Not long after Jill and I had fallen asleep our daughter Hannah burst into our bedroom. "There are ants everywhere in our room! Army ants!" she said. Jill got up to handle the situation, but before long I heard an ominous, "Michael, you'd better come and see this." I knew right away that a good night's sleep was in jeopardy. Hannah was right. Army ants had taken over her bedroom. By then the other children were awake and we all stood in the doorway looking on in amazement as the ants marched in through the window and spread throughout the room.
These were not your picnic variety ants. These "Special Forces" of the ant world were mean and on a mission! Unfortunately for us, their marching orders included search and destroy in our house. We ignored the traditional advice that we'd heard from other missionaries ("Resistance is futile!") and went immediately to chemical warfare with the bug spray—big mistake. Apparently the army ants were trained for this kind of attack and straight away they spread out and became ferocious. Jill and I hopped around the room beating off the attackers and trying at the same time to find a clear spot, free from ants. We made a hasty retreat and quickly shut the ants up in Hannah's bedroom.
With the Army ants safely locked away, we made beds for Hannah and Matthew in our bedroom. Soon we all dropped off to sleep. In what seemed like no time at all, our oldest son Taylor came into the bedroom and nonchalantly said, "They're in my room now." Then he dropped his pillow and sheet on the floor and went right to sleep. The next attack occurred sometime later. Jill woke us all up by yelling, "They're in my hair!” The ants had somehow found their way inside through a small crack in the windowsill. We then retreated to the dining room. Taylor discovered that the ants had left his room and he returned to his own bed. I was left to protect my family from the invaders, and soon I was fast asleep in the living room chair. Every hour or so, I'd wake up and survey the situation.
The army ants were moving through the house checking every nook and cranny, always moving forward. It turned out that we weren't the only ones retreating from the invading army. All sorts of pests were being forced out of their hiding places: spiders, smaller ants, beetles and other unmentionables (roaches). At one point during the night, I turned on the kitchen light and saw to my amazement a huge parade of literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Army ants heading out under our back door, carrying out on their backs more bugs than I care to admit. They had captured their prey and were returning to their camp. Mission accomplished. Around dawn, I woke Jill and the kids to let them know that it was safe to return to their beds. The ants had gone. We had survived a difficult night.
What little sleep we got was in strange places in unfamiliar positions. No one felt rested and we all had achy muscles and pains in our joints. We felt glad that the ants had decided to move on and we looked forward to sleeping in our own beds that night. Not until later in the day did I realize that the ants had actually done us a favor. They had come in on their own initiative and rid our house of lots of pests. They hadn't asked for much, just a little space to do their work. They had actually done something for us that we had not been able to do ourselves. After everything was said and done, I felt grateful for the ants and the service that they gave us, even if it meant missing a little sleep.
In lots of ways, having missionaries in the community is a little bit like having Army ants in your house. Like the ants, the missionary's work is often misunderstood. By nature, missionaries act as agents of change. Our mission is to improve the lives of the people we come in contact with: physically, emotionally and spiritually. However, making improvements and the process of change can be painful, especially in a society that highly regards tradition. For example, it's painful to move out of our comfort zones to try new ways of planting crops. It's uncomfortable to try new teaching programs in the church or methods of evangelism in the community. It's awkward to talk with our young people about the devastation of AIDS in Africa. We can see that change is necessary, but it's much easier to ignore or avoid the problem than to confront it. But with God’s help, we’re able to help people face these difficult issues.