People here in Malawi want to know, “Where do you stay?” They mean where do I live. I tell them the Blantyre Synod mission grounds near St. Michael and All Angels (the church pictured). Often their response is, “Ah, so you are a missionary.” I smile and nod while my internal response is, “Sort of. More missionalary than missionary.”
When we decided to accept positions in Malawi I didn’t immediately understand that I was agreeing to become a missionary. For months people would ask what we were doing and I would say, “I’m teaching at a seminary and working at a church office. Vivian will do some development work.” At some point, Bird Boy blurted out, “Dad, you are going to be a missionary. That is what you should say.” Ouch.
The issue is that the word “missionary” carries a lot of baggage. Over the coming months I will try to unpack some of that baggage as I live into this new ministry, but there are some really dirty and stinky parts right at the top. People associate the word “missionary” with colonialism. Recent arguments aside, most of the world acknowledges that colonialism was bad. Not only was it devastating for the colonized, the colonizers distorted the truth of the Gospel.
There is no denying the legacy of colonialism. The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Blantyre Synod, the denomination I work for, cannot and does not. Look at the “cathedral” again and you see that colonialism is present in all kinds of ways including architecturally. Also present is a distinctive Malawian culture. The bricks are ubiquitous in Malawi and bear the hand prints of many Malawians. The CCAP continues to wrestle with how the past shapes the way they witness to Christ today.
Part of my wrestling with the past is indicated in the change of term. By adopting “missionalary” I am rejecting the colonial past. I am not rejecting past or present servants of Christ who call themselves missionary. Rejection in this case is an attempt to clear the decks before adopting a more theologically true understanding of how God works in the world. As my brothers and sisters here in Malawi work with me I anticipate that the definition of missionalary will become clearer. Until I can fill in more of the definition it will have to suffice to say, “I am not a missionary. I am a missionalary.”