February 2022

The January submission window has ended, and we are now closed to submissions again until July 1st. We received 269 stories in January. This is typical for one of our submission periods, perhaps a bit lower than usual. (In 2021, there were about 290 stories in July and 280 in January, but we're almost always between 250 and 300.)

If you're already thinking about what you might want to send us in July, we never get enough science fiction. We're especially interested in Earth-based stories that imagine the consequences of technological change at some point in the next hundred years, and tell the stories of particular Christian characters within those settings. We tend to be less interested in stories where a bunch of characters, some Christian and some not, debate the same philosophical questions that science fiction has been grappling with since the 1950s, often while sitting around a table in the cafeteria of their space colony or starship. Or anything involving time travel to Bible days, particularly if the point is for the protagonist to "prove" that something did or did not happen largely in accord with the Biblical account. Nor are we looking for apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction where the disaster in question is mostly the fault of people who disagree with the author's politics.

It's the 50s Calling, and They Want Their Missionary Stories Back

Although we are quite interested in stories about Christian missionaries, most of the ones we receive are not for us. Too many of them seem misinformed about what missionaries do, how they operate, and who a typical missionary might be.

To be fair, if you're writing about future missionaries going to an alien planet, you might reasonably assume that it's not going to look exactly like contemporary mission work. But why would you imagine that it's going to return to being what you think it was like in the 1950s, or even the 1850s?

The typical missionary protagonist in a story we receive is a single white man from the United States. While the United States does send more long-term missionaries to other countries than any other nation, number two on the list is Brazil and number three is South Korea. The Philippines, Nigeria, and China all send out more Christian missionaries than the United Kingdom (not necessarily with the approval of their own government).

While we recognize that the Catholic context is different, among Protestant missionaries, women have outnumbered men since at least 1900. Today, most Protestant missionaries are married couples (often in interracial marriages), usually with children, and between 70 and 85% of single missionaries are women. The single white male American missionary stereotype doesn't even represent the past all that well: George Liele, often recognized as America's first missionary, was a freed slave who started a church in Jamaica shortly after moving there in 1782. This was thirty years before the first missionary journey of Adoniram Judson, also widely considered to be the first American missionary. (Both Liele and Judson were married, BTW.) And, while Catholic missionaries might have a higher rate of singleness than their Protestant counterparts, nuns have always played an important role in the Catholic Church's international mission work. You've heard of this woman, right?

The United States is not only the top sender of international missionaries. It's also the number one destination. And, while many of these missionaries come to work with diaspora communities from their home countries, there are absolutely Christian missionaries from the global south who feel called to evangelize the decadent West (paywalled, but you'll get the drift from the preview even if you don't subscribe to The Economist).

Now, none of this means that we're going to reject your missionary story because the protagonist is an unmarried white guy from Missouri. We just want to observe that the stories we're seeing tend to fall into a particular demographic pattern that does not reflect today's, or even yesterday's, reality all that well. And, if you're writing science fiction about Christian missionaries going to other planets, given that the percentage of the world's Christians who live in the US, Canada, and Europe (vs. Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania) has gone from about 80% to 35% since 1900, it seems even less likely, statistically speaking, that a typical 23rd century missionary would be American.

The Myth of the Lone Ranger Missionary

We also see this issue in stories about scientists. There aren't that many significant advances in biomedical technology, aeronautics, robotics, etc. resulting from the brilliant work of one lone genius in his basement lab, but you'd never know it from reading science fiction submissions (or watching superhero movies). Scientists work in teams, because the equipment is expensive and often requires multiple people to operate and maintain, because the work is complicated with many specialized areas of expertise that no one person can possibly possess enough of to perform at the top level for that field, and because there's a lot of grunt work that can't be automated.

While being a missionary isn't exactly like that, they're not usually working on their own either, and never have. Even in the Bible, Paul always goes off on his missionary journeys with a whole team. (Peter's team included his wife.) Today, in an era when very few missionaries are working in regions that don't already have at least some local Christians, they often partner with churches in their host country. Some projects, like Bible translation, really are more like scientific discovery in needing to be a team effort to be done well. You don't just have some guy from America who spent a couple of years learning the language come up with his own idiosyncratic translation that everyone accepts without arguing.

Also, it's expensive to move to another country, and most missionaries aren't independently wealthy. Some have day jobs in their host country that provide much of their income and allow them to spend nights and weekends on their missionary work (a situation that many writers can relate to). But the reality for most Protestant missionaries is endless fundraising, usually by going around to different churches whenever they're back in their home country, giving talks on the work they're doing and letting audience members know how they can sign up as monthly supporters. More or less the same model as Patreon, in other words (with church events instead of appearing on panels at SF conventions); though missionaries have been doing it since before either of us was born, let alone before we had a Patreon page, and the funding agencies missionaries use tend to offer more benefits to their missionaries in exchange for higher administration fees. (Usually the missions agency also provides more structure and guidance on the specific work that their missionaries do, though this varies.)

Missionary Work: Not Just Door-to-Door Evangelism Anymore

We often see stories where a missionary goes to another culture and tries to win converts by preaching compelling sermons once a week. While this can certainly work as a great story, depending on the context (see David Tallerman's "An Exchange of Values, Conducted in Good Faith" for an example we really liked), it's not as common a model as its prevalence in stories would lead one to believe, at least not today.

Missionaries teach at seminaries, or share ideas with local pastors on how to make more effective use of technology (especially relevant in the last couple of years with COVID lockdowns), or work on translating the Bible into minority languages, or run Bible studies and classes for people in prison, or run soccer camps for teenagers in slums, or provide free medical care to underserved populations, or offer professional career training to victims of sex trafficking, or teach adults who didn't have the chance to attend school as children (often women) to read and write. Kristin's brother developed a mobile, tent-based summer camp setup that churches in Latvia can use as a lower-cost alternative to permanent camp structures and started a local nonprofit focused on youth mentoring, as well as running free summer ESL camps for adults in his community.

It's also common for new missionaries to spend their first year or two abroad focused primarily on language acquisition and cultural study, and simply learning how to live day-by-day in an unfamiliar country with different rules. But stories we see about missionaries are more likely to throw the protagonist into a situation where they're expected to be effective at their work from day one. (Though of course, timelines in fiction are always compressed. Was there ever a fictional pandemic that lasted longer than six months?)

Undercover Missionaries

Missionaries have always gone to nations whose governments didn't want them there. Technology has made it easier for those governments to monitor what they're doing, but also provided new, creative ways to stay under the radar (under the WiFi signal?). Churches keep information about where some of their missionaries are going on a need-to-know basis, and Christian workers from nations where they're not the majority religion take advantage of the fact that their host country might be less likely to suspect them of being undercover missionaries.

We appreciated Joel Limmer's "Meeting at the Crossroads" for imagining what this kind of work might look like in the distant future, and reminding us of the very real dangers that many of today's missionaries face.

The Good and the Bad

One of the biggest problems with so many of the stories people send us about missionaries is that they're focused on the wrong question. We're less interested in whether you think being a missionary is a worthwhile and ethical vocation, and more interested in what Reverend Halloway will do when he comes face to face with the god he's trying to win converts away from ("Golgotha", another David Tallerman story, though you'll have to buy the original Mysterion anthology to read this one in its entirety).

We're decidedly pro-missions ourselves, but also not looking to gloss over the often dark and morally suspect history of this or any other aspect of what the church has involved itself in over the last (almost) two thousand years. Or of present challenges and ethical concerns. Today's Western missionaries might be more aware of the dangers of cultural imperialism, but that doesn't necessarily resolve all the questions around when it's appropriate to challenge practices of one's host culture, and when it's more appropriate to remain silent. (The proper role of women and girls in society is one place where missionaries often find themselves at odds with their host cultures.)

Missionaries have a lot of problems, just like everyone else. We know missionaries who've gone through messy divorces after returning to their home countries, and who struggle with depression and other mental health issues. They have families and friends back home who either support or disdain the work they do, but never understand what it's really like. We're very open to stories that touch on these elements of missionary life, as well as stories in which missionaries wrestle with doubt, but please be careful with "missionary never really believed" or "missionary loses their faith" tropes; not because they never happen, but because we think they're overused and that the stories that use them tend to offer less insight into what it might be like to lose one's faith than into the author's opinions about Christianity. 

Conversely, your story doesn't need to delve into the dark and difficult aspects in order for us to be interested (see Annaliese Lemmon's "The Gift of Tongues" for a brief, lighthearted look into the life of a young missionary, where the most challenging aspect highlighted is struggling to learn the local language). But we are looking for honesty in storytelling, for work that tries to show the world and the Christians in it as they really are, not as they might aspire to be. A story doesn't need to show the whole truth about the lives of its characters, but nor do we want Instagram-ready curated versions intended to illustrate the characters' moral superiority to all who oppose them.

We do want to see more stories about missionaries, especially from authors who have been missionaries themselves! We hope that this column stirs up some new ideas for some of you, and encourages authors who are interested in writing about this topic but might not be as familiar with what Christian missions look like today to challenge some of the preconceptions they might have, and learn more.

Stories do need to have some speculative fiction aspect before we'll consider them, but that can be science fiction (either the eternally popular "missionaries evangelize aliens on other planets" storyline, or stories about the impact of near-future technology on missionaries or the communities they work with), fantasy, or supernatural; your story can be set in this or any other world, and at any time in the past, present or future. (Though if it's a story about Christian missionaries, it's obviously not going to work for it to be set much earlier than 35 AD. Unless time travel is involved.)

Boskone in February (Maybe)

In last month's editorial column, we shared our plans to attend Arisia, where Kristin was scheduled to appear on several panels. Well, Arisia was canceled at the last minute due to COVID, so that didn't happen.

Boskone still appears to be going ahead, as a hybrid con. Kristin is planning to attend, though she's not on any programming, but Donald has to work that weekend.

If they do end up switching over to virtual only, we'll probably both stay home, since we don't have any commitments at the convention and haven't really enjoyed trying to attend cons from the comfort of our home office or living room. It's very difficult to focus on a convention when you're not there, and it's nicer to spend time with people in person than online. (At least, that's what Kristin thinks. Donald's not necessarily looking to spend time with people at all.)

We've also signed up to attend this year's World Fantasy Convention in New Orleans! They're offering both in-person and virtual options as well, but since it's November 3rd-6th, we think it's likely to beat the annual holiday COVID surge. (New Orleans also had late summer peaks in both new cases and COVID-related hospital admissions in 2020 and 2021, but the 2021 summer surge had returned pretty much to baseline by early November. Of course, past performance is not indicative of future results, as they say.) 

Patreon Update

As mentioned above, we do have a Patreon page where readers who want to support the magazine can set up monthly contributions. Our goal is to eventually have enough Patreon supporters to cover the entire cost of the stories and artwork we publish. Right now, we're between 1/3 and 1/2 of that amount. We currently have 22 active Patreon supporters, contributing a total of $215/month.

If you read the magazine, and aren't already a supporter, please consider signing up! Even $1/month is helpful (though at $3/month, our most popular support level, you get early access to all the stories we publish).

Another great way to support us is to buy copies of our two anthologies. Most of the stories in the original Mysterion anthology are still not available anywhere else, and Mysterion 2 collects all the fiction content from the first two years of the online magazine. Both make wonderful gifts for short fiction lovers!

Cat Update

We're still in the feline equivalent of the teenage years with Marie and Maxwell. They're constantly hopping up on the kitchen counter or dining room table when we're not in the room (and sometimes when we are).

But still so cute!

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