I once had a horrible dream: I was at a retirement home for missionary pilots and their spouses. The were engaged in story telling—about the time “I almost ran into to Mt. Snowy, but pulled away just in time”, or how “the clouds covered the deck and I was flying at 500 feet”, and so on. There were stories of engine failures, running out of fuel, snakes in the cockpit, cattle covering the airstrip, and passengers throwing up all over the plane. It was not good listening–or dreaming.
I had all this in the back of my mind as we were on our way to a retired missionaries lunch meeting. We had heard about this group through missionary friends so decided to join them. They were meeting at a Chinese buffet restaurant not far from us and, although we did not identify with anyone in the group, who knows, we might make some new friends with experiences similar to our own.
I had certain qualms—I do not fit the “missionary mold”: saintly, gregarious, with outstanding stories of pain and progress. I am by nature shy and would rather read a book than meet missionaries.
My wife Joice, on the other hand, is the model missionary: off the chart as an extrovert, brimming with stories and enthusiasm, evangelistic to the hilt. Everyone loves to meet Joice and they often ask, “What is the name of the man who is with you?” referring to me of course.
We pulled into the parking lot by the restaurant next to two women who had arrived at the same time. “They look like missionaries” said Joice, and immediately made the acquaintance of one. “I’m Mabel Marvel’’ (not her real name—I did not get permission to use it, nor do I remember it.) “I worked in Mali (or somewhere—it doesn’t matter) for 40 years (or less, it still doesn’t matter) in literacy”. “Oh, how wonderful”, said Joice, “Are you part of the retired missionary group that meets here?” And of course she was.
We went inside. “We meet in the back” our new associate said, “and you pay for your meal before you go back there”. In the distance we could see a room full of white-haired (or no-hiared) people in it and in the foreground we could see that the meal was going to set us back about $8 each. We paid for our meal and made our way to the room full of old missionaries, who were already eating. We had to sit at an auxiliary table to the main one that was full.
We were given some preliminary information by Marvin, who was somewhat younger (only about 75) and obviously important. He had set up the overhead projector and was responsible for sending out emails with prayer requests and funeral notices. We sat down opposite him and Joice immediately tried to be friendly. “Do people call you Marv?” she asked. A deep and dark shadow came over his face. “No, they call me Marvin.” Joice picked up the conversation from there and was somewhat exasperated—I could tell—we have been married over 60 years and a slight contortion of the upper right eye brow is a serious signal for me to talk. She kept asking questions of Marvin, who had worked in a number of countries in West Africa doing a number of things. In reply to one question he said “Yes, there are many languages but people speak French or Kisswahili (it doesn’t matter)” and he then drew a large circle on a napkin to show us the range and depth of the language.
The lady in charge (Gertrude or Matilda—it doesn’t matter) decided that everyone should introduce themselves. Fortunately, we had eaten our spring rolls, 15 varieties of Chinese chicken, and other nutritious substances and were ready to listen.
I can’t remember all the people, of course, but I do remember a few (whose names are made up, but that doesn’t matter). Ralph and Hazel had just celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary (I am not making that up) and had served in 15 countries and knew everyone in the room and, it turned out, every Nigerian that was mentioned.
George and Edith had also worked in 15 countries and George had retired 5 times. He just couldn’t stay away from the Mission and they would ask him to “fill in” in Angola, or buy supplies in Mali, or treat people for TB in Nigeria. It didn’t matter what the Mission wanted, George was always ready to pack his bags and go—usually with Edith, although she stayed home a lot it seemed.
And so the stories went around the two tables. We introduced ourselves and were told by several that “we must hear more about you and your work”. That made me stop and wonder if I could really measure up to the sacrifices we were hearing about.
The featured “speaker” for the lunch session was a woman who had just been to Nigeria to attend the funeral of a veteran missionary named Ode (or something like that). The veteran had died at the age of 91, unexpectedly and apparently in “full health” (a hopeful way to die). The speaker had a large flyer with Ode’s picture on it and the full program inside it.
Ode was greatly loved—“you could just tell”—and had done all kinds of things that were great but which, at the moment, I can’t remember. We viewed pictures of the Nigerians doing “selfies” with each other and the brightly colored toga-like clothing the men wore. Apparently Ode had made many of the dresses that the Nigerian women wore.
It took about 30 minutes to get through Ode’s funeral—not bad for a woman who had worked there for 50 years, came home to the US but couldn’t stand it, then went back to die in her adopted motherland.
That is the way it is with real missionaries—they die and are buried in their new homeland. The early German missionaries to New Guinea took their caskets along as extra baggage.
This was a heavy denominational group of missionary old-timers and it was wonderful to see the love they had for each other and the work they had done or were still doing. Efficient Marvin had an email to us before we got home, inviting us back.
The group meets again next month and I would like Joice to go back–$8 isn’t bad for a Chinese meal—and I would like her to find out more about Marvin.
In the meantime I’ll relax and try to not think of those aviation stories.