Musings of a misfit missionary

I don’t suppose I was made to fit in! From the time I was a child, it seems I was a bit of a misfit. Born to Finnish immigrant parents in New York City, I struggled to bridge the gap between the two worlds between which I navigated: at home we lived in a little Finnish microcosm (which was wonderful by the way) and outside a very American life. As the years went by, and I grew, I learned to move between the two worlds with relative ease – speaking Finnish at home, understanding our home culture and speaking English at school, understanding how the rest of, what I knew the world to be, lives.

I viewed my world through the lens of my faith from early on, having known the Lord from the young age of 7. As I moved into my middle school years, I developed a relationship with my Lord. Strange as it may seem, when I found Jesus, He became my Friend for life. I remember attending some revival meetings as a middle schooler, the preacher was well-known in Finland and his meetings were amazing. The Finnish community of South Florida (where we had moved by this time) was stirred in a way I have not heard of before or since. The crowds coming to the meetings were very large by Finnish standards, often leaving standing room only for the latecomers. It was then that I experienced the Holy Spirit’s filling; I had never felt so accepted in my life! Oh the love of God was amazing!

Well, I sealed my misfit status in those years when, the day after having attended those meetings, I announced to everyone in my 7th grade class that Jesus was wonderful and have you ever heard of Him? Have you ever been filled with the Holy Spirit? Let me tell you about it! I suppose most of the class was in shock as I, the usual wallflower who would sit low in her chair hoping no one would call on her, would be so vocal about Jesus. I wasn’t bothered any longer by my “outer fringe” status, I had a Friend and He walked home with me every day.

I did all of the crazy Christian things: I tithed, I was baptised, I was at church whenever the doors were open, and even told anyone who would listen that one day I would serve in Africa. After a while, people just put up with my rantings as “that’s just Lea” and patted me on the back. No, I really didn’t fit in at all. Sometimes I would wonder what was wrong with me, why was it so strange to Christians to love Jesus so?

My high school and young adult days passed by much the same as I just found myself to be a “square peg in a round hole.” Thankfully, I met my husband who didn’t notice my mistfit-ness; perhaps it’s because he was just a crazy as I was about telling others how wonderful Jesus is. We made a very misfit pair: he the pastor’s son, me the-girl-from-nowhere. I still wonder how that all happened! But, I’m so glad it did for I doubt there would be another candidate who would’ve been, or would be, as loving as my husband is. Yes, I’m blessed and 33 years later we are still together, serving God in Africa just as I knew we would for all these years.

I’m comfortable being out of step with everything that is “in.” In fact, I wonder if feeling compelled to be relevant or fit in to what is “normal” or “accepted” is a kind of trap laid for unsuspecting Christians designed to keep them from winning the world around them?

Being a misfit has caused me to develop a tough skin. As an obvious foreigner in Africa (very difficult to hide my misfit-ness here for sure), I’ve often be told “You don’t understand the ways of the culture here” even though I’ve learned 5 languages and served in Africa for 30+ years. Turn around and while traveling to multiple churches overseas, I’ll hear, “You wouldn’t understand how things are now in the West because you’ve lived too long overseas.”

Being a misfit is my destiny and I suspect it’s a destiny most of us should share. This world with all of its trappings seeks to hurt, not help us as we journey to our final destination. We are, all of us who bear the name of Christ, foreigners anyway (Hebrews 11). What are we looking for but a way to bring others with us on our journey? If this causes me to be a misfit, well, so be it.

Fitting in is overrated anyway.

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