Life as missionaries-Part 1

Frank and Emily van Dalen have decades of experience as missionaries in Pakistan and Lithuania. In the current interview, I had the pleasure of talking with them about faith, the work of missionaries, and their time in Pakistan and Lithuania. In the first part of the interview, the focus is on their background and their calling to be missionaries.

Frank, Emily, thank you for the interview and thank you for being here! Can you please introduce yourself and give some background information about yourself?

Frank: Okay, Emily, you start, and then I’ll fill out.

Emily: Okay, I’m Emily, and I was born and grew up in Pakistan. My parents were missionaries there for 40 years, and my grandparents were missionaries in South India for 40 years. So my family really is at home in South Asia. When I was 18, I graduated from high school. I went to a missionary boarding school when I was from the age of 6 until 18, and when I was 18, I went back to the USA and studied at a university. I got a bachelor’s in English, writing, and literature. The job that I wanted was in Christian publishing, but the level of job that I wanted required a masters in theology, so I went to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and did a two-year masters in religious studies there. And that’s where Frank and I met. So now he can tell the story.

Frank: My background is much less exotic than Emily’s. I just grew up in a Dutch family, an immigrant family in New Zealand. I was there until I was 24. I grew up in, I guess, a fairly religious congregate, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, so that was very formative. I went and studied law in New Zealand before I went to the States to start theological studies and to prepare for going to the mission field; that was basically my goal when I went to Westminster Seminary.

I believe that’s good enough to let the readers know about you and your background. The next question I would ask is: How did you become missionaries? I believe it is quite an important part of your life.

Emily: Partly because of my background as a missionary kid, growing up in missions.

Frank: Sort of like a family business.

Emily: In fact, I was not so interested in going back to Pakistan. It was an Islamic culture, and it was difficult for women there. And so, when I married Frank, I thought we were going to New Zealand.

Frank: And she thought she was going to be a missionary there.

Emily: Missionaries are no different than any Christian in the sense that every single believer is called to their light where they live. You know, to sort of present what Jesus is like to the culture they are living in. And the only difference with missionaries is the cross-cultural part of it. A missionary is called to a different country or culture from what they are familiar with. At the time when we were studying in seminary, we were thinking about missions and at that time, there were more missionaries in the American state of Alaska than there were in the entire Muslim world. Because it was just unresponsive, difficult, and a big culture change for people going. So, in a way, it made sense. At that time, Pakistan was part of the Commonwealth, so he didn’t need a visa.

Frank: The British Commonwealth.

Emily: So he didn’t need a visa to go to Pakistan, and I was familiar with the language, as you know, growing up there. So in a way, it was just a practical decision. There was a need, and there were good reasons why it would be easier for us to go there than for somebody else. Do you have more to add to that?

Frank: When I went to the seminary, I was already thinking about missions. Mostly because I thought being a pastor and I had felt from a young age a call to go to church, but I didn’t want to become minister of the church because most of the pastors I knew were wonderful people but very boring. And I didn’t want to be bored out of my brain, so be a boring person. But the most interesting people I’ve met and seemed to have a lot of fun in life were missionaries. So it was quite a selfish reason for becoming a missionary. I wanted to live life and live along with living. My initial goal was to go to Africa because I love to teach the Bible, and I felt that God is waking in Africa in many people, the church is growing tremendously, and there is a desperate need for teachers. I thought it was a perfect fit. But when I met Emily and her parents, who spoke to us about my interest in missions, they said, “You really should think of Pakistan.” As Emily mentioned, I didn’t need a visa to go there, and American missionaries at that time, in the early 1980s, were being refused visas for Pakistan. Sometimes they let them in, sometimes they closed the door. It depends on the politics of the situation. New Zealand is so small that nobody bothers to shut us out because we can’t do any damage.

Emily: And Pakistan likes cricket.

Frank: Yes, and so I would go to visa registration offices and just mention the names of one or two cricketers. I never enjoyed cricket; it is such a slow game, but I just mentioned the name of a New Zealand cricketer, and they would tell me everything, and we would have a huge conversation. They are passionate about cricket. So just getting into Pakistan was so much easier for me than for most other people. There was a great need there and an opportunity to bounce together, and that’s what brought us and, of course, Emily’s background.

Emily: Plus, there was already a Reformed community with missionaries in Pakistan. Presbyterian, as the American word for Reformed, so there was a work we could join already. They existed.

Frank: And they were needy; they were very desperate, especially the American Presbyterians; they looked into other groups. They were looking for it, and there was this matchup, and they saw us like, “Oh, you are interested; we need you; come and join us.”

In the upcoming part of the interview, we will talk about their experiences in Pakistan as missionaries.

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