The Dirty Truth of Missions

By dirty I mean dirt. And mud. And stinky smells. So much of it! Everywhere! In my house. On my floors. All over my children. I have never faced so much dirt on a daily basis or at such an extreme level. RV life had nothing on Honduras.

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Dirt is everywhere, staring me in the face, and I can’t get rid of it. Here, we have all tile floors, which is a blessing because there are no ruined carpets, but at the same time I am forever sweeping and mopping to little avail.

I mop with brownish water. The water turns my sinks and toilets brown. The water often runs out for a day or two–usually right as I am about to wash a large load of dishes or bathe my kids or jump in the shower myself.

No matter how long my day is, or how early I rise in the morning, I cannot ever finish the day with a clean house and clean children all at the same time. In fact, not even a clean sink or one tidy room. I stare at the mess sometimes in utter frustration asking the Lord, “WHY can’t I accomplish anything? HOW can I live with this mess? WHAT will people think of me?”

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It’s amazing how much we can allow the self-imagined opinions of others drive our daily life, isn’t it? Even here, in a third-world country where people are just trying to survive from day to day, I still find myself stressing about what people think when they see a mess in my house. I worry that they will whisper about the messy “gringa” with the noisy kids. I worry that American visitors will be appalled. I compare myself to my missionary friends and to the national Christian ladies.

It sounds ridiculous, but even here, in the midst of extreme poverty, starvation, and desperate souls, I struggle with the dirt and the pride and the hourly realization that I. Am. Not. Perfect. The dirty truth of missionary life is that in my own (futile) effort to produce a shiny image of perfection, I can easily leave out the Gospel entirely. 

And truthfully, I am surrounded by girls and women who have grown up believing that their value is found in their work, in how hard they toil to keep their clothes washed and their men fed and their images squeaky clean. They are not considered valuable or worthy of respect unless they go to bed dog-tired and blistered, ready to do the same thing tomorrow. They are judged daily on how hard they scrubbed and cooked and cumbered themselves about with much serving. I see this, and I know it’s wrong on so many levels, and yet–I struggle because I am afraid of being judged by those same incorrect standards.

Perhaps that is the answer from the Lord to my “Why?” and “How? and “What?”

Perhaps there are wives and mothers and daughters who need to understand that being a woman is a position worthy of honor, not a lifetime contract of drudgery. Perhaps there are boys who need to understand the same. Perhaps they need to realize that no amount of work or toil can ever help them attain value or perfection. Perhaps they need to be introduced to a Grace that doesn’t demand perfection or works but instead offers to completely eradicate the mess without any human effort whatsoever.

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And perhaps, here in this impossible dirt, the Lord is simply reminding me that I need to stop spinning around in a dizzy circle of ideals and to-do lists and frustration and simply accept the mess for what it is: evidence of my imperfection.

Maybe my own children need to see that a home has messes and dirt and smells and that’s okay, because their value is found not in perfection or appearances, but in the Grace that covers imperfection and makes even the dirtiest of dirt disappear completely. They need to see a home that represents the Gospel.

Maybe the Lord just wants me to pause, take a deep breath, and allow him to rid me of the pride that prevents hospitality, grace and the Gospel–to throw my front door wide open and say, “Welcome to our home! It’s messy here but we love it, and we love you in spite of your mess, as well. In fact, we don’t even see your mess.

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Isn’t that the Gospel? Isn’t that why we are here?