Missionaries show way of Christian love

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hristian missionaries are people we think of as going far from home to teach other people about Jesus. Christians who stay at home think of them as people with a message for the "others," but I think they often have something to teach us, as well. Some of the lessons they can teach us are valuable.

Let me give a couple of historic examples. Take Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, who settled in our valley to work among the Cayuse. Yes, they cared about the souls of the Cayuse, but they also wanted to help them assimilate to the changes that were coming to the entire region. Their intentions were to be helpful in multiple ways.

The story ended tragically with the massacre in 1847, but not before they taught us some lessons. I mean, "us" not the Cayuse. So-called Christian people needed to learn something from the Whitmans.

What exactly?

In the 1830s and 1840s, people of mixed races were scorned and called "half-breeds. They were often mistreated or excluded. If there was a white school, no one wanted the "half-breeds" mixing with their children.

The Whitmans showed a better way. They did not reject children of mixed races. They took into their home Helen Mar Meek, the daughter of Joseph Meek and a Nez Perce woman. They took in Mary Ann Bridger, the daughter of Jim Bridger and a Flathead woman.

They took in a boy, age 2, abandoned by his mother. His father was of Spanish background, named Cortez, who worked for the Hudson's Bay Co. His mother was of the Walla Walla tribe. His grandmother had charge of him and either did not want him or could not properly care for him. When she brought the boy to Narcissa, his foot had been burned, either through abuse or neglect. Narcissa named him David Malin, after a man she had known back East.

The Whitmans showed a better way than prejudicial exclusion. They also helped and boarded the two mixed-race sons of David Manson, a Hudson's Bay employee at the trading post on the Columbia.

The Whitmans were flawed in their humanity, as we all are, and flaws often come out in harsh living conditions. But through all their ups and downs, they showed love in practical ways to the children of mixed races. Had they lived longer, they might have had a greater impact on the white society of the Pacific Northwest.

More recently, we have the example of Mother Teresa, who worked so long in Calcutta. Her mission was to show love to the poor. She touched the "untouchables" in the Hindu caste system and nursed them. So did her friend, Mark Buntain.

Buntain founded a hospital in Calcutta. One of the first churches to help fund the hospital was First Assembly of God Church here in Walla Walla. Physicians and nurses were hired to staff the hospital.

Buntain would go out into the streets and find people slumped over on the ground, helpless and sick. If they were conscious, he first gently hugged them as he greeted them. Then he would lift them, carry them to his car and drive them to his hospital. In addition, he set up a food service to feed people with empty stomachs. He set up a school, too. Yet he never holed up in an office. Back to the streets he would go.

Sometimes the people he hugged and carried to his car were sick with dysentery. Sometimes they were lepers. Many times they were starving.

Years later Mark Buntain died of a heart attack, because his heart was sick. But his heart was sick, I'm told, because he had contracted a form of leprosy.

Like his friend, Mother Teresa, he touched the hurting, the hungry and the sick with the love of Jesus Christ. He touched the dirty and their dirt touched him. He touched the sick, and their sickness became his sickness.

When I look at examples like this, I realize that these missionaries have a lot to teach Christians.

Above all, they teach us to open our lives more fully to the love of God. If the love of God is poured into our lives, maybe we can love others in more sacrificial ways. Maybe we can love others in ways that touch them where they hurt, and give them hope.

The Rev. Mark Koonz is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Walla Walla. Contact him at 509-525-6872. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at catherinehicks@wwub.com.


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