A Unique Look at Missions
About the Guest
As a child, Amy Peterson read tales of brave missionaries and longed to serve God in an extraordinary way, too. While in high school, Peterson made a commitment to serve God overseas for one year. She got her chance after college, and talks about what it was like to serve God in Southeast Asia.
Amy PetersonAmy Peterson is a writer, Adjunct professor and assistant director of honors programming at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. She has a Master’s degree in missions and intercultural studies from Wheaton College and has used it to work with people from over a dozen countries. Amy has written for Books & Culture, The Millions, Christianity Today, The Other Journal, The Cresset, and Art House America, among other places. Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World is her fir...more
As a child, Amy Peterson read tales of brave missionaries and longed to serve God in an extraordinary way, too. She talks about what it was like to serve God in Southeast Asia.
A Unique Look at Missions
Bob: As a young girl, Amy Peterson knew she wanted to live a life that mattered—a life that was focused on God and His kingdom.
Amy: I wasn’t sure, as a woman, growing up Christian, how I could have those kinds of adventures. When I realized that I could be a missionary and have those adventures, while also serving God, it was like, “Well, that’s what I am doing, for sure.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 14th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear from Amy Peterson today about how her desire to serve God led her to some unexpected places and into dangerous territory. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I want to play something for you. This is actually something—this is a conversation we had with a couple who were radio guests, back in—
—this was in April of 1993—
Bob: So, that goes back a ways. In fact, we had—
Dennis: Let me just think what I was doing back in April ’93, Bob.
Bob: We had to dig this out of the box of DAT tapes. This was not even—
Dennis: DAT? People don’t know what DAT is.
Bob: I know. We had to find—
Dennis: They think we’re from the South or something.
Bob: “Where is ‘dat’ tape at?”
Dennis: “Where is dat?”
Bob: Yes. So, we found the DAT and we pulled it out.
Let me ask our guest: “How old were you in April of ’93?”
Amy: Do you know? [Laughter]
Bob: I do know.
Dennis: There is the rest of the story—we’ll tell about that in just a moment.
Bob: Our guest was 12 years old.
Amy: That’s right. I was 12 years old in—
Bob: She was 12 years old.
Amy: —actually, in April of ’93,—
Bob: That’s right.
Amy: —I was 11.
Bob: You were 11.
Amy: But I was nearly 12.
Bob: Your birthday had not—
Dennis: Give me a fist bump—boom! [Laughter]
Bob: Should we identify our guest before I play this tape?
Dennis: Not yet; not yet.
Bob: Okay; alright.
Dennis: Let’s hear the clip.
Bob: So, the point is the clip we’re going to hear was a conversation that I was having with you—
—with our guest [at that time]—back when our guest was 11 years old. Here was the conversation.
Dennis: I’ve got to ask you, at the outset: “How in the world did you communicate a sense of mission? Why do you think that is so important in raising kids today?”
Don: Well, they’re going to have a cause—or call it a mission—of some kind. I think they look for that instinctively. Well, there are plenty of those causes out there in the world today. Almost all of them are the wrong cause; and I believe parents have to put an exciting, vibrant mission in front of their children to give them a reason for life and a direction in life.
I must say, we didn’t do it with a lot of plan and purpose—it was sort of accidental. I think, mainly, because we were interested and we did little things like—
—since we were fascinated by a missionary biographies, our home was full of missionary biographies. When our kids ran out of anything else to read, that’s what they would read; and that had its effect upon them.
Bob: Now, the reason for that clip—that, by the way, was Don Myers, who was here with his wife Sue. They were on staff with Cru® back—
Dennis: Yes; and served in the continent of Africa for over two decades—maybe, three.
Bob: I think, after that interview—I think I ordered a bunch of missionary biographies to put in our home [Laughter] so they’d be available for our kids to read as they were growing up. Although, I think we already had some missionary biographies lying around the house by that time.
Dennis: Right. The reason you mentioned that is because?
Bob: There was an 11-year-old at our house, who was reading anything that she could find around the house; and she read a few of those missionary biographies.
Dennis: And that 11-year-old grew up to become a writer, a wife, and a mom; and it’s your daughter, Amy.
Amy, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Amy: Thank you so much for having me.
Dennis: Let me just give you a little background on Amy. She is a writer and an adjunct professor at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana; has her Master’s degree in—“What else?” but missions and intercultural studies from Wheaton College; and she is, as I mentioned, a mom to two children: Rosie who is eight and Owen who is—
Amy: He is six.
Dennis: And she is the author of a book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World. My question for you—after I thoroughly enjoyed your book—I read it from cover to cover. Barbara read it too. We both just thought, “We knew her when…” [Laughter]
Amy: Well, thank you.
Dennis: “We knew her when…” I just felt like you were too hard on yourself—your misguided quest to save the world. Comment on that if you would.
Amy: Well, you know, first of all, the subtitle was written by the publisher, not me. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, the subtitle—
Amy: So, my publisher was pretty hard on me; don’t you think?
Dennis: He was punishing you.
Amy: Yes. No; but I definitely had a sense of being on a quest or I had a really adventurous spirit. You know, I was inspired by tales of missionaries from a very young age. To me—I was a reader, and I loved to read Nancy Drew—she had adventures and solved mysteries. I wasn’t sure, as a woman, growing up Christian, how I could have those kinds of adventures. When I realized that I could be a missionary and have those adventures, while also serving God, it was like, “Well, that’s what I’m doing, for sure.”
Bob: So, let me jump to 25 years later, with an eight-year-old daughter at home. If Rosie comes and says, “I want to buy this biography of Amy Carmichael,” do you go, “Go for it!” or do you go, “Well, let me—let’s talk about Amy before you read that book”?
Amy: It depends on what the biography is. I think that there are some missionary biographies written for children that are pretty problematic in some ways. They sort of jump over / alight over the really dangerous, and sad, and even tragic parts of missionary life. They end up making missionaries like these glorious, glamorous heroes, who are better than your average Christian—I think setting up that kind of dichotomy—especially with a young child, who doesn’t have a framework for understanding tragedy.
So, they’ll read a story like that—and even if you read about Gladys Aylward and she’s hiking through the mountains with these children she’s trying to save and they’re practically starving—when I read that, as a child, I thought, “Awesome!”; you know? When I read that, as an adult, I’m like, “This is breaking my heart.” So, I think we need to be careful how we introduce missionary stories to our kids. I don’t think that means we shouldn’t introduce them, but I would probably want to read it with her or read it before her, at least; yes.
Dennis: So, as you started your journey and as you began your book, you make this statement—you say: “I wanted to be extraordinary—the greatest, truest kind of Christian, one whose life counted—not one who raised 2.5 children behind a white picket fence in American suburbia. I wanted to be one of heaven’s heroes.” Did that come from reading those biographies?
Amy: Yes; I think so. It came from reading those biographies, and it came from—and just to be clear—in expressing that desire today, I’m critiquing the way that I felt—not holding that up as like: “All children should want to be one of heaven’s heroes.” I’m critiquing that desire and saying like, “I had this wrong-headed sort of paradigm that there were two kinds of Christians—normal everyday Christians in American suburbia and the true heroes of heaven, who were missionaries.”
I think that’s a false dichotomy; right?
Amy: I think that when we have that dichotomy between like ordinary Christians and extraordinary Christians, it has two really dangerous things. One is that it leaves missionaries with this sort of self-inflated sense of themselves; right?
Dennis: Right; right.
Amy: Also, it leaves them unable to communicate the realities of their experience to their supporters, back home, because supporters are thinking, “They are the great missionaries.” Missionaries, then, can’t talk about their doubts or their failures without fearing they’ll lose, actually, financial support.
Then, also, it has this effect for the normal people in the pews of making them feel like they’re second-class Christians or of making them feel like they are off the hook: “Well, the missionaries are taking care of the evangelism. So, I don’t need to do that,” or “The missionaries are making the grand sacrifices. So, I can live my normal, comfortable life.” Actually, I think all of us are called to radical sacrifices.
It’s just, maybe, that doesn’t always look the way we think it’s going to look.
Dennis: I’m glad you are saying that because, when we raised our kids—and growing up in a ministry family, even as you did—it has its downsides / it has its landmines, so to speak. We wanted our kids to know: “Whether they ended up in ‘fulltime Christian work’ or whether they are in fulltime Christian work through their vocation—that it didn’t really matter—
Amy: Right; yes.
Dennis: —“what they did”; right?
Amy: Yes; it is fulltime Christian work either way; right?
Dennis: Just be faithful with the gifts God has given you.
When do you remember you entertained the idea of stepping off of the Island of America, so to speak, into the world into some dangerous territory?
Amy: When I was in high school, we were on a youth group retreat. Our youth pastor had been talking about the importance of missions and evangelism.
At the end of the retreat, you know, he asked us all—with every head bowed and every eye closed—to raise our hands if we would commit to spending, at least, one year serving God overseas. He said: “Mormons all give two years. You can surely give one.” [Laughter]
Dennis: We’re not going to comment on that. [Laughter]
Amy: I remember—I mean, I raised my hand, at that point; and that was after I had already been on two short-term mission trips. I think I’d been thinking for a while that that was a direction I was probably headed or likely to head; but at that point, I did make a commitment to spend, at least, one year overseas.
Bob: I remember a couple other things that I think were influential for you. One was—you were a part of that audience, 25 years ago, in the field in Tennessee.
Amy: That was a few years later, but—yes.
Bob: For the first time ever, you heard about seashells from John Piper. [Laughter] You heard him say, “Don’t waste your life gathering seashells on the seashore.”
That resonated with you; didn’t it?
Amy: Definitely. If you look at my scrapbook of that event, I think it says, “It changed my life.” [Laughter]
Bob: Then, you went to a class, while you were in college—the perspectives class. I remember you—I don’t know if it was an email or a phone conversation—but it fueled the passion for you to be overseas.
Amy: Yes; definitely.
Dennis: Here is my take on Amy—[who] was then, Amy Lepine / now, Amy Peterson—my take on Amy Lepine was—when your dad told me you were headed to a country that we’re not going to be able to name, here, on FamilyLife Today—when you were headed to this country, I said, “Amy is doing that?!” Now, I just had this little, kind of pristine picture of you, as a young lady—very sharp/very smart—but I didn’t have you as a spiritual guerilla with—[Laughter]
Bob: —as an adventurer; right?
Dennis: Yes; as an adventurer!
Bob: Well, imagine me when Amy tells me—
Dennis: Well, she’s your daughter!
Bob: I know.
Dennis: You helped raise her!
Bob: But when she says, “Okay; I’ve talked to this agency, and they want to place us in this country;” and she said—I said, “Tell me about the city.” She said, “Well, it’s about 250,000 people.” Then, the next thing she said: “And as far as we know, the other person and I, who are going into that city, are the only two Christians in the city.” I thought: “That’s not the kind of missionary service I’m thinking about. I want you to have a group you’re getting together with on Sunday night, and you’re all studying the Bible…”
Dennis: —somewhere down in South Alabama.
Bob: Exactly! [Laughter] Not in a country that is dangerous, where you and your friend are the only two Christians in town.
Dennis: Okay, Dad, you shared how you took that. Amy, do you remember the look on your dad and your mom’s face?
Amy: It was over the phone—so I can’t say what the look on their face was, but all I remember is this was exactly where I wanted to be going.
Of all the cities they could have assigned me to—the one that was the most unreached or the “darkest” / the hardest place to go—I was so excited that that was my place to go. I don’t remember feeling his fear. I mean, I don’t even remember being aware of it.
Bob: I don’t think we communicated over the phone. [Laughter]
Amy’s heard me tell the story—it was, maybe, a week later that I took her brothers to a movie. We went and saw a movie about the Civil War called Gods and Generals. In the movie, it quotes Stonewall Jackson—and apparently this is true from history—one of his lieutenants had asked him, “General Jackson, how do you keep your composure on the battlefield when there are bullets whizzing past your head?” Jackson said, “My theology, sir, teaches me that I am as safe in my bed as I am on the battlefield if I am in the will of God.”
I walked out of that theater, thinking: “You know what? My daughter is as safe in the country she’s going to as she would be on the streets of Little Rock if she’s in the will of God.”
You just have to trust that God is a big God; and He can take care of your kids, wherever they are.
Dennis: Yes; I have to ask you this question, too, before we get into the stories that begin to occur in this country as you ventured out. Initially, you really disliked the term, “missionary.”
Dennis: Now, what’s behind that?
Amy: There are a few things behind that. I had just finished four years at a university—a state university. I knew how educated liberal arts people felt about the word, “missionary”; and I knew that they had some good reasons, actually, for feeling that way. I knew that, historically, missionaries had been complicit with imperialist and colonialist agendas of various countries—both Catholic and Protestant missionaries.
I knew that it wasn’t a clean history there; you know? Missionaries had done wonderful and amazing work.
They had also been sort of tied up with some things that were not so great. I was afraid that I would, accidentally, live into this imperialist, ethnocentric legacy that some missionaries had left.
I think, also, I had some doubts that—maybe, I wasn’t even aware of yet—about what I believed. I wondered if the things that I had grown up believing would still seem true on the other side of the world. When I was in interactions with people from very different cultures and upbringings, I think I had some doubts I hadn’t even fully realized about whether or not the things I believed would still seem true on the other side of the world.
Dennis: So, you raised your support, which was the vast sum of—how much a month? Do you remember?
Amy: No! Maybe, it was—maybe, it was like $1,200 a month or something. This was so long ago—14 years ago.
Dennis: Yes, but you didn’t get involved in this for the cash.
Amy: No! [Laughter]
Dennis: The point is—this was not a get-rich-quick scheme.
Bob: I should show you—and I still have the video of the apartment.
Bob: Well, it’s hardly an apartment. It’s basically a cinderblock room that has a sink, and has a bathroom somewhere, and a mattress was on the floor, and a desk that you’d brought in from somewhere; right?
Amy: Oh, come on, Dad. It was a perfectly lovely apartment—[Laughter]
Bob: Was there a window?
Amy: —for a 22-year-old.
Dennis: No; now, wait.
Amy: There was a window. It had bars on it, but that was fine.
Dennis: You’re jumping ahead, Bob. I wanted to ask her, “What did you think when you got off the plane?”
Amy: Yes; you know, I remember stepping off the plane. The intensity of the heat and some of the smells—the smell of fish sauce—I remember driving into the city and seeing shacks on one side of the road and newly-developed high-rise buildings on the other side of the road. It was really a land of contrasts, and it was a totally new place.
I was excited.
Dennis: And you began to adjust immediately. Biggest adjustment?—besides the cinderblock room that Bob said you had. [Laughter]
Amy: Yes; so I moved in on campus. My apartment was on campus, up 101 steps on the fifth floor of a building; and I started teaching about a week later. I was—it was my first time ever teaching. I had classes of about 30 students, and they were all studying to become English teachers, themselves.
Bob: Did you speak the native language at all?
Amy: No; no. I was an English teacher. My students were coming in with some knowledge of English already. They had been studying since sixth grade or something.
I had some adjustments to my new career of being a teacher. I had adjustments to new food and to a new climate; but I think that there were a lot of cultural differences that I needed to adjust to that I wasn’t even aware of yet, at that time.
One of the biggest one was that Americans are generally pretty direct in their communication. The people, were I was living, had a very indirect style of communication. It took a while to understand what they meant.
For example, where I lived, teachers were really highly-respected. My students were not really allowed, culturally, to say, “No,” to me. So, if I asked students, “Do you want to come over and watch a movie in my apartment Friday night?” they would say, “Yes, teacher, I think maybe we can do that.” I thought that was a “Yes”; right? Actually, culturally, that was a “No,” because they couldn’t say, “No.” If they said, “Yes, maybe,”—I had to learn that that was their polite way of saying, “No,” to me. There were a lot of things for me to learn, culturally.
Dennis: Well, we want to hear more about those things you had to learn; but your dad has probably told you I have a favorite question to ask guests.
Amy: No; he should have warned me about this.
Dennis: He should have. I’ve just been sitting here thinking, “I wonder how Amy would answer my question.” So, here is your question, Amy—it’s very simple:
Dennis: “What’s the most courageous thing you have ever done in all your life? Courage is doing your duty in the face of fear.” I just—after reading your book entitled Dangerous Territory, I wondered, “This may not be it!”
Amy: Oh, yes—doing my duty in my face of fear.
Amy: So, basically, you’re asking me, “When is the time when I was most afraid and I did the thing anyway?”
Bob: Now, being my daughter, she is having to remember every event of her life—[Laughter] and sequentially—[Laughter]
Dennis: And our listeners know that, sequentially, she must review each one on a 1-to-10 point scale.
Bob: —and determine: “Wait; was this more dangerous than the other?” [Laughter]
So, the answer for Dennis—Sweetheart, all you have to do is think of one and share it.
Amy: Just one—
Amy: —one example? It doesn’t have to be the most.
Bob: It doesn’t.
Dennis: Yes, it does; yes, it does. [Laughter]
Amy: Oh, man. I feel like the hardest thing I’ve done in my life is probably give birth, and I was pretty scared about that too. I did it anyway, but I didn’t have much of a choice. [Laughter]
Bob: Not at that point you didn’t. [Laughter] It was—how many hours of labor?
Amy: I mean, with my first child, I was in labor for three days. [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh my goodness!
Amy: Yes; yes.
Dennis: You had plenty of time to get afraid; didn’t you?
Amy: Yes; I mean, the first day-and-a-half was just easy, mild labor; but I had a day-and-a-half of hard labor.
Dennis: I’ve had answers all over the spectrum. I’ve had other women—I have had other women answer that question in that way—
Amy: You have.
Dennis: —just to affirm you.
Dennis: Well, I just want to affirm your faith—that in the midst of growing up—part of your life in San Antonio / the other part here in Little Rock—and going away to the university, you put your faith on the line.
You stepped up, and you stepped out. I love the story—I loved the expression of doubt, and evaluation, and your honesty in here about where you came from and what you believed. I think our listeners ought to get a copy, because she is a great writer. I don’t know where she got it! I think it had to be from her mother. [Laughter]
Bob: I think our listeners ought to get a copy as well. In fact, I think they ought to get several copies. [Laughter] I think they ought to get a case of the book and make it a Christmas present to everyone they know this year. [Laughter] And by the way—
Amy: I agree with that.
Dennis: I have never seen him this enthused about any book in 25 years, Amy. [Laughter]
Bob: Including my own; okay?
Amy: He’s not getting a cut of the profits, either.
Dennis: He’s not; he’s not.
Bob: That’s right. I might get some loans paid back. [Laughter]
Amy: I was thinking that. [Laughter]
Dennis: I think that’s false hope—is what I think that is. [Laughter] I see the look in her eyes.
Bob: We do have copies of Amy’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
The book is called Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329. Again, the website—FamilyLifeToday.com—order the book online; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We need to take just a minute for an update. For those of you who are regular listeners to FamilyLife Today, you know about the matching-gift fund that we’ve got going on this month as we approach the end of 2017. We’re asking FamilyLife Today listeners to help us reach more people, more regularly, during 2018 than we’ve ever been able to reach before—a lot of exciting projects coming up. We’ve got a matching-gift fund that’s in place this month, where every donation we received so far has been doubled, dollar for dollar.
We’re not done yet. In fact, our friend, Michelle Hill, is here to give us an update on the matching- gift fund. Hi, Michelle.
Michelle: Hi Bob, I do have an update and I hope this is not a glitch in reporting, because today’s number is pretty amazing …FIVE HUNDRED NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS! Wow! …and Jordan says thumbs up…“that’s a good number” …Bob what I do know for sure is that faithful friends like Alan from Deerbrook Wisconsin and Scott from Chattanooga are just a couple of the nearly four thousand folks now who’ve decided to stand with us in this two million dollar match, and we are thankful for your faithfulness and for your donation.
Bob: And it’s easy for you to donate to FamilyLife Today. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; you can call to donate, 1-800-358-6329; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; the zip code is 72223.
Keep in mind—your donation is matched, dollar for dollar, when you make a donation between now and the end of the year. So, we’d love to hear from you.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Amy Peterson will be here again. We’ll continue our conversation about the dangerous journey God took her on. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a CruMinistry.
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