After months of feeling like a square trying to fit into job descriptions meant for triangles, I received a call. It was a literal call on the phone (ha, church humor) asking if I would consider a two year position teaching English in Chile with the ELCA. After hearing more about the position and the context, I felt like I had found my square shaped space.
I cannot explain how comforting, excited, terrifying and right that felt and continues to feel. After interviews and the offer, I didn’t even hesitate to say yes. And so began my two year journey living in Santiago, Chile as a missionary accompanying the Chilean companion church there.
However, now I have to make my peace with the “m” word. Ducking under the title “volunteer,” I more or less avoided using the title “missionary” for my entire year in Mexico.
The more historically safe word “volunteer” has been stripped away from me because it turns out a salary excludes you from the word volunteer. Don’t think I didn’t try to duck under titles like compañera and maestra before my ELCA supervisor told me, “eres misionera” and there’s no other way to introduce yourself. Nice try, Ryana…
I’ve been nervous thinking about this post and how many people, like me, get a negative gut reaction to missionaries. I know many, like me, think neocolonialism, cultural imperialism, saving the heathens, the white Christians always know best, evangelists knocking on your door… I’ll stop there.
I’ve been excited and determined to write this post because that is not what the ELCA Global Missions is about. I’ve lived it and am about to live it again. I’m ready to keep at the task of redefining it, reclaiming it.
The diagrams above help demonstrate the movement away from what mission work has been to what we strive for mission work to be now. If you begin on the basis that your story is aligned with God’s story yet divided from the “other’s” story, the subsequent approach to that relationship will be ridden with an imbalance of power, pressures of cultural assimilation, etc. When you begin knowing that everyone’s story is within God’s story then there is a level playing ground where accompaniment and genuine relationship can happen.
It is this idea of accompaniment which is the methodology of global mission in the ELCA, accompaniment as “walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.” Companion churches around the world invite missionaries from the ELCA into their communities. For example, the Chilean Lutheran church I will be accompanying requested the presence of a missionary to accompany them. Lucky them 😉
But still. Why is this important? Why couldn’t someone from that community do it?
During my orientation last week I asked Heidi, Director of Global Service and friend, why missionaries and missions. She answered with something along this line, “throughout scripture there is a theme of the Holy Spirit sending people out. In that way, it is part of who we are as a community of God.” And then she said this, “We live in an increasingly fractured world. What better way to heal the brokenness than through relationships.”
We live in an increasingly fractured world. It’s impossible to deny this with such polarizing things going on in our world today. I’ll bet each and every one of you has strong opinions and gut reactions to the following topics: Trump, racial justice, climate change, women’s rights, immigration and refugee policies. This polarization is not healthy.
What better way to heal the brokenness than through relationships. Relationships that seek to understand first. Relationships that call us to work with other to find justice for the oppressed. Relationships that honor and respect one another no matter one’s religion, race, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation. Relationships that are stronger and reach further than borders and walls.
Mutual relationships where “there is no mission to, only mission with and among.”
Inclusive relationships which are built “across boundaries that exclude and divide.”
Vulnerable relationships where “we open ourselves to others.”
Empowering relationships where “we seek to identify and correct imbalances of power, which may mean recognizing and letting go of our own.“
Sustainable relationships that will be ongoing and create communities.
I will do my best to accompany well, to be a life-giving, positive and loving presence. I will fall on my face. I will get up, reevaluate, learn, adjust and keep going. I ask for your support in my journey as this process happens.
It is not easy for me to be leaving my country right now. I feel as though I am abandoning the US when it’s falling apart, and maybe I am. But I so believe in relationships as healing. I believe that through new narratives and new relationships in my time as a missionary in Chile there can be healing for me, the community I am about to enter and my communities back home.
I have a couple more weeks before I enter into a world of unknowns. I could focus on the unanswered questions swirling in my head (Will I actually end up teaching adult leaders English? Where will I be living, and with whom? How different can Chilean Spanish really be?…) but instead, I’ll rest in this.
I am a missionary. Thus I will be joining a new community where I will also be a friend, a compañera, a listener, a lover, a learner, and a storyteller.
I am absolutely open to more conversation about this so feel confident in talking to me about it, or (respectfully) challenging and questioning and reinforcing anything I’ve said above.