I wasn’t originally going to repost this review – I am finding I have more that I want to include for this series than I have days for. But as I was rereading it, I felt I really needed to, and it has been six years since it originally appeared here, so it will be new to many of you.
Some years ago I read and enjoyed a book titled Sometimes I Prefer to Fuss by Verda Peet. When I tried to find a copy of it, though, I found it was out of print. I’ve kept an eye out for it ever since, and discovered it in Amazon.com’s used books for just a few dollars (some copies are just a penny).
The premise of the book can be found in the introduction:
The idea that missionaries are haloed saints, mature and perfected, above the sins of most mortals and so not needing much prayer, has done great disservice to the missionary cause. If you ever lived with missionaries you would know that their halos are askew. If I were to say that a missionary preaches the gospel, may (if female) put curlers in her hair, likes ice cream, travels a lot, longs for letters from home, can be thoughtless or domineering or depressed, perspires, has cakes that don’t always rise, never gets beyond the need of the Lord’s teaching, is concerned about her children’s upbringing and education and feels irritable in the heat, your first thought would be, “Sounds like a description of me.”
Exactly. James tells us Elijah was a man of like passions but we have trouble believing it. Our glamorization of missionaries blinds us to the need of down-to-earth prayer for down-to-earth details.
The title comes from the fact that God does send help when needed, even for “small” irritations like excessive heat, perspiration, and sticky clothes — but sometimes we prefer to “fuss” instead.
Mrs. Peet and her husband were missionaries in Thailand for about thirty years. Her book is an honest and often funny look at missionary life, but its lessons of faith are applicable to anyone.
There are so many places I marked in the book — I wish I could share them all. One thing that came up often was the need for wisdom in so many areas and the possibility of misunderstandings. For instance, even the simplest living arrangements of Americans can seem extravagant in jungle or tribal areas. One missionary who wanted to live as much like the people as possible did without a refrigerator, then overheard two of the nationals commenting that she did not get one because she was stingy. Another family who saved some of their best “goodies” from home to serve a visiting VIP heard that he later spread the word that the missionaries “lived too well.” So often they would like to just give the people material things they need, and they often do, but they don’t want to foster dependence on the missionary instead of the Lord.
Satan throws innumerable obstacles to keep people from believing or to stifle them when they do believe. The missionaries have to learn patience with a new believer’s struggling to “walk” in a faith totally foreign to anything he knows — just as a child stumbles and falls, so will a new believer as he matures. Practices that seem obviously wrong to Westerners with a heritage of a Judeo-Christian background, like premarital sex and using and selling opium, can take a while for a new believer from a different background to recognize as wrong. Then a new believer, or even one just showing an interest in Christianity, can face ridicule, ostracism, and persecution. There are thorny questions about what old practices are wrong, what a new believer should do when the demon priest declares an area or a day “taboo.” The consequences of violating a taboo are very real, but the believers can eventually learn to trust in God for protection.
With all the disappointment and heartache of those who “trusted” the Lord for the wrong reasons (like healing from a sickness when the demon rituals didn’t help) or those who did believe but fell away due to family pressure, there are also gems who have endured the refining fires to shine like diamonds. One believing lady, Celia, had a husband who was a professing Christian but not living very actively for the Lord. One day he showed up in their home with a second wife and moved her in, a common practice in their culture, but one that he should have known better than to practice as a believer. As a missionary lady came to comfort and encourage her through the Word, Celia said, “I thought I could never cook for her (the second wife) but I remembered ‘love your enemies,’ and because of these words I overcame, and I cook and call her to eat.” I was convicted at my lack of “overcoming” minor trials by comparison.
Another quote that stood out to me was, “The trial of our faith is not to point out how faulty it is but to prove how trustworthy He is. I had always pictured God testing me to show how little I believed, but He has a more positive purpose — to increase my capacity to enjoy His faithfulness.”
Another “lesson” was to trust the sovereignty of God to work even through fallible leaders. There was an elected field council as well as a superintendent who were good men, but human like everyone else, whose temperament, background, training, quirks, and pet theories may affect their decisions. When they make a decisions that seems wrong or unfair, there is temptation to blame them. “If we see ourselves in the hands of men, we can expect to be miserable, but if we know ourselves to be in God’s hands, subject to His decisions, we can go on in peace.”
There is so much more — grace through trials and how the Lord uses them, dealing with fear, care of children, etc. This book is a good “peek” into the under-the-surface, real everyday lives of missionaries, but it is also an example of how the Lord uses “all things” to work together for good and to grow His children in grace and knowledge of Him.
(You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)