The Lie I Believed About Third World Missions

Written by
The Lie I Believed About Third World Missions Luca Zanon

“Who wants to go door knocking with me?” Dad would joyfully yell through the house on a more frequent basis than I liked or was comfortable with. He would go door-to-door knocking to love on people, ask if they had prayer requests, ask what their needs were, even though we were too poor to meet most of the physical ones. If Dad couldn’t be ministering in a third world country somewhere, flying with JAARS or translating with Wycliff Bible translators, he was going to do his best in the environment he found himself. This he always made very clear. My Dad was raised in the Mennonite faith, their most prestigious lines of work being teaching, nursing and missions. My Dad has always had a huge heart for missions and due to finances, multiplying children and a wife who preferred to stay state-side (bless her), he was relegated to his immediate communities. He ministered with gusto, boldness and love, I have always been proud of him and his great big heart and hands, although his big hands frequently gave from our usually bare larder, which frustrated my young heart.

Overseas missions were discussed with joy, awe and wonder in my household, mainly by everyone but me. I knew to Dad, and his side of the family, third world missions were the pinnacle of your life if you so chose. We were constantly getting support letters in the mail from all of the Yoder’s, Brubaker’s, Stolzfuz’s and Zook’s, and I knew Dad ached to follow suit. I couldn’t have wanted it less. While he was reading Peace Child, Elisabeth Elliot biographies, The Voice of the Martyr newsletters and the constant flow of monthly updates from friends and family all over the world, I was reading regency romances, Nancy Drews and fashion magazines. As a kid I felt there was something wrong in my heart, in my mind that kept me from any positive feelings toward evangelism and over-seas missions. I liked building relationships, building roots, sharing my life, not barging in, no matter how loving and gentle, as my Dad most certainly was. I never wanted to go with Dad and only remember accompanying him a few times as a very small child. He read us stories of missionaries around the world and although I enjoyed their bravery and sacrifice, I abhorred any thought of me going to those places. To my childlike mind, I already lived in a barren, needy land, I didn’t want to trade it for another.

I grew up understanding that if you couldn’t go overseas, which was the most important missions you could do, God wanted you to door-knock, give away all your good stuff and live among the poor. Guys, hear me, there are many of us called to this type of missions and love and it is honored by God, but I wasn’t, I am not, and for a long time I thought that meant that something was wrong with me. For a long time I thought that God valued over-seas missions more than any other type of missions, that if you were truly godly and sought the Lord, his answer would be deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him to the desert of Africa, the trash heaps of Cambodia, the unreached people of the Amazon! What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that my heavenly Dad had created me for different things and it was by his design that my hearts desires and longings were different. I have always made it clear that I was not born for third-world missions, if you ask any of my friends if I am likely to hop on a plane to Africa, they’d probably chuckle and violently shake their heads no! You’re more likely to find me on the streets of Monaco, the biggest dream of travel in my heart right now, besides going to fashion weeks in NYC and Paris/Milan, or Italy, touring historical buildings and eating and drinking every delectable available to my palate along the way. 

Six years ago was the first time I attended a meeting with Heidi Baker. Heidi and her husband Rolland founded Iris ministries in Mozambique, Africa and have been integral in planting over 10,000 churches, saving almost as many orphans and beautifully loving “the least of these.” She was ministering at a conference our church was hosting and our pastors frequently visit and teach in her Ministry schools which are now all over the world, the main base being in Mozambique. Our head pastors being joyfully missional and itinerant, it was obvious they would invite her to minister. It was incredible, her intimacy with Jesus so tangible, so precious,  and such a catalyst for me wanting to go deeper in my own relationship. At one point she spoke and said that the Father wanted to release destinies and callings and would we agree to ask him his desire and plans for our lives. Now this is something I had purposely avoided until this moment. I did not want to ask Dad what his plans were for me because everyone knew if you asked that question, you would be bundled off to Africa or India or the frozen wilds of Siberia with two dollars in your pocket and with only the clothes on your back. This is how much fear I had.

I decided that night that my fear was not as large as my desire to know and walk in what Dad had planned for me, so all of the years I had purposely stayed away from those questions melted away in the face of the love I felt from the Father. The fear was still there, very present, but if he did ask me to go to one of those places, I could always say no haha. I closed my eyes and asked like most of the people were doing in the room while Heidi was praying and declaring over us. I was immediately taken into a vision and was walking down the sidewalk of Rodeo Drive in LA. I turned into a clothing boutique and noticed a beautiful chestnut haired woman, who I knew to be the manager of the store. She wasn’t more than 22 (you know how the Spirit just lets you know things in visions), perfectly formed, surgery enhanced to be so, a tiny, white, form fitting dress, perfect make-up and her glossy, pin-straight hair reaching almost to her waist. In the vision, I smiled as I walked toward her but recoiled when I saw her begin to transform in front of me. Her hair began to grey and fall out, her teeth became rotted and broken, her botoxed, unlined face became sallow and lined and her perfectly white dress became gray rags hanging off of her emaciated frame. I asked Dad what he was showing me and he said “there are more than just physically poor people on the earth, there are spiritually poor and they do not know they need me. These are the people I have called you to - these are your tribe.” I could have wept with relief and the realization that what I had falsely believed all my life were selfish inclinations, were actually what Dad had placed in me to be a light and to care for his broken among the wealthy of the world. I didn’t know he called people to this demographic, you may think that was terribly short-sighted of me but I didn’t, I was too caught up in my fear of being sent to Africa or some such place. 

This realization brought so much freedom that when invited 6 years later to go for 10 days to Mozambique with a group from church, although I was hesitant and didn’t want to go, I knew that God wouldn’t ask me to stay there, I knew it was my turn and he was asking me to go because he wanted to solidify something in my heart. Last December, I left for 12 days with my husband and a few our dear friends and travelled to the place I said I never would. It was hard, it was stretching, especially our trip into the bush, but so also was it immeasurably illuminating and confirming. We were under the stars watching the Jesus film in the Macua language while four or five littles crowded around me for bits of lap and cuddles. I love children and they were so precious but after a while I was tired and needed to stand and stretch and find my way to JT and rest my head on his shoulder. The enormity of what I had said yes to was all around me and being so completely out of my comfort zone had made me exhausted (you can read about this trip to the bush in my blog, Finding Gold in the Dust).

We have all heard things like “you’re a real missionary now!” when our friends or family have gone overseas. I heard this as well to which I responded, “I have always been a real missionary!” The reply being “yes, but you have reached a new level now!” I knew the friends saying these things were excited and trying to be encouraging, but I found it to be troubling because of those old fears that overseas missions were the most important to the Father. Right there I asked Dad what he meant about “going into all the world to preach the gospel, if I was missing part of the equation by not wanting to go to these places, and he responded, “Cathy, the body is made up of hundreds of parts, each created for a specific purpose, your ‘all the world’ could be your living room, a law office, running coffee at a coffee shop or working at Home Depot,” these are all equally important to me and meet the mandate of that scripture.” Blessed relief! I asked him about what some friends had mentioned about levels, was third world missions the highest “level” of sacrifice and gained the most blessing or heavenly accolade and he responded, “there are no levels, just lovers.”

Friends, maybe you, like me, have been afraid to ask Dad what his heart, vision and plans are for you in your life. Maybe you feel like you are missing something because you are not trekking the African desert on the back of a camel or selling all you have and starting an orphanage in the Philippines. Dad thinks so much bigger and broader than we do and he creates us, designs us to take up our crosses in the places he has called us to so that it is not a forcing or striving of ourselves but a willing yes and joyful sacrifice for us. “For the JOY set before him, he endured the cross!” My calling to the wealthy or Cyrus’ of the world may be abhorrent to my friends who want to love and live with the Macua in Mozambique or the gypsies in Romania, the point is, we are all called but each to a different, worthy people. Mine has been mainly my living room since starting a family 13 years ago because our four children are my main mission field and I am incredibly blessed (and frustrated daily haha) by this mission field. Your mission field could be closer than you think. Don’t be afraid to ask him who your tribe is friend. None are too small, he’s just looking for lovers.

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Cathy Mlinarcik

Married 15 years to amazing hubby JT, and crazy in love with our four children, one girl and three boys, Halle, Jon Grady, Ryder and Dillon. Homemaker, writer, relational junkie and fanatical be-er, love sharing and doing life with my community. Jesus follower, Daddy lover and Holy Spirit partner in crime.

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