced at the exit of that parking garage, remind me of just how incapable and unqualified I am of doing anything. They remind me that, lest I cling to grace, I will destroy all that is good, and lovely, and beautiful. They remind me that humans make terrible Messiahs. They remind me that, even though Guatemalans look at the world differently than I do, both of our perspectives are broken. There is only one perfect human being. And that perfect human being was slaughtered so that Guatemalans and Americans could be reformed into God’s glorious initial design.

All that to say, being a missionary is hard. It is hard, not because the work is any harder. It is hard because every single day I come face to face with my sin, my emptiness, my brokenness. I have absolutely nothing to give to Guatemala, apart from the grace that has been given to me.

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