At 4:00 P.M. a dusty van pulls up to the church. The passengers peer through finger-printed windows at the only car in the parking lot. Is it the pastor’s? The janitor’s? Or just an abandoned vehicle?
“Oh, please let the church be open,” Mom breathes. Dad hops out with an “I’ll-only-be-a-little-while” look over his shoulder. To Mom, this translates, “Keep the kids in their straitjackets another 45 minutes while I find out what plans the pastor has for us.
Mom sighs. Is it worth crawling over two unfurled sleeping bags, four wired kids and a van full of odds and ends just to use this brief interlude to tidy up? Forget it. Save your strength. Wait till the kids are snoring sweetly in their sacks-say 11:00 PM. or so.
Voices drift toward the front of the van.
“He took my potato chip!”
“But I found it on the floor first!”
“I have to go to the bathroom now!”
The last one cuts through the din like a new paring knife. In one scrambling movement, everyone is tumbling out of the van and hurtling churchward with Mom calling weakly, “Be quiet and don’t run in the halls!”
Beware! Your missionaries are here! To some church folks, they are as familiar as our favourite coffee mug. To others, they are just some family from outer Slombovia. Do you rush to greet them or figure that they’ll never remember you anyway? Will tonight’s service just be another missionary message (ho hum) with slides and a sunset?
Missionaries-are they real? Do they arrive at church Sunday morning, looking like a prayer card, while you struggle with your Sunday School books and an appropriate church smile? It’s not fair, you sniff. You go on day after day in the same place, while they “see the U.S.A. from their Chevrolet”-eating out and staying in motels.
Let’s eavesdrop on a missionary drive to church.
“What do you mean, you left your Bible at the last church?”
“I told you to go to the bathroom before we left the motel!”
“But it was your job to make sure she had her church shoes on!”
I have actually witnessed missionary families, children lined up according to age, sitting primly on the front row, eyes riveted on the activities in front. And then there are others.
Dad sits on the platform. Mom approaches the pulpit to provide the special music. Suddenly, cries of “Mommy! Mommy!” break the sanctified stillness. A small body hurls itself at the soloist and clings like static to Mom’s wrinkled dress. As the offender is trundled off to the bowels of the church, Mom smoothes her skirt and her dignity, resuming her march to the microphone.
Dad begins preaching, the children hanging on every word. Mom is relaxed and enjoying the message. And then, in a stage whisper, one kid innocently shares with folks four pews away, “Dad always preaches this sermon!”
“Mom, I need a pen. No, not a pencil, a pen!”
“Mom, she has my notepad. She’s wrecking my notepad!”
“I know you’re hungry. I told you to come eat your cereal, but you were too busy making a fort with the pillows.”
Church is over; Dad and Mom relax a bit, but wait-the family has been invited out to a buffet! Everyone clambers into the van. The four-year-old is sobbing. Her Sunday School paper is at church, and she desperately wants to show Mom the pop-up Noah looking out the ark window. Dad, waving to home-bound church-goers, speaks out of the side of his smile. “Hurry up. Buckle your seat belts. The pastor is waiting for us to follow him.”
“No, you can’t ride in Johnny’s car,” Mom explains.
“No, I didn’t see the lady in the choir with the funny glasses.”
In line at the buffet, Mom sees her six-year-old (four people away by the pastor’s wife), blithely helping herself to a small scoop of macaroni and cheese, one carrot and three-fourths of a plate of red Jell-O squares. At the table, Mom glimpses her four-year-old dumping a glob of chocolate pudding in her lap, and Mom realizes she forgot to iron “back up clothes.”
After the evening service, Dad and Mom have spoken with every possible person. They’ve smiled their last smile. The kids-obnoxiously normal-are just tired enough (from an afternoon “nap”) to have their second wind. They have been banished to the last pew so Mom could have meaningful conversation lasting longer than 45 seconds. It’s time for marching out quietly to the van-solemnly singing hymns while boarding- fastening seat belts without being reminded and motoring off into that missionary sunset.
Whoops! Look again!
“He got in first and won’t let me by!”
“Can we have a snack when we get back to the motel?”
“I don’t want to sleep on the floor again; it gives me a headache.”
“Was I good tonight, Dad?”