That Time I Didn’t Become a Missionary

A meandering story about Protestant guilt

Katie Johnson
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readNov 2, 2023

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A hand holding an open Bible
Photo by César Abner Martínez Aguilar on Unsplash

I grew up with a mom who hated religion but sent my siblings and me to a Christian school. I grew up in the Bible Belt where there are more churches than Starbucks per capita. I grew up confused about moral codes and the afterlife. At home, we watched horror movies and listened to the radio and mama cussed.

At school, we studied the Bible and wore long skirts and swore off the secular world. I felt a deep sense of guilt and worry about this dual life. Would I go to hell for watching MTV and wearing pants after school and not being allowed to go to church on Sunday? Could I do enough good deeds to outweigh the sins I committed?

Would my mom go to hell because she didn’t go to church?

One of the main tenets of our Bible lessons was that as Christians, it was our personal responsibility to spread the Word of God and make sure we saved as many people as possible. We were shepherds leading sheep to the Lord, to safety from eternal damnation. But when I tried to shepherd my mom, I was met with a barrage of resistance and rage.

How dare I, a child, tell an adult how to live her life? See, my mom sent us to Christian school to spare us from the brutal public school experience she’d gone through. Not because she wanted us to be churchy. We lived in the same town where she grew up. She worked her ass off to pay for our tuition to this school because it was the only non-public school option. There were no private schools nearby.

She was a young mother doing the best she could with what she had. And I guess that even my atheistic mother had tendrils of the Bible Belt creeping through her brain, telling her that children needed to be brought up learning about Jesus. I couldn’t understand the vitriol she spat at any mention of church, God, sins, the Bible. But I don’t blame or resent her for any of this — I’m just writing honestly about my experience.

There was no way for her to know that I was too sensitive and impressionable to handle the complexity that religious education introduced. I was a prime candidate for feeling sorrow for my sinful nature, feeling compelled to serve God, feeling hopeless that I couldn’t reconcile my real life with the idea…

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Katie Johnson
Human Parts

Triathlon coach, psychology junkie, and writer with a passion for helping people get better at life (while also trying to get better at life)