by Erin Mackenzie
“The preparation of persons for mission is provided by life experience long before college, university, or mission school offers them information through a curriculum. The zeal, the vision, and the basic qualities of character that are the “raw material” of which missionaries are made, are fostered at home, in churches, and in para-churches.” — Samuel Escobar, “The Training of Missiologists for a Latin American Context”
The mission field enhances one’s notion of family. I’m blessed to serve with a team of colleagues who are my “relatives” in nearly every sense of that word. We certainly didn’t pick each other. We didn’t grow up together, and we don’t share DNA. But we do share our joys and our struggles with one another. We lift one another up in prayer. We cry sad and happy tears together. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and ministry milestones together. We give each other bolas to and from church, the store and the airport. We babysit one another’s kids and pass on hand-me-downs. We house-sit, dog-sit, and cat-sit for one another. We even have a Facebook group — so if our family status wasn’t official before, that basically seals the deal.
Yes, I love my ad hoc mission family — yet this doesn’t in any way diminish my appreciation for the family I was born into. On the contrary, I am even more grateful for every twig in my family tree now than I was before. They are, in large part, the reason I’m on the mission field at all.
Paul writes these words to young Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14–15).
I know from whom I learned what I firmly believe, that’s for sure.
On the surface, my life doesn’t bear a strong resemblance to that of my parents. They’ve lived in the same house since they got married. In 1984. I have my passport number memorized. My dad thinks crunchy taco shells from a box are spicy. I have a reputation for never following the same recipe twice. My mom has carried the same nondescript black fanny pack as a purse as long as I can remember. Nine months ago, I sold nearly everything I owned and moved to the tropics to become a missionary.
Genetics don’t lie, though. Where it counts, I am the spitting image of my parents. They did many things right to ensure that I, like Timothy, have “from childhood … been acquainted with the sacred writings.”
So now — in this time between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (May 26 and July 28, respectively, in the DR) — I want to say thank you to the two people most responsible for teaching me about Christ, nurturing my faith in Him and fostering in me “the ‘raw material’ of which missionaries are made” (Escobar, quoted above).
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for making Sunday mornings synonymous with cinnamon rolls, church and Sunday school.
Thank you for sacrificing so that I never went to a school where Jesus wasn’t welcome.
Thank you for modeling a faithful prayer life by bowing your heads in gratitude before every single meal.
Thank you for responding to the mission trip ad in the church bulletin and asking 16-year-old me if I wanted to go.
Thank you for not trying to persuade me to major in something more academic than a foreign language.
Thank you … twice … for not slamming the door to foreign missionary service.
Thank you for holding my hand through the “adulting” of an overseas move.
Thank you for installing WhatsApp on your phones and learning how to use it. It’ll catch on in the US one of these days…
Thank you for storing eight Rubbermaid tubs of my belongings in my childhood bedroom.
Thank you for cutting out the Webster-Kirkwood Times crossword puzzles and mailing them to me.
Thank you for boarding my cat for five [agonizingly long!] months.
Thank you for flying 1800 miles with said cat in tow and spending two weeks in my world — in its humid, motorcycle-filled, dishwasherless glory — and with my missionary family. I love that my family of origin can now put faces to names when I blabber on endlessly to them.
But more than that, I love that my missionary family and the one I share DNA with are inextricably linked. In Christ, we ALL share much more than DNA: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). In Baptism, we are one with brothers, sisters, uncles, mothers-in-law, and third cousins twice removed in the faith across time and space.
One body. One family.
So Mom, Dad: Thank you. Thank you most of all for bringing me to the font as an infant so that I might become part of God’s eternal family, a family that the Holy Spirit causes to grow daily before my eyes.
Erin Mackenzie is a career missionary in the Dominican Republic. When she’s not traveling around Latin America overseeing the regional short-term team program — too often, according to her cat, Freddy — Erin enjoys reading, trying new recipes and challenging anyone who claims they can beat her at English or Spanish Scrabble.