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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Myths Regarding Missions 3 Missionaries are held in high esteem

The missionary, though held in high esteem by his friends and converts on the mission field, has never stood very high in the social register in his own hometown. The mental image conjured up by the word missionary was anything but flattering. The usual cartoon depicted him as wearing knee sox, Bermuda shorts, and a beat-up pith helmet. The word missionary needn’t appear; the identity was complete. The missionary wife looked even worse. She was expected to have flat heels, long skirt, white blouse, and a bun at the back of her neck. The children, with their hand-me-downs, scuffed shoes, and unruly behavior, completed the picture.

Intellectually the picture wasn’t much brighter. Not many missionaries had college degrees. For this reason the critics assumed that they were doomed to mediocrity. Some even went so far as to suggest that they volunteered for overseas service because they couldn’t make the grade at home. Brainy men and pretty women were not supposed to be missionaries!

The fact of the matter is that missionaries are neither dumb nor dowdy. Immediately upon return to the States the entire family in many cases is given a clothing allowance which enables them to get a whole new wardrobe. Today it is virtually impossible to spot a visiting missionary in a Sunday morning service unless he is on the platform. The womenfolk are smartly dressed and compare favorably with their home side sisters. As for the MKs, their problem is to figure out a way to look as unkempt as their city cousins!

When it comes to intellectual prowess the missionary is not one whit behind the average American. A missionary without a college degree is a rare person today. Many have two or three degrees. He may not remember whether the New York Mets are in the American League or the National League; but he knows more about geography, history, and world affairs than we do. While away from our affluent society he acquired a genuine appreciation for the simpler, finer things of life. He can converse intelligently on a wide range of subjects and is an expert on his adopted country—its history, people, and culture.

As for the MKs, they may be less sophisticated than our youngsters, but they are more mature. They have read more books, visited more places, talked to more people, and made more friends. They are usually bicultural and can speak at least two languages fluently. They are accustomed to world travel, which in itself is an education. They have experienced in real life the exciting and exotic things available to us only on television. The number of MKs who go on to college, and do well when they get there, is considerably higher than for the population as a whole. Most of them go into the professions—law, medicine, politics, the pastorate, and teaching. Not a few return to the field as missionaries. Very few have any desire to go into business simply to make money and live well.

J. Herbert Kane, The Making of a Missionary

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