It's a Funny Old World

by Kenneth D. MacHarg
Posted on 1st January 2014

It could have happened anywhere, but for former LAM missionary Ken Muholland, having it occur in front of his students in a foreign seminary was just a bit too much. Ken, who is now Dean of Columbia Biblical Seminary in South Carolina, allowed their oldest daughter to paint his toenails with bright red fingernail polish. No problem. Many parents allow their children to do similar things in the privacy of their home. But, the next morning, at the Costa Rican seminary where he taught, students were leading a chapel service "which, to my surprise, turned out to be the first foot washing service in the history of the school! I leave the rest to your imagination," he jokes.

While a missionary's life is dedicated to the serious sharing of the Gospel, moments of humor and even hilarity do occur. Language errors are the most common source of humor on the field according to reports from missionaries around the world, but cultural differences and just plain misunderstanding often contribute to embarrassing if not humorous moments.

"I'm pregnant," missionary Douane Luttenauer told his Spanish-speaking Aunt. Of course, he didn't mean that. He was just trying to say that he was embarrassed. But "embarasada" means pregnant in Spanish, and Douane, who serves with the Latin America Mission, made a very common mistake of those learning another language.

Jesus didn't come to earth just to give us another hardware store!

HCJB missionary Karen Pedersen admonished a group of nursing home residents in Ecuador that "Jesus didn't come to earth just to give us another hardware store!" She had confused "hardware store" (ferretería) with "holiday" (feriado). Angela Deas, who, as a student at Southern Methodist University worked in Mexico with LAM's Spearhead program, once received octopus, squid, mussels and other marine life on top of her pasta when she ordered "marine spaghetti"instead of "marinated spaghetti". And, LAM missionary Nancy Sabean in Costa Rica on one occasion told a baby sitter that if her children got hungry, she should "eat them." What she had meant to say was: "feed them."

Of course, not all humor on the mission field is language-driven. Sometimes, trying to live and minister in a different culture has unexpected consequences.

Joan Wilson Carter, who directs Los Sembradores, a Christian relief ministry in Nicaragua, says that she was once arrested and had to drive herself to jail! She had started a rabbit project to provide meat for poor families. Unfortunately, she discovered that her watchman was stealing from her when he showed up one day wearing one of her belts. Deciding that something needed to be done about the situation, she drove five miles to the nearest police station where the officers agreed to arrest him. However, as with many police departments around the world, for economic reasons the lawmen didn't have any transportation. Joan drove them back to her house only to have the watchman accuse her of being the thief! At that point the police decided to detain her until they could figure out who the real thief was. On the way to the jail, one of the police officers proposed marriage. "I want to go to the United States,"he said. "The only way I can go is if a Gringa will marry me." Joan declined, but did persuade him to let her go free so she could care for the rabbits.

Or, take the case of Alan Mullins, an LAM missionary working in Brazil. Visiting a parishioner, he refused first of all an offer of coffee because caffeine was causing him some health problems and then tea because it could have been made from of any type of leaf. Finally, he refused water because he wasn't sure it would be pure. Deciding that he couldn't refuse anything else, he accepted a glass of lukewarm milk with thick cream at the top. "As I began to drink, I noticed something swimming in the milk and underneath the cream discovered a large cockroach doing the backstroke," he remembers. "That was too much. Suddenly, I realized I was standing in front of a large, open window. I quickly threw the milk out the window, relieved to have been able to save face." The problem wasn't solved that easily. "Just then," he relates, "in through the open door comes a little boy with milk running down his face and crying, 'Mommy, mommy, that big man threw milk all over me.'"

Kenneth D. MacHarg is a retired Missionary Journalist, formerly with the Latin America Mission. This news story is supplied by kind permission from Latin America Mission News Service.