by Curt Kregness
Lessons learned which went far beyond the fund-raising and prayer-raising function of deputation.
Deputation. I’ve never had a real secure feeling about that word. It sounds too much like deportation, or deprivation.
To those within missionary circles-especially eager candidates-the word "deputation" can strike fear into otherwise stout hearts. To those outside the church, it is an unknown term.
I know that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," but couldn’t we try to come up with some alternative to "deputation"? How about "expectation," or "anticipation," or "initiation"?
At the beginning of my missionary career, deputation loomed menacingly ahead, a big question mark that was to dominate my life for the next two years. After talking with veteran missionaries, I sometimes got the feeling that it was some kind of initiation rite into a sacred order. If you passed the test and survived deputation, you had what it took to "make it" on the mission field. It was like a type of boot camp, which toughened one’s mettle for more difficult times to come. The veterans I talked with tended to remember the positive aspects and gloss over the rocky portions.
I entered deputation with some apprehension, not really knowing what to expect, but realizing that I was in for a long, arduous climb. I was convinced of one thing-that God was going to have to take up the slack in many places, because I felt very inadequate for a public relations-type ministry, especially when it often centered on myself.
Deputation, as we all know, is a ministry. "But what does that mean?" I thought. I know that it’s supposed to mean that the missionary appointee is intended to be a blessing to the host church(es). We are supposed to inspire, challenge, encourage, inform, exhort, edify, and otherwise impress our constituents. But as I climbed further up the mountain, I discovered that someone had not told me the complete story. God was using the deputation experience to minister to me. At each new bend in the trail, I realized some new lesson that God was teaching me, which went far beyond the fund-raising and prayer-raising function of deputation.
Lesson 1: increased confidence in God and self. In an area like public speaking, where I felt most inadequate, God took away my fears and allowed me to express my thoughts in a coherent, understandable fashion. At one point, I even received an encouraging compliment on my presentaiton from a 3-M marketing expert. I was amazed.
Lesson 2: flexibility. I learned what it meant that an appointee was supposed to be able to "preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice." For instance, being asked at the last minute to teach not just the high school class (your original assignment), but the entire adult department for Sunday school. Or being called on to "give a word of testimony" at a meeting in which you thought you would be able to simply sit back and relax for once. "Good missionary training," the veterans said. I agreed, begrudgingly.
Lesson 3: patience. The hardest thing about deputation is waiting. Waiting for news of support; waiting for the next meeting; waiting for your printed prayer letter from the home office; waiting for a visa; waiting for letters from the field; waiting for your car to get repaired. Somehow, God managed to teach me patience through all that waiting.
Lesson 4: learning to meet new people. I never did enjoy meeting total strangers. I’m still not sure I do. But it certainly has gotten easier. Because that’s what deputation is all about: going to places you’ve never been before, to meet people you’ve never met before, to talk about something you’ve never experienced before. But now, I have a few less strangers in our denominational family and a few more friends. The concept of the universal family of God became vividly real to me. Many times, I felt that I received more encouragement from my host family than I was ever able to give them in return.
Lesson 5: learning to be an alien. The missionary appointee on deputation is an alien. First, he becomes an alien to his home community because he is never around to attend church or other social functions. He can accept no steady responsibilities in his church or community because he can never be sure when he will be called out of town for a meeting. Second, the missionary appointee is an alien wherever he goes to speak. Of course, he makes a few good friends in most churches, but that relationship is quickly cut off when he must hop in his car and head to the next meeting.
A feeling of rootlessness begins to pervade the appointee’s life. This was one of the most difficult aspects of deputation for me. Once, when I returned from a five-week deputation circuit out of town, I discovered that many things had transpired in my church and among my circle of friends while I was absent. I felt "out of it." But suddenly my shock was doubled when I realized that this was exactly the same situation I would face when I returned to the U.S. after four years overseas – only the feeling of alienation would be compounded many times over. Thanks for warning me in advance, Lord.
Lesson 6: revaluation and consolation of my missionary call. Missionaries often convey the idea that they "have it all together" in terms of their call to missions. Don’t believe it. The doubts creep in occasionally. But when one is continually forced to express his call to those who have never experienced God’s convictions regarding oveseas service, some heavy thinking is required. A mere whim of the moment cannot be sustained through months of deputation. There must be solid study of God’s word and strength of inner purpose to face ups and downs of this period. I decided that my commitment to God and his work in the world could not be based on my feelings or my knowledge of the future, but on his faithfulness alone. That is the only type of "missionary call" that will last.
A now defunct comic strip character named "Pogo" once uttered this piece of wisdom: "We have met the enemy and he is us!" My deputation experience verified that often we are our own worst enemies.
One of the first psychological challenges I had to face was the change from "9 to 5" type work to the sporadic schedule of the self-employed appointee. Basically, I discovered that this amounted to periods of frenzied preparation, followed by long hours behind the wheel of my car, followed by intense segments of emotional drainage (speaking or meeting people), followed by indeterminate periods of relative inactivity, followed by repetition of the whole process. I longed for the predictability of a 40-hour work week.
Self-discipline, I discovered, was the key. Spare moments between meetings could be used productively for letter-writing, reading, physical exercise, washing the car, etc. There wasn’t much time left for goofing off.
The second inner barrier I faced was a growing sense of nonproductivity. In my previous job, I usually had something tangible to show for my day’s work-an article edited, a brochure designed, a news story roughed out, a slide show script written. But as an appointee, I soon realized that most of my "product" was intangible. I didn’t like that feeling. How could I monitor my progress? How did I know whether I was succeeding or failing? What did I tell someone when they asked me what I did for a living?
During these times I gained consolation by remembering verses like 1 Corinthians 15:58 and Hebrews 12:11. God was developing my character. Now that’s a product. And even though I couldn’t see it, I knew that God was developing a sense of responsibility and accountability in the lives of those who heard my missionary challenge.
Then there was still another barrier-that mystical change to missionary status and the subtle consequences that accompany it. Was it my imagination, or were people treating me differently? It was as if they were carefully putting me in a different pigeonhole.
"Oh, so you’re a missionary. I see. That’s nice. Uh . . . very interesting. Well, best of luck. See you later."
I could almost see the wall of nonunderstanding develop in some cases.
"A missionary? Wow, I’d better be careful what I say. This guy must have a hotline to God. Why would anyone want to throw his life away like that? I feel sorry for him-all that suffering and persecution he will go through in some out-of-the-way corner of .the world."
Oh, the monologue was never spoken, but I could read it between the lines. And it made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be different; I wanted to be a plain old, ordinary sinner, just like everybody else. I didn’t want a hotline to God. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure if I knew his number. And most of all, I didn’t want to be pitied. That turned my stomach.
Maybe it was that word-"missionary." Maybe it should be thrown out along with "deputation." Too many barnacles clinging to it. Too many false impressions. Maybe I should start calling myself a cross-cultural literature specialist. No, that’s too cumbersome. Any way, it’s not my fault that people don’t understand what a missionary really is-or is it?
Finally, there was that painful wondering if you can truly be someone’s friend without them thinking that the ulterior motive for the friendship was some kind of financial support for your missionary enterprise. This one really hurt. I decided that most of the problem was in my own head. Any problem that someone else had was strictly a misunderstanding of what a missionary is and how God provides his support. Nevertheless, the thought still surfaces every once in a while, and must be dealt with.
"We have met the enemy and he is us."
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