To paraphrase Shakespeare, “a rose by any other name would smell the same.”
The word missionary invokes all types of images: “super Christians” traveling (flying if they have capes) to a foreign land to do the Lord’s work, hypocrites trying to browbeat natives into western civilization via Christianity (think The Poison Wood Bible), saintly people who never get angry or upset, who don’t have a selfish bone in their body.
I struggle with what to call myself, for I too grapple with the term missionary. I have a South African friend who vehemently dislikes the word because it reminds her of the awful mission schools run by missionaries during the apartheid days. I have other South African friends (both coloured and African) who insist that the term has evolved and no longer carries the negative connotation; on the contrary, it is seen in a positive light. Added to these considerations, I too have stereotypes about missionaries that I need to let go.
Missionary or cross-cultural Christian worker. Hum? These days the later is the more politically correct term. Perhaps it’s the most accurate term; but let’s be real, it’s a mouthful. Maybe I could shorten it to CCCW or C2CW or something cute like C2CW.
What I call myself will probably depend on the audience. As of now, I will continue to use both terms to describe myself. I imagine a term will evolve organically, once I settle into South African life. However, if I had my way, I would use no special term. I’m merely a Christian trying to live out her faith, and I often fall short. God has just called me to live out my faith in South Africa for a few years.