by Erin Mackenzie
Variety is the spice of life. And of the mission field.
In fact, it’s essential to the mission field. The variety of gifts that your LCMS missionaries and their networks embody is more than a dash of cayenne to lend a certain je ne sais quoi or some basil straight from the garden for a pop of freshness. The Gospel goes forth not in spite of, but through the diverse gifts of the individuals that serve the Lord on the foreign mission field, and those who sustain them by prayer and generosity.
A few weeks ago, a friend and fellow missionary asked to borrow my “banana bread tin” (read: loaf pan).
When I dropped off said pan, my friend informed me that she was, in fact, mixing up a loaf of banana bread. She shrugged off my question about a Plan B if I hadn’t come to her rescue with the pan and proceeded to rave about the gluten free mix she’d found at the store, to which she’d added one more banana than the back of the box called for, plus some chocolate chips for good measure. I, a stickler for following directions, drove away bewildered at how someone could be so lackadaisical about something as precise as baking.
Her method caused me to reflect on my own experience from a couple of weeks prior. It also called to mind 1 Corinthians 12:4: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” I detest making banana bread. Produce evades precision. Just how ripe is “ripe?” How big is a “medium” banana? If a recipe calls for 2–3 bananas, do I use two or three? Hence, my interest was piqued by an America’s Test Kitchen recipe for the bake sale standby. Developed based on a battery of tests engineered to generate the ideal final product, it was quirky. It started with microwaving the bananas to extract their juices, which were later reduced to concentrate flavor and control the moisture content of the batter. My friend was equally bewildered at how someone could get so technical about a stir-together quick bread.
Varieties of gifts. Varieties of service. Varieties of activities. Missionary pastors likely come to mind when you think of “missions.” And indeed, there is no mission where the Word is not preached and the Sacraments not administered in truth and purity. But there are also deaconesses. Teachers. Nurses. Photographers. The past few months have seen a recent accounting grad and a dental hygienist grace Latin America & the Caribbean’s regional office for a few weeks each.
Everything else about us varies as much as our vocations. We are ordained, commissioned and lay. We have doctorates and bachelor’s degrees. We are one-man bands and people who can’t carry a tune in a bucket. We are retirees and twenty-somethings. Singles and families that could practically field their own baseball teams. Straight-laced suits and free-spirited creative types. Obsessive recipe followers and people that ad-lib it with whatever’s in the pantry.
We’re all identical, though, in that we share the same Spirit, Lord and God, who orchestrates our varied gifts in His perfect harmony for the mutual benefit of our fellow man and so that every knee might bow and every tongue confess His name. We’re a living testament to 1 Peter 4:10–11: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
It’s not about us. It’s about Him, and His mission, and the Spirit with which He endowed each of us so that we might become participants in that mission. With our varied gifts, we share His Good News throughout all the world. We are a spectrum of Enneagram types, a lexicon of love languages, and an alphabet soup of Meyers-Briggs personalities united in “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). And it is the Spirit and the Spirit only that can create and nurture faith — a gift which is not merely good, but the best we could ever receive!
For the record, both iterations of banana bread were worth repeating; this “obsessive recipe follower” might even throw in some chocolate chips next time!
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.