Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Missionaries Just Need to Have (“Humane”) Fun

I want to focus one more time on the missions book, Repaid a Hundredfold, by Charles Alexander Leonard, Sr., because he did something in telling of his missionary experiences that I have not seen anyone else do. He included in his book two chapters with a total of 56 pages (over 16% of his book) focusing on the important role that recreational activities played in his missionary experience. After reading his chapter on what missionaries do (see my November 7 post), I gained an appreciation for the long hours and the physically and mentally demanding responsibilities that missionaries in pre-Communist China faced. As I stated previously, just reading about all he did made me tired. The wide range of responsibilities, the long hours, and the arduous travel had to be physically exhausting. Chapters 14 and 15 of his book, however, gave me insight into how he coped with the heavy demands of being a missionary in a foreign culture.

“Hunting and Fishing in North China and Manchuria” (chapter 14) and “Sportsmen as Kindred Spirits” (chapter 15) detail Leonard’s passion for hunting and fishing that, though certainly not equal to his passion for missions, rounded out my understanding of the man behind the missionary persona. Though he had never owned a gun or a fishing rod prior to his deployment to China, Leonard took the advice of an esteemed missionary to China whom he had heard speak during his seminary days. The advice was: “It is almost imperative for one to have a change from time to time, if one is to do one’s best work.” This missionary had used hunting as “recreation of mind and heart” and for “building up my physical being.”

Leonard took the speaker’s advice and became an enthusiastic sportsman, who enjoyed every opportunity that came his way to break away from his heavy daily responsibilities and to spend some time hunting and fishing. He tells stories of his hunting and fishing expeditions with the same intensity that he applied to the stories of his missionary work. The physical trophies of his recreational pursuits seem to provide some tangible victories that most of us need when we work intently in the somewhat ephemeral area of the spirit. Leonard was proud of his guns and fishing equipment. He was buoyed by the trophies of the game he took. He enjoyed fellowship with other sportsmen. He shared the game he bagged with Christian schools, church members, and neighbors, who often lacked nutritious protein in their diet. And he benefited from the physical exercise that helped keep him well and strong through 60 years of continuous active service.

Not being a hunter and not being very interested in fishing (even though I live on a lake), I found some of Leonard’s stories kind of gory; but one sentence in these two chapters really captured my attention. On one expedition, Leonard was fishing with a kind of competitive spirit alongside some of the locals. As always, the fishermen were sharing stories and talking about their equipment. Leonard noted that they were using live bait but commented that he was using an artificial lure, which he classified as “more humane.” I found that comment rather ironic. Most of the time Leonard used live bait. All of the fish and game he bagged were live when he caught or shot them. The consideration of what is humane and inhumane has a spiritual dimension, and it is one we ought to reflect on occasionally with sensitivity.

Some religious persuasions make a case for not taking any form of life. Interestingly, the Buddhism that was practiced by many in China in Leonard’s day held that persuasion. We face the similar issues with vegens in our society. For the past 30 or 40 years, the President of the United States has spared the life of the White House turkey each year at Thanksgiving time—even while hundreds of thousands of turkeys are being consumed with gusto. We are divided on the status of embryos, fetuses, and death-row inmates. We can’t even agree on whether war is humane or inhumane, and we tend to focus on “innocent” casualties in assessing the toll of war.
As is the case in so many ethical considerations, upsides and downsides of our choices often leave us in a quandary. I would hope that the things I do consciously can be done with the gusto of a Charles Leonard. I too think recreation is important, as is a day of Sabbath, or a Sabbatical leave, or a vacation, or even a year of Jubilee. Maybe Paul summarized it best in Colossians 3:17 (NASB), “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” I have no doubt that Charles Leonard lived by that verse. I hope I can too.

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