Posted by: Steve | January 7, 2008

Turtle on a Fencepost

I became intrigued recently by a book written almost three decades ago by Allan C. Emery and Mary C. Crowley entitled “A Turtle on a Fencepost, Women Who Win.”  In the first chapter of this little book, Emery asks us to think about life in a deeper way by eliciting the picture of a turtle on a fencepost.  I have been thinking about how well the image of a turtle on a fencepost depicts missionaries. 

What are a few things we know about a turtle on a fencepost?

  • A turtle on a fencepost didn’t get there on his own. 

Turtles lack the attributes needed for climbing posts.  Unlike the forlorn midnight cry of the neighborhood cat from the top of your backyard tree, having been able to “get up, but not down”, turtles lack the attributes necessary for post climbing. 

Not only do they lack the attributes, turtles also lack the resolve for post climbing.  On their own, they would see no benefit to climbing the post.

How like missionaries!  To be effective, missionaries must first acknowledge their inadequacy to climb the post of ministry.  We must all rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us for the task.  And, without the Lord’s call to service, we would not naturally see the value of our service.  On more than one occasion I have faced incredulity when I tell people I serve the Lord.  They see neither need nor value in such an effort.  I am a turtle on a fencepost.

  • A turtle on a fencepost is outside his comfort zone.

The turtle on a fencepost would rather be on terra firma where his natural attributes give him stability.  The flailing of turtle legs midair is disconcerting both to the turtle and the observer.

How like missionaries!  In missions we call it by many names, contextualization, acculturation, culture shock, etc.  Many missionaries understandably find themselves outside their comfort zone.  Huge adjustments become the order of the day just to carry out the tasks of daily life like shopping, making change, doing laundry, and a host of other mundane necesseties of life.  Many changes all at once test missionaries’ ability to adjust.  But the condition of lost souls compels us!  It’s worth the cost!

  • A turtle on a fencepost isn’t going anywhere unless someone moves him.

The turtle finds himself powerless to make productive progress without help.  He may struggle and fall off the post, but that is the unintended consequence of his being unsettled by his place.  Only when some caring person gently relocates him does the turtle find himself able to move forward without negative consequences.

How like missionaries!  Some missionaries, finding themselves outside their comfort zone, struggle in an effort to do something else.  But the fall from the post of ministry can be jarring.  Only when our caring God reaches into our lives and moves us can we find the joy of life.

The lesson of the turtle on a fencepost is quite simple, really.  God puts missionaries on the post of ministry, because we could not get there on our own.  We often find ourselves outside our comfort zone, but the God who put us where we are knows best.  When its time to leave the post, only God can make that decision.



  1. Steve,
    Welcome to the Blogosphere! Please refrain from posting photos of your cat. The internet has plenty of those blogs.


  2. I have felt like a turtle on a fencepost ever since we came to Kenya. We were very happy working in Honduras for the 3 years we were there. All of a sudden God picked us up and brought us to Africa, a place that we didn’t know, a language we didn’t understand, and a culture we have struggled to grasp.

    On more than one occasion I have flailed my limbs in an effort to understand things are be productive, but I almost always knock myself off the post.

    It is so true that God has put us here on our “fencepost.” He is the one who will give us what we need to survive. We are so thankful that God works patiently with us and equips us with the necessary tools to do His work.

    Enjoy your fencepost.

  3. It’s good to “hear” these thoughts again. It’s a good supplement to our previous training. I needed that reminder!

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