Most of us want to be liked, want to make a good impression. We hide the less desirable parts of our lives or ourselves. We worry about “What will they think? What will they say?”
Missionaries are no different.
But I believe a level of open discussion is healthy for all of us. We shouldn’t word vomit all our failures and struggles. But through some transparency, we can challenge each other, cheer one another on and find comfort in knowing “I’m not the only one.”
So here goes. A few things missionaries feel, but don’t always say…
We’re not holier than anyone else.
We don’t have a unique grasp on sanctification. We deal with temptation, and sometimes we fail. We get angry at our kids, take out frustrations on our spouse. Some days we don’t read our Bible.
What a shock!
We’re not as tough as you might think.
We often feel isolated and lonely. We wrestle with depression. We struggle with fears related to our lifestyle. Sometimes we’re afraid to be transparent about our problems. What will they think about a missionary who is battling that kind of weakness or failure?
We worry how this lifestyle will impact our children.
They’re growing up in between worlds. They say goodbyes way too often and miss birthday parties and sleepovers. Our kids don’t have the support and social network here that they’d have “back home.” They may go to college, get married, work or live in countries far from their parents.
Sometimes we feel zero motivation to work in Christian ministry.
It’s emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausting. But it’s also rewarding and exactly where we feel called to be. We’re privileged and thankful (most of the time) for the life we get to live, taking part in the Gospel work.
“Home” isn’t really home anymore.
In fact, no one place completely fits that term. We feel strangely out of place in the country listed on our passport. But we will never 100% adapt into our host culture, either. We don’t share the same heritage, native language and history.
Missionary furlough is not vacation.
We anticipate sweet reunions with family and loved ones, and we enjoy foods and experiences we’ve missed while away. But furlough is also a chaotic, ultra-scheduled, stressful time involving lots of travel, fund-raising, speaking events and, ultimately, lots of goodbyes.
We have long term needs just like you.
We think about savings, health and life insurance, our kids’ college tuition, and retirement. We trust the Lord to provide, but we also believe God calls us to exercise wisdom to plan and save for the future. At the same time, some of us feel guilty about spending or saving money for ourselves.
We’re afraid of the stigma of “asking for money.”
Fundraising is hard, but necessary. The Christian world is full of contrasting opinions and principles on the right and wrong ways to raise money. We’re afraid we might offend people if we adhere to what they consider the “wrong ways.”
We love to share our new life with friends.
It’s exciting when loved ones come to visit. We revel in the chance to mingle our two worlds. When you come, please show interest, be curious, and avoid comments like “That’s weird.” A huge part of our experience is adapting to a culture that is unfamiliar and full of different practices. We’re always trying to see life through a lens other than our own culture, and we want to share that with you.
From Another Missionary’s Life
A friend of mine spent years with her husband and kids on the mission field in Croatia. Here are some of her thoughts about “what missionaries want you to know.”
Through the years we were in Croatia there were many things we went through that were specific to a “missionary life” experience. Seasons of loneliness, seasons of rejection, feeling like you’re different than everyone you meet, because the glaring truth is that you are. Trying to identify so fully with the culture you’re called to, you begin to lose connection with the one that you’re from. Family and friends sometimes misconstrue passion for the people that you serve, with an apathy toward them.
Looking back, yes- there were all of those things, and more, that those who have not served long term on the mission field may never understand. However, the thing that Tim and I most want people to understand about missionary life, is that it is so worth it.
It’s worth the sorrow, because we experience the comfort of Jesus. It’s worth the loneliness, because we get to know the one who sticks closer than a brother. It’s worth the financial uncertainty, because we experience provision in supernatural ways. It’s worth the rejection, because He was also rejected and we share in His suffering. It’s worth losing our identities and personal culture, because we begin to understand the pilgrim mindset.
So much of who we are today is a result of our years on the mission field. If anyone asked me what I wished they knew about those years is this; that through seasons of joy, or seasons of pain, the Lord was always faithful, and we can now trust that He always will be faithful. Missionary life is a very unique form of difficult, but every moment is worth it.
– Grace Warholic
What have I missed?
If you’re a missionary, what are some things you feel, but don’t always say (that you’re comfortable saying here)?
And for any readers who are not missionaries, does anything on this list surprise you? Help you feel a stronger connection to missionaries?
For all of us, whether we share them or not, what are those thoughts, emotions, aspects of life that we tend to keep hidden? Why do we hide them? I believe in a healthy balance between transparency and discretion. But asking ourselves these questions can help us determine when to be silent and when to speak up, even if only to a trusted friend.