(A missionary’s perspective on humility.)
Did we leave our intelligence behind? Or was it put on hold the moment our passports were stamped and we crossed through customs? Goodbye patria natal and hello humility! The journey that repeatedly calls forth the self-scolding words “I feel so stupid” thus begins.
We think humility in this context is feeling stupid since we are temporarily incapacitated to do what we are otherwise capable of doing. In our own culture we can teach, administrate, serve, prepare, communicate, etc. In the host culture we are temporarily handicapped. This causes us to have a lower view of ourselves because we can’t think, speak, or understand the same way those in our new setting do.
When we first arrive to the field, the tendency is to be appreciated for what we can do – and here lies the rub: we can’t do much! Does this mean we’re stupid? Inside us our capabilities and talents scream to get out and produce! No, we’re not stupid, but we feel that way. Humility has to take it’s long, winding course and shed those “stupid” feelings along the way.
This is where we need to remind ourselves that missions is not about doing, but rather being, or better put: becoming. We are indeed living, breathing, adapting, and becoming what we were sent to be: missionaries. We don’t say, “We do missions”; we say, “we are missionaries.”
Repeatedly the apostle Paul introduces himself in his writings by stating, “…called to be an apostle.” He did not say called to travel, nor called to do apostolic work, etc., although he eventually does mention the things he had done. To be sure, our being will involve doing, just like Paul.
Taking the perspective of being (via becoming) vs. doing can free us from those self-degrading words as we realize each inability we experience is a step towards ability. Small at times, but a step nonetheless. In that way, we can walk in true humility, laugh at our mistakes and grow through the process.
(I continued this thought in the post Being vs. Doing: When the Word Became Flesh)