Ruthie Wagner is a third-generation missionary, having grown up in Bangladesh. She and her husband, Josh, have been working with the Themne people of Sierra Leone since Fall 2013.
What’s your history? (Were you born overseas? How long have your parents been missionaries? How many countries have you lived in?)
I was born in California while my parents were on furlough from Bangladesh. My parents were missionaries together for 16 years in Bangladesh. My mom was born and raised in Bangladesh, also as an MK. I’ve lived in 3 countries: Bangladesh, USA, and now Sierra Leone as a missionary myself!
Have you been on furlough? What is it like to live in the United States after growing up in a different country and culture?
Yes! It was always exciting to come back to the USA to see my grandparents and cousins. I remember returning to the USA when I was 11. As soon as I saw the carpet at the airport, I couldn’t resist lying down on it and petting it. What luxury! What was even more luxurious was drinking running water. Drinking fountains with an abundance of clean water blew my mind!
If you are currently on furlough, what do you miss most about living on the mission field? What do you miss the least?
When I returned to the USA on furlough, I missed the Santal people, speaking Santali, playing with fellow missionary kids from around the world, and eating rice and curry off banana leaves. Yum. I don’t miss the mosquitos one bit. In fact, I had even more of them pestering me in Sierra Leone.
How easy or difficult was it to make friends, do schoolwork, and other “normal” activities while being known as a “missionary kid” by the community?
It was easy. I knew Santali fluently and there were many Santal kids around all the time. Some of my closest friends were Norwegian missionary kids. I didn’t know Norwegian, and they didn’t know English. So, we spoke Santali! The local people thought that we were strange, being white and blonde and speaking their language. For school, my mom and other teachers from America taught my siblings and me in a little classroom either in or near our home. The most common activities were exploring, playing in the dirt, climbing trees, and playing house. My mom had small cooking/baking dishes in which she let us cook real food outside (with supervision)! It was more difficult when we went into town. Crowds always stared and wanted to touch me and my siblings. I didn’t know Bengali, the language of wider communication, so I felt even more like a foreigner.
What is your favorite memory of living overseas?
My grandpa (previously a missionary in Bangladesh) came for a visit. He and my mom took me with them on a big trip visiting villages, preaching and evangelizing. That was very influential in my wanting to be a missionary. I could hardly believe that they would take a little, insignificant girl on such a meaningful mission!
How has the mission work of your parents influenced you and your faith?
Tremendously. It rocked my identity, and for a while as a teenager I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged. I resented my upbringing. As I got older, I saw it as foundational to understanding my identity in Christ, my home in heaven, and God’s love for peoples and cultures.