Have you ever wondered what a fish feels like in the fishbowl? I imagine, as they swim around they feel a little bit insecure. Their entire life is open for everyone to see. After all, why would anybody have a fish if they couldn’t see what it was doing? Isn’t that the beauty of having a fish? However the fish might not feel just so happy about things. And so it is with the missionary.
His life is like a fish in a fishbowl. He swims around and people watch every move he makes. He, and his family, have no privacy. It’s a type of scrutiny that would rival even the most famous of people. The funny thing is, that just a few months before becoming a missionary they were obscure nobody’s. Suddenly people are asking them to sign their Bibles, teach classes, preach missions conferences. They get their hands shook, they’re given front of the line privileges, and are allowed to eat first. They get to sit down with the pastor when many times a parishioner never even has had chance to talk to their pastor.
People see this life and think, “It would be so wonderful to live like this,” but it is not. People always see the grass as being greener on the other side of the fence. The prince wanted to be the pauper, did he not? Obviously, the missionary sees it from a much different perspective, and he wish he could tell you but he cannot. It is one of those things that a person cannot understand unless they have lived through it himself.
A missionary lives his life under scrutiny not only at home but on the foreign field as well. It is not unusual for a missionary to have natives staring in their windows when they wake up to in the morning, just to see what they are doing. The missionary has to be very careful. Every time they step out of their house they are under scrutiny. I remember going into a village where they had never seen a white man before. They had heard about white men. They had seen white men on TV. They had seen pictures of white men in magazines and newspapers, but they had never actually seen one in person. It didn’t take long before I was surrounded by 50 or 60 young children. They all pressed in on me and everywhere I went it was like an entire crowd moving. They poked my belly to see how fat I was, they stroked my arms and pinching the hair. They felt the hair that was on my head, although it was just a little bit, just to see what fine blonde hair felt like. To them, I was the most interesting thing that they had ever seen. But for me there was not one move that I couldn’t make it in which I was not scrutinized by many eyes. When I sat down to eat at the table, I was surrounded by people all trying to get my food for me, fix my bowl for me, pour my tea for me, look inside my bags, play with my shoes, socks, pants and everything else. They truly had never seen a white man before and they enjoyed it immensely. But I can’t say that I was enjoying it so much.
The first two or three times I had gone to a village and this happened to me, it was quite interesting. But after awhile, it soon got bothersome. Every place that I ever went people reacted this way. It got to be old news. Instead of taking an open-air bus, I would take one that was had closed the windows and curtains. Why? Because there were traffic jams every time I went somewhere. I couldn’t go to the bus station without having several of the bus conductors all grab me by the arms and try to conduct me on to their bus. Everybody was competing for me to ride their bus. If I was on their bus, they would get the crowd that was following me and therefore they would make more money.
Missionaries would do well for the people back home you know what it’s like to live a life in such a manner. But of course it is too difficult for them to be able to explain that to anybody who has never experienced it themselves. And just as popularity corrupts many famous people in our country today, so this popularity can corrupt the missionary and his family, but in different ways. This corruption must be dealt with. A corruption that most Christians never even face.
The Prince and the Pauper; Mark Twain, 1881, James R. Osgood & Co.
10 Things Your Missionaries Wish You Knew but Were Afraid to Tell You