Missionary Lessons

By Mark Koonz |  October 31, 2011

Christian 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. 
For example, 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 or 3, 
abandoned by his mother.  His father was 
of Spanish background, named Cortez, who worked for the Hudson 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 
was 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 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 and 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. 

For those who would like to read something good on Mother Teresa, read Mary Poplin's book "Finding Calcutta:  What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service."  Or start with Poplin's short presentation called  "Radical Marxist, Radical Womanist, Radical Love" in (editor) Dallas Willard's book "A Place for Truth."

For those who would like something good to read on Mark Buntain, there is an older book by Douglas Wead called "The Compassionate Touch."  Other books have been written which are listed on Amazon.  My own parents and grandparents knew Mark Buntain, so my information comes also from my family's and my own personal contact with him. 

For those who want to read about the Whitmans, there is "Shallow Grave at Waiilatpu:  The Sagers' West" by Erwin N. Thompson, published by the Oregon Historical Society.  Ask for this book to be put back into print if it is no longer available.  You should be able to find it on Amazon.

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