Article in the Baptist Bible Tribune – September 2016
“Pastor Don, there is a missionary who really needs to talk with you.” Usually, only urgent calls diverted attention from my Monday morning sermon prep. “Can’t it wait?” I agitatedly replied. My assistant pleaded, “Ah, no I don’t think so. Sounds like this missionary really needs to talk with you.”
That week was already filled with two funerals, five missionary calls, two counseling sessions, 100 emails, and hosts of other requests knocking on my door. I sat there almost out of breath just thinking of it all. Rather perturbed, I took the call.
“Uh, is this Pastor Don Mingo?” sprang out immediately when I picked up the phone. Impatient, desiring to get back to my routine of study, I replied, “Yes, yes it is, how can I help you?”
“Well, my name is Mark, and I’m a missionary. I believe Tim is a missionary out of your church? Is this correct?” Having pastored this medium-size church in northern Minnesota for five years, Tim really wasn’t out of my church. He grew up in the church. His father was also a missionary out of the church. Tim was one of more than 100 missionaries I “inherited” upon accepting the call to pastor this church.
Mark continued, “It is true you and your wife were missionaries in South Africa for over 20 years?” Sensing a deeper connection developing, Mark continued, “Well, we’d like you to come to our field, and spend a few weeks teaching a bunch of missionaries at our annual missionary conference. There are about 50 missionary families, and to be honest with you, most of us are pretty beat up. Been in the trenches out here a long time. Since you’re a pastor, and you’ve been a missionary, well, we thought you might be able to encourage us a bit. I hear you’ve really been through it.”
Six months later, Mark met us at the airport. Arriving at his home near midnight, sleep deprivation assaulted our senses after the grueling flight. Upon entering Mark’s home, his wife greeted us, “I know you’re probably tired, but can we talk now a little bit?” Over the next few hours, they began to share their story.
A year earlier, this couple had been traveling with another missionary couple and a group of missionary kids to a nearby country when their van was highjacked. At one point in their eight-hour journey, a small pickup truck pulled alongside their van on a narrow stretch of road. The man in the bed of the pickup waved an assault weapon ordering the missionary driver to pull over. When the driver did not comply quickly enough, a shot rang out. The driver slumped over into the center space between the front seats. Their missionary friend was dead. As the van careened into the bushes, their ordeal had only just begun. Mark and Joy went on to share it all right there during our first meeting. Crawling into bed in the early hours, I thought, “God, how am I going to help these missionaries?”
The first night of the conference, standing before 60 missionaries, I shared my personal journey. In our 22 years overseeing MANNA feeding centers in South Africa, we knew of dozens of little children who had died. Most died of AIDS. Often, the little girls, only four or five years old, contracted AIDS after being raped. One little Zulu girl, Andiswa, was very close to me. When she died, things began to change for me. Eventually I had to return to the States where I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.). Sharing my personal vulnerabilities and struggles in missionary life (for the first time publicly) opened the floodgates for those hurting missionaries.
For the next two weeks, missionaries shared their stories. As I spoke every night, and we listened, coached, and encouraged missionary couples during the day, Kathy and I realized God was redirecting our journey. Several realities punctured our hearts while interacting with those missionaries:
Missionaries face unprecedented challenges. When American missionaries go to the field, they often already have three strikes against them. Americans simply aren’t liked in many places — strike one. Sharing Jesus can be met with great disdain — strike two. The label “missionary” can have an unpleasant or disparaging connotation and often invokes hostility — strike three.
Missionaries experience severe trauma. During my pastorate, more than a dozen missionaries shared stories of physical assaults on themselves or a family member while on the field. One shared, “I know I should talk about it, but I can’t. Not yet, not ever. How could anyone understand what happened to me? What I feel like? The dreams that wake me up every night?” Trauma, for many missionaries, lives just down the street.
Missionaries face pressures beyond the norm. A missionary living in one of the crime capitals of the world shared, “Rarely a week goes by someone doesn’t call me asking for a funeral for a murdered family member or friend.” Another missionary shared, “Seeing four burned bodies smoldering just down the road from our church is something I’ll never forget. The smells, sounds, and sights.”
Even as I compose this article, we pray for a missionary family pinned down between warring factions in the country they serve. For several nights bombs and bullets explode all around them as they lie on the floor.
Missionaries fear sharing their fears. “It’s not the kind of thing you ask a church to pray about,” said a missionary friend of mine. “I’d lose my support pretty quickly if I talked like that.” Another shared, “Who in the world understands, or even cares, what we are going through out here?” Another, “If I shared that we were afraid to go back to the field, well, we’d lose our support in a hurry! Wouldn’t we?”
Missionaries often feel forgotten. During our missionary career, we experienced hardships unparalleled in American life. During my pastorate, the church supported over 100 missionaries and the needs and requests of a missionary family that size were many. There were certainly times when our missionaries, to whom we were responsible, got lost in the shuffle of pastoral ministry.
During that intensive two-week missionary conference with Mark and Joy, my EMS, police, and fire chaplaincy training found its nesting place. Missionaries shared accounts of assaults, robberies, burglaries, loneliness, fears, and struggles. Clearly some were pressed beyond measure. My training in critical incident stress management, grief care, trauma care, life coaching, and a host of other disciplines came into play. Helping missionaries see God in their circumstances struck a chord. With great clarity I began to see every hardship we experienced on the field and in the American pastorate had prepared us for a new journey.
After the conference, we returned to our “retirement home” in the forests of northern Minnesota. But our American dream faltered. Somehow, owning a home, retiring near the lake to fish and pastor felt different now. I couldn’t stop thinking about all those missionaries. My boat plans took on water as missionaries continued to call seeking counsel and someone to talk to. By September 2014, I had marked my last Sunday as pastor in the woods of Minnesota. A new journey had begun.
Just a few months later, in December 2014, I was sitting in the Mission Office with BBFI Mission Director Jon Konnerup. After relating the burden we felt for this new journey, I asked him for any perspectives and help he might offer in our journey. At that point, we’d already sold our home. We lived with our oldest son, his wife, and their eight kids. Jon’s response overwhelmed me, “Don, let’s see if the Mingos can do missionary-to-missionary care right here in the BBFI.” The road map for this journey was beginning to come into focus.
After serving a six-month internship at Ventura Baptist Church in Ventura, CA, with Pastor Lewis McClendon, Kathy and I were reinstated with Baptist Bible Fellowship as Support Team Endorsed Program (S.T.E.P.) missionaries. This program offers specialized support to BBFI missionary personnel all over the world.
So, at age 59, we are on deputation again! On our redirected journey, we don’t think much of that house in Minnesota. We are right where God wants us — living in missionary apartments, with occasional stops to family and friends, we busy ourselves raising support and sharing the need for missionary-to-missionary care.
Don and Kathy Mingo can be reached at:
Cell: (763) 213-2994