What is your favorite thing about being a missionary?
-- Liz Sluder
It happens at odd times -- in the middle of shoving baklava in my mouth or struggling for the right word or snapping a photo of a very human moment. That is when God whispers to me that this very second is a fulfillment of a life dream. It is, in fact, one of God’s most precious gifts to me.
Since I grew up in a nominally Lutheran home, the first time God used the word “missionary” attached to my future, I replied with a very definitive and firm, “no.” Because I was 14 and a new Christian, I had a very one dimensional understanding of the term “missionary.” God took that “no” and began to gently transform my heart through foreign language classes in high school. By the time I was a senior, my most precious dream was to travel in Europe, but the dream always had a caveat: not as tourist but as someone who gets to know the real culture and people. It seems obvious now, but then, I never once made the connection to becoming a missionary.
Today, when I am sitting in Kosova listening to a sermon that I do not understand in Shqip (Albanian) while watching a dear friend’s little girl play, I get goosebumps. I still have to ask, “Do I really get to do this?” I have the amazing privilege of being invited into the lives of people from Europe’s most intriguing countries. My journey winds its way into the center of these fascinating cultures far from the tourist traps and nestled deep within the burgeoning heart of hospitality that spreads across Central Europe. I am invited into homes, to tables, into lives and stories that both challenge my faith and feed my love for a personal God and his people.
I could give so many good answers to Liz’s question: Learning a new language can be such a fulfilling experience when you make an intelligible sentence, or it can be equally humiliating when you are fighting back tears of frustration in the middle of language class. It might be learning new customs and how to incorporate them into your existing traditions. Another good answer could be learning to understand the fascinating histories of different countries.
But, my best answer is this: a shared bite of baklava
Last time my friend Andi was in my home for a party, she walked up and shoved a piece of her homemade cake in my mouth. “Here, try this,” she said as the cake was enroute to its destination. It was an incredibly sweet moment for me. In the countries where I live and work, sharing a meal or common dishes, as well as bites from the same utensil are symbolic gestures of close relationship – the snapshots of a life journey together.
This Saturday my family is invited to spend the day at Andi’s home. I am anticipating those precious moments of shared hospitality because I know that my understanding of language, culture, food, relationship, God, world view and in fact, who I am at the core, will be positively challenged and stretched.
It doesn’t get more fun that that.
-- Teanna Sunberg is a missionary, a mom and a writer who enjoys studying about, writing about and lecturing in the area of Missiology. Together with her husband, Jay, they have the joy and privilege of serving the people of the Central Europe Field of the Eurasia Region. Currently, her family lives in Budapest, Hungary, but they have also called Bulgaria and Russia home over the past 17 years. She has authored various articles and chapters in mission-related publications including the Nazarene Missions International missions book, Cold Winds, Warm Hearts. She is currently working on a children's mission book and is a regular contributor to Engage magazine's new Ask the Missionary column.