How to Wait: Missions in a Microwave World

Ding! 

This sound may induce a sense of relief if you’ve delayed your meal decision, relegating you to reheated leftovers in the microwave. While the sound of the "ding" rarely means there is a culinary masterpiece waiting for you, there is a momentary satisfaction from that chime that seems to say, “It’s done!”  

Wouldn't it be nice if we could fulfill the call God has on our lives by pushing a button, waiting 30 seconds, and removing some plastic wrap? If only life could be that simple and straightforward. The fact is, a life in missions is a series of twists and turns that eventually provides enough perspective to realize that God has been working both in you and through the journey. So many times, we just want to get to our destination with the most efficiency that we forget that is really is all about the journey.

For my lovely wife Gail and I, we have had to adjust our expectations throughout our process as missionaries. From our application to become missionaries, to the candidacy process and approval, through itineration to the very first steps on the field, it has been an exercise of faith and endurance. 

What is a relatively simple process in the U.S. can be a completely different experience abroad—take opening a bank account, for example. One lovely Belgian day, we wandered into the local branch in the late afternoon, with about an hour of time before the conclusion of business hours.  Having secured our proper residency documents (a 3-4 week process in itself), and carrying every possible legal paper we had, we thought that this should be smooth. 

We are greeted, “Bon jour, Monsieur et Madame.” (“Good day, Sir and Madam.”) We quickly inquired about opening an account. The entire banking team stood poised with a hint of indignation at such a request. The gentleman in the middle retorted, “Do you have an appointment?” An appointment? I thought. Isn’t this where I fill out a couple documents, deposit money, and you hand me my new account information?

“Our next available appointment is next Tuesday.”

Slightly aghast, I asked, “Are there documents that we can take and fill out so we will be prepared when we come for our appointment?” The look that I received at this point was one often reserved for a person who has just insulted your precious grandmother. Sensing that my question was not being received well—in a moment of unguarded frustration mixed with a little bit of culture shock—I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, the silly American trying to be efficient!”

 Joel and his (lovely) wife and kids, enjoying the process a little too much.

Joel and his (lovely) wife and kids, enjoying the process a little too much.

Walking outside, my lovely wife Gail (have I mentioned she's lovely?) brought up to me that I might have experienced a “little” culture shock moment regarding their processes. Thankfully, I was greeted politely on Tuesday and my incident may have been graciously overlooked by the locals. 

I have learned to take a deep breath and realize that things on the mission field aren’t slow—there's just a process. I realized that no one is in a hurry to complete my tasks on my timeline. The  world that we enter in our host country and culture has it's own rhythm, and I am along to experience it as it follows it's course.  

So don’t rush today.  Don’t push the process.  Let it happen.  Embrace the journey.  And always give thanks!

Joel VanBriggle and his wife Gail (has he mentioned she's lovely?) serve in Northwest Europe, helping to creatively engage the Church so communities thrive.