Wednesday

Missionaries

What is it that makes a missionary tick, that gets him or her out from under the quilt and onto a potentially dangerous venture? Faith, you will probably say. I've often spoken about those first missionaries that arrived in Lesotho in 1833, namely Casalis, Arbousset and Gosselin.
"After we had looked an instant on each other in silence, he rose and said, 'Lumela lekhoa!1 Welcome, white man!' And I replied by holding out my hand to him, which he took without hesitation."

That is how Eugene Casalis described his first meeting with Basuto's King Mashoeshoe [sic] I in 1833. The contact came at the invitation of Mashoeshoe. Mashoeshoe had already shown himself a man of great wisdom, who had built his power by the careful choice of a defensive position, by extending friendship to conquered enemies, and by offering shelter to the refugees of South Africa's many wars.
Why did those people leave France and tramp all the way to Moshoeshoe's young nation? And why are missionaries still doing the same thing today? I've been reading the Nystrom's informative and likable website. Apart from faith, I couldn't come up with much else, to account for such behaviour. And so faith it is. And so faith bestows them with all the other survival tools that one simply has to have out there. Patience, understanding, determination, resolve, love, if you will. Makes one want to convert (I am a practising Christian).

But when you look at it further, you realise that it's not only faith, is it? It's also guts. And no, not everyone who professes to have faith has got those. Some do, some don't. Those who do go in at the deep end. Those who don't stay home, amass riches, and don't do diddley. Not even for the neighbourhood hobo. I know both sorts of Christians, or believers, I should perhaps say. What's more, the gutsy group even boasts some non-believers, which buttresses the point I made earlier about there being a need for guts, on top of faith. Too many folks use the church to pull a fast one. Such people always look too good on Sunday at the service. Too good to stain their clothes by giving a hand to the none-too-well-dressed lot. I knew such people in Lesotho, as much as I knew the dough-punching, free-lunch-giving ones. When the guns were turned on my family in Lesotho by the Jonathan regime, a lot of the former were silent as the grave--not a cough. A lot of the latter came to our aid in innumerable ways. For example, they clearly showed their disgust at what had happened, sat with us through vigils, took care of the graves after we'd fled, estate sat after we'd fled. In short, we got help from half of the faith wielders and then some, and no help from the other half of the faith wielders and then some. My conclusion then is that it's not only faith that drives missionaries and others to "go out of their way" to help others. There's something else.

Missionaries come in all shapes and colours. You've got aloof ones and integrating ones. Mother-tongue speaking ones and local language speaking ones. Stern ones and clowning ones. Rich ones and relatively poor ones. But the one thing that links them, as I see it, is their faith and their guts. And by the way, if anybody knows why it's called the missionary position, I'm all ears.

I like missionaries, because real missionaries do tons of good for poor countries like my own. They usually integrate easily and strive to learn the language and--and this is super duper important--they also consider the locals as equals, on the same rung, no different apart from being unlucky, and they desist from patronising them or attaching pity with everything they do. What is it that makes missionaries tick? The same thing that would have made them tick even if they hadn't been missionaries.

1 Lekhooa is a Sesotho word for white person.