Do you ever feel like you don’t measure up? I do.
Sometimes I compare myself, my family, and our lifestyle to other missionaries. Not sure comparing is often healthy, by the way.
I look at missionaries in African villages or Asian jungles, and I think, “I’m NOT a real missionary.” I don’t deal with malaria or live in a hut. I have running water, electricity, heat and even Internet in my house.
To be honest, sometimes I feel guilty, like I’m not suffering enough to be called a missionary. After all, real missionaries –
Who defines a “real missionary” and what does one look like?
“Real Missionary” Equals Suffering
Today some missionaries arrive to their field by canoe and live in grass huts. Others serve on beautiful, but isolated and poverty-ridden islands. Some are in comfortable apartments in busy, modern cities.
But for some reason, many of us, myself included, tend to relate real missionaries with suffering.
Wendi Grayson, a missionary friend in St. Kitts, said:
“I think most people have this view of missionaries as being these super spiritual giants, ‘suffering for Jesus’ in the remote villages of Africa, no electricity or running water. And while that may be true of some missionaries, that is most definitely not true for all, or even most! We are just normal people living life in another country.”
This “real missionary equals suffering” mentality overlooks a few basic truths.
Missionaries are not strong in themselves.
I couldn’t live on the mission-field in my own strength. I have plenty of fears related to this lifestyle. But I couldn’t do it in America either.
It is God who gives us all we need for life and godliness, no matter our circumstances. And He knows what each of us encounters and what we need to endure. We are not the source of our strength, missionary or not.
God gives strength in accordance with His calling.
Every country comes with blessings and challenges. I know missionaries in western Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Siberia, among other places. We each live under dramatically different circumstances. I wonder if I’d be strong enough to handle some of their struggles, but they might say the same about parts of my life.
God calls each missionary and plants them in a specific place. He also uniquely gifts each one for the blessings and the difficulties they face.
Foreign missionaries everywhere share common challenges.
We leave home, country, culture, family and familiarity. We quickly realize that people think differently in other parts of the world. What seems common sense to us may be 100% backwards in our new culture.
Many of us learn at least one, if not multiple new languages. In the meantime, we make fools of ourselves and say stupid things like, “Would you please give me a cow” instead of “give me a box.” My husband once inadvertently cussed at an entire room of people at the top of his voice!
We face uncertainty about our future. Will the visa or registration laws change? Will we be forced to leave? Will we have the financial support or the “tent making job” to stay on the field long-term?
Healthcare standards, practices and even beliefs are unfamiliar, scary at times. In Ukraine, anesthesia is used far more sparingly than in America. My husband and I have had multiple procedures or non-invasive surgery with no pain killers or only a local injection.
Missionary families raise children inter-culturally. Many of us have babies in foreign hospitals. Our kids grow up far from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We wrestle through decisions about healthcare, education and socialization for our kids. Many of us will eventually live in different countries, on different continents than our adult kids and our grand babies.
We share common joys, as well.
God is working all over this globe, and missionaries have the privilege of taking part first-hand. We develop relationships with people we would never meet otherwise. We adopt mothers, fathers, grandparents and siblings from our field countries.
Travel is a regular part of missionary life. Our ministries take us all over the world, and we have the privilege of experiencing other lifestyles, cultures, and languages. World history unravels before our eyes, and our children enjoy unique opportunities. My 18-month old son has been in four different countries, and that doesn’t count layovers.
Our worldview and perspectives change. We learn that some of our beliefs and practices are good, and others are not. We incorporate other cultures and ideas into our norm. We become flexible people.
Missionaries share a common calling.
When we think “real missionary equals suffering,” we forget the definition of missionary calling. The calling is not to live in the hardest parts of the world or to suffer more than others.
God calls missionaries to: go into all the world; preach the Gospel; make disciples; and tell of His glory among the nations.
That is the marker we should use to measure our lives as missionaries. Not “how much are we suffering?” but “are we going; preaching; making disciples; and telling of His glory?”
My friend Wendi says: “There are certainly sacrifices we make…I absolutely don’t feel like I’m suffering! I feel like I’m home. I feel like I’m walking in God’s calling for my life..it is hard some times but there is so much peace in knowing you’re where God wants you, and He’s been good and faithful to meet all our needs. ”
Missionaries serve under a common calling. I find peace when I remember that calling, but even more when I recall that GOD is the one who is faithful. By HIS grace alone, we serve. In the good and the hard times. When we suffer and when it feels like home.
It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13, ESV