A Tribute to The Missionary Van

Jesus tells his apostles in John 13 that, “the world will know you are my disciples by your love.” In the case of missionaries, the world will also know who you are by what you drive. Every mission field has its own missionary car - in African countries it may be a jeep, in Europe perhaps a pickup truck, but, in Japan, it is the missionary van.

When you’re a missionary kid in Japan, your family drives a van. There is no getting around this. And it’s not one of those cool vans, like the dubbers have in which they cruise the downtown. No, it’s one step away from a painters van. It’s like a grey metal bucket with seats. It will get you no girls. It is a Missionary Van.

We really couldn’t complain, though, because the vans were provided, insured and maintained by our respective missions. Plus, when you’re a missionary you’re always transporting people, a purpose at which such vans excel.

Nonetheless, we kids in the mid-‘nineties were dedicated to promoting our vans like they were our pets. We were always comparing vans, highlighting their features, praising their virtues, and trash-talking each others rides. Things could get crazy and kind of heated.

Kid A: “Dudes, my van is so cool. It seats eight and can fit three suitcases in the back!”

Kid B: “Man, but yours has a jumpseat. That’s so lame. My van has a full front bench seat and can fit seven comfortably. Plus it has sliding doors on both sides.”

Kid A: “Dual doors may be cool, but a jumpseat means that you can like flip the front seat around and face each other and play games and stuff!”

Kid B: “Yeah, and be riding backwards and barf! Your family has a barfmobile! Hah! PLUS my van has leather.”

Kid A: “Nuh-uh! No one barfs in my car! And leather is stupid. It gets too hot.”

Kid C: “Guys, both your vans are lame because they run on gas. My family’s runs on diesel, and diesel is awesome.

Kid A: “What’s diesel?”

Kid C: “It’s cheaper.”

Kid A: “Why is it cheaper?”

Kid C: “Because it’s BETTER.”

Kid B: “Really? What does it do?”

Kid C: “I don’t know, but my dad says that it is better. My van also has an automatic transmission.”

Kid A: “Man, your dad doesn’t know anything. And your van is a dumb color and seats six.”

Kid C: “Well at least my van doesn’t have stupid STRIPES all along the side of it! Hah!”

Kid A & B: “Stripes are dope.”

Kid C: “Oh, and two words. Sun. Roof.”

Kid A: “Sunroof is one word.”





Sunroof or no sunroof, these vans had very few worthwhile features to highlight. Like I said before though, they were functional - they moved people and cargo efficiently. Now that we’re older, missionary kids still have fond memories of their vans growing up, and it’s one of many points of solidarity that they can share with other missionary kids. My family went through (I think) three vans while I was growing up, each one a little better than the one before it. This influence may even be part of why my current vehicle is a van. I have a soft spot for vans, even if mine never did have dual sliding doors.

Dann writes from his home in Minnesota, where, in a nearby parking lot, sits his van that can seat three legally and (at least) ten illegally.

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