Why do I instantly click so well with almost all missionary women that I meet? I've often wondered why I tend to relate to greater numbers of them than I do with pastor's wives, although the latter are certainly a great number of my dearest friends. I think I've finally figured it out.
The last four missionaries we've hosted at the church have made an interesting observation. I've wanted to blog about this for a long time because I've had this conversation countless times over the years, but now that we're four for four the last few months just felt it was time.
Last night we were blessed to have Wayne and Tammy Brown, missionaries to Thailand, with us in Fusion service. As we were having dinner afterwards with them, Tammy said to me, "Thank you for introducing both of us as missionaries tonight and saying that we are a missionary family. It means so much and I appreciate your terminology. Most of the time when we are introduced people just say, "Missionary Wayne Brown and his family are here." She went on to point out that she and Wayne have a shared call, equal training, both publicly speak everywhere they go, and basically they are equal partners in everything they do. I said, "absolutely, I'm very sensitive to this for that very reason."
There are pastor's wives who are strictly that - the wife of a pastor. Many pastor's wives have their own career outside the church, and little to no involvement. That is acceptable in these days and times, which I believe is great. I'm a big believer in women having choices. The majority of pastor's wives are not actual pastors though it has been in vogue in recent years to list them alongside their husband as such in church communications, such as this:
Jim and Janie Smith
...whether Janie is a pastor or not.
However most missionary wives are literally missionaries themselves, and ministry encompasses their life, at least that has been my experience.
In the Assemblies of God, perhaps one reason for this is that neither husband or wife are allowed to have another job even if they wanted to, and have to devote all of their energies as a couple to the missionfield. Although it is required, missionary wives readily know this when they apply with their husbands to be approved, as it's made clear in all their shared interviews and training. In fact, the couple won't be approved by the missions board if both husband and wife don't have a shared call and won't be willing to work together and have equal passion for the missionfield and the work at hand.
Contrast this to pastor's wives who, while almost always included in an interview, are not included let alone required to train nor are there any denominational requirements or expectations. Sometimes they are even advised not to work as an actual staff member. They are not only allowed to have other jobs, but many are encouraged and certainly no one would try to control whether they did or not. A friend of mine in denominational leadership once pointed out that technically a man could be a pastor without his wife being a believer. It might be difficult for him to succeed and certainly it's extremely rare however I have actually known of a few actual cases of this as crazy as it sounds. I also know many pastor's wives who are definitely believers but they miss church services a lot and may not be any more faithful than the average church goer. This would be unheard of for a missionary.
A few weeks ago, Missionary Mike Barnhill was with us. I was in charge of the service, greeted him as he came in and started reviewing the order of service with him. After giving him instructions for the evening, he quickly said that his wife Nadia could not be there that night as she had just given birth to their third child and was recovering. I said, certainly that was understandable and he went on to say:
"She's so disappointed that she couldn't come. My wife wanted to be here so much. She really thinks a lot of you."
I was surprised. I have only met her once and we don't know one another very well. I said, "really? I never realized I made that much of an impression on her last time you were here."
He said, "oh yeah, she loves you. You're more than just a pastor on a business card."
More intrigued, I said, "could you explain that?"
And he said, "Well, there are a lot of pastors who have their wives listed next to them on a business card and it says "pastors" but their wife doesn't necessarily serve an actual pastoral staff member, doing all the functions of a pastor on staff."
I said, "ahhhhh....gotcha." I understood perfectly without explanation.
He went on to say, "You have an office here, don't you?"
I said, "yes..." and he said, "you work here at the church during the week aside from services, right?"
"Yep, sure do," I said.
He said, "Yeah, well that's what I mean, you lead meetings, you preach, you teach, you do visitation, you are really on staff here...my wife just loves that about you and relates to you because of that. She is equally active with me in our ministry. "
I've heard the same thing from missionaries we've recently had as our guest twice - Robert and Raquel Suarez, missionaries to Ireland. When Raquel called to get instructions from me before their first time to minister at our church she said, "I can't wait to meet you in person!! You are a mentor to me and don't even know it." She went on to say, " I heard you speak at the All Church Ministries Conference. Listening to you, I realized that you are really an equal partner with your husband in pastoring and have shared leadership, just like Robert and I do." (Since they came the first time we've become great friends and just adore them. What a wonderful young couple they are.)
We received the same kind of kudos recently from John and Patti Negron, a missionary couple who are retiring from Latin America. They were with us in May and I believe we were their last service or one of the last.
These four aren't the only who have broached subject only the most recent ones. I have noticed when missionary women come into our church, they see me in action and think, "finally someone who 'gets' who I am and what I do." And quite truthfully, I realize they get it because they live it. And that is one thing that gives me a great desire to go out and talk shop with them afterwards. I know they are literally women "living ministry". They are more than a missionary on paper. They are actually leading on the frontlines. The fact that their pledge certificate hangs on the wall in a church isn't the only thing that states they are a missionary -- their life that is lived doing ministry in the trenches with their husband signifies it. It makes for great dinner conversation as we can converse freely with the foundation already established that we are equals in leadership with our husbands.
I have business cards but it's been a long time since I've given one out to anybody. I don't think I even have any in my wallet right this moment. That a terrible thing for a networker like me to say but now I usually just say, "friend request me on facebook" when I meet someone new. I've never found a business card to be particularly necessary anyway. Nor do I usually have to tell people that I'm a pastor. I don't need a business card for people to know what I do because they readily see it. It goes to say that you can put anything you want on paper but if people don't see it as reality, it makes little difference.
I'm a writer...I love words, but actions speak louder than words when you get right down to it. That's just one reason I get along so well with women who are missionaries. That and the fact that they are amazing women who have given their lives for the gospel.