Referring to the focus of studying missionaries in mission history–
An added bonus was the lively cast of characters. I have often wondered as I have studied missions history if there is any other field of endeavor that has been peopled by such a “crazy” lot. Many of them were, it seems to me, more eccentric and risky and individualistic and driven than other segments of the population. Often self-sacrificing to the extreme, many were also pedantic and critical and mean-spirited— unable to live in harmony with colleagues or with those to whom they sought to ministry.–Ruth Tucker, FROM JERUSALEM TO IRIAN JAYA: A BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN MISSIONS, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), pg 11 (Preface to the Second Edition).
This quote gives me both comfort and caution. The assessment of the quirckiness of missionaries is a bit of a comfort. The stereotype that missionaries go overseas because they ‘cannot hack it at home,’ is generally false, but does point to the fact that missionaries often are idiosyncratic and countercultural in their own homelands. As a missionary who is rather academic, introverted, and (yes) grumpy, it is comforting to know that I am part of a long tradition— a tradition that has successfully spread the gospel throughout the world. It is comforting since mission agencies today often look for extraverts who are more focused with obedient ‘doing.’ It is good in my mind that mission agencies are less focused on the rather dubious thing called the “missionary call.” That goodness may be offset by replacing that standard with personality testing. <Note: My wife and I have a counseling center, and we have done personality tests for missionaries. I have no problem with these testings, but I believe they are of more value for the candidate’s self-discovery, NOT for determining viability.>
As noted, however, there is caution. Missionaries have gone overseas and wreaked havoc. Sometimes in the mission team this is a problem because it reduces morale and increases attrition. Additionally, it can sabotage kingdom growth. There is a deeply flawed view that in ministry, “If even one person responds to the gospel, this makes it all worthwhile.” Ignoring opportunity losses, the fact is that an incompetent missionary or a divisive missionary, can undermine ministry… salting the mission field (a bad thing if you are not familiar with the expression) for years.
Missionaries are on odd bunch. That is a good thing… but they certainly need prayers to ensure that God can use that oddness effectively for His Kingdom.