In high school, newly following Christ, I made a lofty life commitment after hearing a guest speaker at youth group. He was blond and tan, betraying the SoCal surf culture he had jettisoned to follow Christ into the darkest jungles of exotic Papua New Guinea. We nicknamed him Bruiser, a play on his last name that hinted at his preaching style. Bruiser regaled us with tales of his decades spent successfully evangelizing a tribe. We were captivated by his every word.
True to his nickname, Bruiser ended with a missionary altar call, of sorts. He asked: How is it fair that comfortable US Christians hoard the gospel while people in Papua New Guinea die without hearing of Jesus?
I was 16, my heart was racing, and I was all in. Sure, I had never traveled outside my home state, and the thought of giant insects was almost a deal-breaker. But if Christ had willingly suffered torture and death, couldn’t I overcome my fear of cockroaches?
D. L. Mayfield, too, was once all in. Given an opportunity to serve among refugees while attending college in Portland, Oregon, she leapt at the chance. Now in her early 30s, Mayfield (also a regular writer for this magazine) has spent her adult years living among Somali Bantu communities—teaching English, baking cakes, and weaving herself into the tapestry of families beginning a new life.
But like so many other missionaries, Mayfield found her early excitement crashing against the rocks of reality. Her breakout book, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith (HarperOne), traces a journey from zealous youth to collegiate do-gooder to disillusioned doubter to chastened disciple.
Assimilate or Go Home is arranged into four “movements” ...1