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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Myths Regarding Missions 6 The myth of the primitive life

There are people who believe that missionaries live in primitive conditions with barely enough to keep body and soul together. They still think of them as hacking their way through snake-infested jungles and living in thatched houses with furniture made from packing cases.

There are, of course, some missionaries who live that way, Wycliffe Bible Translators and the New Tribes Mission, because of the nature of their work, have most of their missionaries living and working in primitive conditions. In fact, part of their training takes place in a jungle camp where they are required to survive for several weeks in the jungle equipped only with a sleeping bag, a machete, a compass, a few simple medicines, and a box of matches.

But they are the exception. The great majority of present-day missionaries enjoys a standard of living considerably higher than they ever anticipated. They are located in modern cities where they drive their own cars, shop in department stores and supermarkets, and have access to four-lane highways, airports, public libraries, golf courses, and tennis courts.

Even the missionaries living in bush country usually congregate in central stations built for the purpose, where they have the basic amenities of Western civilization—simple but adequate housing, running water, and indoor plumbing. Most of them have electricity even if they have to generate it themselves. This enables them to make use of various kinds of electrical appliances brought from home. Food, mail, medicine, gasoline, and other supplies are flown in periodically by Mission Aviation Fellowship planes.

A young missionary couple that went to Ethiopia only last summer wrote in their first prayer letter:

The S.I.M. station is beautiful. Gardens abound with all the familiar fruits and vegetables plus such things as bananas, pineapples, and papayas. Flowers are abundant. One can view Jimma five km. away with several mountain ranges in the background.

The homes have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and refrigerators, Carey and Livingstone should have seen this day!

In former days the missions acquired land and built homes for their missionaries which were rent free. These were invariably Western in architectural style and interior decoration. They were large, airy, and comfortable. In fact some of these homes were better than some parsonages here in the United States.

In more recent years it has become a practice for missionaries to live in rented premises. These are usually located in the more attractive part of town and would compare favorably with middle-class housing in urban America.

God forbid that we should base our missionary appeal to modem youth on creature comforts; but truthfulness demands that we tell it like it is. When most missionaries first leave for the field they are prepared to live and work under any circumstances; but when they get there they are pleasantly surprised to find conditions much better than they had ever dreamed.

J. Herbert Kane, The Making of a Missionary

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