Saturday, December 29, 2012

How are cross-cultural missionaries like knuckleball pitchers?

I recently read R.A. Dickey's autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball, and a couple of quotes have really stuck with me.  Dickey was a highly drafted pitching prospect who ended up losing a lucrative contract because he was missing a ligament in his elbow.  He bounced around major league baseball before finally becoming a successful knuckleball pitcher.  This past season he became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. What interested me the most was the way Dickey described the community of knuckleball pitchers:

"Tim (Wakefield) is throwing in the bullpen today, and I ask if it's okay to watch.  He checks with John Farrell, the Sox pitching coach, and he says sure.  Here's the knucklehead brotherhood in play again: there's no chance that an opposing pitcher, no matter how nice a guy, is going to invite me to watch how he grips and throws his split-fingered fastball or his slider.  Those are state secrets.
Knuckleballers don't keep secrets. It's as if we have a greater mission beyond our own fortunes.  And that mission is to pass it on, to keep the pitch alive.  Maybe that's because we are so different, and the pitch is so different, but I think it has more to do with the fact that this is a pitch that almost all of us turn to in desperation.  It is what enables us to keep pitching, stay in the big leagues, when everything else has failed. So we feel gratitude toward the pitch. It becomes way more than just a means to get an out. It becomes a way of life."
This quote made me think of interactions with fellow cross-cultural missionaries over the years.  Rachel and I often feel like we've stumbled into missions.  I never imagined growing up that one day I would be living in an African country, working in different languages to help plant churches and nurture leaders.  But one of the biggest surprises in this profession has been the way the vast majority of missionaries we've encountered have been extremely hospitable: sharing time, resources, food, knowledge, etc.  Rachel and I have learned a lot from this community and have done our best to pass on the favor to others.

When we meet others who have served or are currently serving cross-culturally there is often an immediate connection.  Missions certainly attracts some interesting (and strange!) people - people that form a generous community.  We have seen this broader community consistently help one another out, pushing each other to keep going, working ultimately to 'keep the pitch alive.'  As R.A. Dickey puts it,
"Knuckleballers may be a freak show at sixty feet six inches, but the freaks stick together."
Grace and Peace,

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