We Do the Best We Can!
“DO THE best you can.” That practical advice was once given to a missionary by a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But why give such basic advice to an experienced minister? Are not most missionaries intrepid souls who daily cope with bugs, snakes, heat, disease, and various hardships?
Actually, missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses are ordinary men and women, Christians whose deep love for Jehovah and for their fellowman has moved them to serve in foreign lands. They are endeavoring to serve Jehovah to the best of their ability, looking to him for strength.—Ephesians 6:10.
To learn more about the missionary work, let us imagine that we are spending a day visiting a typical missionary home in West Africa.
A Day in the Missionary Work
It is almost 7:00 a.m. We have arrived at the missionary home just in time to share in the discussion of the Scripture text for the day. The ten missionaries warmly welcome us and make room for us at the breakfast table. As we get acquainted, one of the missionaries, who has been in her assignment for many years, begins relating a humorous experience that she had in the ministry. But our conversation trails off when the chairman of the discussion that day reminds the happy group that it is time to consider the daily text. The discussion will be held in French. Although we do not speak that language, it is clear from the way they are expressing themselves that the foreign-born missionaries are doing very well in mastering the language.
Following the Scriptural discussion, there is a heartfelt prayer, and then it is time for breakfast. As we help ourselves to a generous serving of cereal, the missionary seated next to us urges us to spread banana slices on it. We explain that we are not partial to bananas, but he promises that we will make an exception once we have tasted locally grown bananas. So we add a few slices to our cereal. How right he is! These bananas are delicious—as sweet as ice cream! And we are assured that the French-style bread that is being served was baked early this morning in a little shop just across the street from the missionary home.
After breakfast, we will spend the day with a missionary couple, whom we will call Ben and Karen. We have heard about the productive territory in this West-African country, and we are eager to confirm the reports.
When we arrive at the bus stop, we find about a dozen people waiting. Before long, our missionary companions are engaging a woman and her son in an animated conversation on a Bible subject. Not knowing French, we can only stand there and smile! Just as the woman is accepting copies of The Watchtower and Awake!, the bus arrives, and then everyone tries to get on it, all at the same time! As we clamber on board, the surging crowd pushes us from behind. It is a challenge to keep our balance on our way to the rear of the bus. Once the driver starts up, we hold on for dear life. From time to time, the bus lurches to a stop, and even more people squeeze on. We smile at our fellow passengers, and they smile back. How we wish we could communicate with them!
As our bus speeds along, we peer out of the window at the flurry of activity on the street. Two women are walking side by side with heavy burdens on their heads. One of them is balancing a large tub of water. An enterprising man has spread a blanket on the sidewalk and has arranged upon it a few trinkets that he hopes to sell. Everywhere there are people who are buying or selling just about everything that can be bought or sold.
Suddenly Ben, who is standing next to me, becomes aware that something is pecking at his leg. What can it be? The bus is crowded, but there it is again. He manages to look down. In a bag at his feet is a live duck that occasionally pokes its head out of the bag and gives him a peck! Ben explains that the duck’s owner is likely taking it to market to be sold.
When we reach our territory, we are pleased to learn that we will be visiting a typical African neighborhood. Approaching the first house, Ben claps his hands vigorously to alert the householder. That is the way people “knock on the door” in this part of the world. A young man appears and explains that he is busy but asks us to return later that morning.
At the next door, we meet a woman who speaks a dialect that Ben does not understand. She calls her son and asks him to translate what Ben has to say. When Ben finishes, the woman accepts a brochure on Bible themes, and her son promises to explain it to her. At the third house, there are several young people seated in the front yard. Two of them quickly vacate their chairs so that the visitors can sit down. A lively discussion follows on the use of the cross in worship. Arrangements are made to have further conversation the following week. It is now time to revisit the busy young man we met at the first house. Somehow he has already heard about our discussion with the young people down the street. He has many Bible questions and asks to have a Bible study. After checking his calendar, Ben agrees to return at the same time the next week. On the way back to the missionary home for lunch, Ben and Karen explain that they have to plan their Bible study activity very carefully because they can easily start more Bible studies than they can conduct.
We commend them on their fluency in French. Ben explains that he and Karen have been serving as missionaries for six years, and they are beginning to feel comfortable with the French language. Learning a new language was not easy, they assure us, but perseverance has paid off.
At 12:30 p.m., all the missionaries gather around the table for lunch. We learn that each day, a different missionary is assigned to prepare the morning and noon meals and to do the dishes afterward. Today, one of the missionaries has prepared a mouth-watering dish of fried chicken and French-fried potatoes, along with a tomato salad—her specialty!
What are Ben and Karen’s plans for the afternoon? They explain that the whole country takes refuge from the sun from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., so the missionaries generally use part of that time to study or to take a siesta. We are not surprised when Karen tells us that it does not take long for new missionaries to get used to this custom!
After the siesta, we return to the field ministry. An interested man whom Ben has tried for some time to contact is still not at home, but two young men come to the door when Ben claps his hands. They tell us that the householder has mentioned Ben’s visits and strongly recommended that they obtain the Bible study aid Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life. We are happy to leave them a copy of that book. Next, we catch a bus that will take us to an area where Karen will be conducting a Bible study with an interested woman.
As we ride through the crowded streets, Karen tells us that she contacted the woman one day while they both were riding in a taxi with several other passengers. Karen gave the woman a tract to read during the journey. The woman read that tract and then asked for a different one. She read that one with even greater interest. At the end of the ride, Karen made arrangements to visit the woman in her home and started a productive Bible study in the brochure What Does God Require of Us? Today, Karen is going to cover the fifth lesson in that brochure.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our day in field service, but we have some lingering questions about the missionary work. Our hosts assure us that when we return home, they will prepare a light meal for us and answer our questions.
How They Maintain the Pace
While feasting on fried eggs, French bread, and cheese, we learn more about missionary life. Monday is generally a day when missionaries rest or care for personal matters. Most missionaries spend some time that day writing to family and friends. News from home is very important to them, and missionaries enjoy sending and receiving mail.
Since missionaries live and work in close quarters, it is essential that they maintain good communication by socializing with fellow missionaries and by discussing spiritual matters. To that end, in addition to maintaining a regular schedule of personal Bible study, every Monday evening the missionaries study the Bible along with the Watchtower magazine. Ben points out that when missionaries from different backgrounds live together, minor differences of opinion are inevitable, but the spiritual provision of the family study helps them maintain a peaceful, united atmosphere. He stresses that it also helps not to take oneself too seriously.
Humility is also essential. Missionaries are sent out, not to be served, but to serve. Our friends observe that one of the most difficult things to say in any language is “I am sorry,” particularly when a person is apologizing for something that he said or did unintentionally. Ben reminds us of the Bible example of Abigail, who apologized for her husband’s rude behavior and thus smoothed over a situation that could have led to disaster. (1 Samuel 25:23-28) The ability “to live peaceably” is an important part of being a good missionary.—2 Corinthians 13:11.
Once a month the missionaries hold a meeting to discuss matters that affect the family, as well as scheduling changes. Afterward, a special dessert is enjoyed by all. This seems to us to be a very practical—and tasty—arrangement.
Once supper is over, we take a brief tour of the missionary home. We note that, although the home is modest, the missionaries cooperate to keep it scrupulously clean. There is a refrigerator, a washing machine, and a stove. Karen tells us that in tropical countries, such as this one in West Africa, air-conditioning may also be available. Suitable accommodations, wholesome food, and simple health precautions help missionaries to remain healthy and productive.
Focus on the Positive
We have been impressed by everything that we have seen. Could it be that the missionary work is for us? How can we tell? Our hosts give us a few things to think about.
First, they tell us, Christian missionaries do not go out seeking adventure. They are searching for honesthearted people who want to learn about God’s marvelous promises. Missionaries devote at least 140 hours a month to the field service, so a love of the ministry is indispensable.
‘But,’ we wonder, ‘what about snakes, lizards, and bugs?’ While these can be found in many missionary assignments, Ben tells us, missionaries get used to them. He adds that every missionary assignment has its own unique beauty, and in time, missionaries focus on the positive aspects of their assignment. Conditions that earlier would have been considered “different” soon become commonplace, and in some cases even enjoyable. One missionary who served in West Africa for many years before personal obligations forced her to return home said that it was harder for her to leave her assignment than it was to leave her own country years earlier. Her missionary assignment had become her home.
Are You Ready?
Ben and Karen have given us a lot to think about. What about you? Have you ever thought about serving as a missionary in a foreign field? If so, you may be closer to that goal than you had imagined. One of the principal things required is having a love for the full-time ministry and enjoying the work of helping people. Remember, missionaries are not superheroes but ordinary men and women. They are doing the best they can to accomplish a very important work.
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Each day starts with a discussion of a Bible text
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Scenes from Africa
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Life as a missionary can be very fulfilling