Tuesday, July 8, 2014

10 Things Missionaries Don't Tell You Enough

I try not to write reactionary posts.  This one certainly is.  But I trust that I can write this without sounding reactionary or disagreeable.

I saw a post going around Facebook.  It was actually a link that several missionaries I know shared on their pages.  When I saw the title, I immediately wanted to read it, expecting to share it myself.  However, once I was finally able to access it tonight, I really didn't like it at all!  It sounded like it was written by a tired, burnt-out missionary who needs more than a little time on home assignment.  I certainly identified with some of the things written on the post, but felt that the perspective was incredibly pessimistic under it's cover of "being real."  So I thought instead to write my own post, aligned with the same 10 ideas, giving what I believe to be a better perspective on them (and perhaps to rescue us missionaries from being clumped into a group who all think like this man does).  The original post is called "10 Things Missionaries Won't Tell You."  You may read the article here for cross-reference: http://www.adammosley.com/2014/07/05/10-things-missionaries-wont-tell/
I've decided to call my post "10 Things Missionaries Don't Tell You Enough."

10 Things Missionaries Don't Tell You Enough:

1. We love to hear from you!
- There are not many things more encouraging that getting a short email from home saying, "Hi, how are you? We were thinking about you today.  How is the family?  We love you."  It tells us that you had a moment, we were on your minds and in your prayers, and it meant enough to you to take a moment and tell us.  In an age of instant communication, it doesn't take us any more than 5-15 minutes to reply to an email or Facebook message and we are more than happy to do that and stay connected with you back home.  Perhaps don't ask us to write you back a full-blown theology of mission, but we are always blessed to hear from you - especially in response to a newsletter we've just sent (then we know you've read it!).

2. We look through every comment and every "like" on our Facebook posts.
- It is encouraging to see who is following our lives, even in the small, everyday matters.  When I get on Facebook during my breakfast in the morning, I scroll through my notifications.  I admit also that on nearly every post or picture I've shared, I read through all of the comments and usually look through the names of everybody who "liked" those posts.  Am I a Facebook addict?  I don't think so.  It's just nice to know that people care about us, they follow us, they "like" us!

3. We are offering you the chance to invest in God's kingdom work.
- Yes, we too often see ourselves as Christian beggars, asking you to give us money so we can do something important for God. It is easy to feel guilty for that sometimes. But the fact is that we are offering you the chance to invest your money in something eternal - to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not corrupt and thieves do not break through and steal."  We are giving you the opportunity to expand your sphere of eternal influence beyond where you can go yourself.  Is that selfish?  Is that begging?  If it is begging, it is begging on God's behalf.  It is begging you to do something eternally beneficial for yourself.  You give your money to God.  We give our time and service to God.  It is a ministry partnership - both of us together for Him!

4. You don't want to or need to hear of our worst days.
- And we don't need to hear of yours either.  There is no point in discouraging each other with a mutual pity party.  Does anybody like to see those Facebook posts of "Oh what a miserable day I'm having.  Like this if you are having one, too."  We have difficult days over here.  But I'll bet you have some difficult days, too.  We haven't earned a special degree of bad days by going overseas; we probably just have different reasons for our days being bad.  Apart from openness, vulnerability, and mutual support with those closest to us, we don't need to lay our problems on the world.

5. We take breaks and vacations - like the one you just finished.
- I admit to the difficulties of this area.  Because our work is one that is supported very directly by others, we may struggle with feelings of guilt over "wasting" the money that people have sent to support us.  We may think it unwise to post pictures on Facebook of our beachfront view hotel or our fancy dinner out.  But apart from these concerns, we need breaks just like everyone else.  And we take them!  There is a fine line between considering the effect our actions may have on others and the fear of man, which "brings a snare."  We see the pictures that all of our friends back home post of their vacations.  We see the exotic locations, the fancy meals, the swimming pools, the cruises, and the mountain hikes.  We see the pictures coming up for a week or more.  But because those were financed by business income instead of missionary support, it's somehow justified.  We, on the other hand, may post about the beautiful guest house we're booking in Durban next week.  But we won't tell you it cost less than $60 per night, instead of hundreds.  We won't tell you we were there for three days instead of a week.  We won't tell you that we drove there for about $100 in fuel and not thousands of dollars in plane tickets.  If we all held each other to the same standards, we would have no problem in showing you our vacation.

6. Hosting teams can be a benefit to our field ministries.
- I hope I'm not speaking beyond my ability here.  We have not yet hosted "a team" in our overseas ministry.  I'm sure that much stress can be involved in the logistics of planning to host a short-term missions team.  But I would think that much of that difficulty could be avoided if we would have a proper view of STM's in the first place.  Should not a STM team be planned based on its ability to further a field ministry and not only on the desire of the team to see the field ministry in person?  Do not the missionaries have the right (I would say responsibility) to turn down a team who wanted to come visit if their visit would not aid the ministry and could even hinder the ministry for a time?  Perhaps the need for finances and the promotion of one's ministry back home too often pushes a missionary to host a team they can't really accommodate.  Better instead to refuse the team or limit its size to a manageable number who may actually be able to further the ministry.  The movement critically called "voluntourism" may be getting out of control and can only be curtailed by somebody making the hard decisions.

7. Chances to go home are a tremendous blessing.
- Assuming the arguments already made in point 5 (we take breaks) and looking forward to point 10 (we miss our families), going home is not about getting rest.  When we are on the field, we speak often of home.  We recount memories of home.  We daydream about what favorite restaurants we will eat at again when we get home.  We miss our friends and we miss our families more.  So when we have the opportunity to go home, we're not there to sleep!  We're not there to hole up in our houses and say, "Ahhh! This was nice when I lived here."  We want to see our people, attend our churches, tell people about the amazing things God is doing on the other side of the world.  I felt bad many mornings at home when I slept late or when we were alone with nobody around.  "Why are we doing this here?  We can be alone while we're over there!"  Certainly there is a balance and we don't want to be run into the ground catching up, traveling, and speaking.  But every opportunity to visit home is a blessing and a refreshment, in spite of any difficulties.

8. We must work to make God our first priority.
- As mentioned above (point four), we're no different from you in this.  Yes, there is certainly still a stereotype that missionaries are the most God-centered people in the world and must have no problem spending hours a day alone with Him.  But that is largely a shattered lens these days, I believe.  Our lives are busy; your lives are busy.  We must make our relationship with God a priority; you must make your relationship with God a priority.  There is nothing more to be said here.

9. We have some of the deepest life relationships with believers from other cultures.
- Few things I know of will knit hearts together more closely and more permanently than true intercultural friendships.  One person alone may work hard to understand another person and may thereby develop a decent friendship with him.  But when two people must put tremendous effort into understanding and appreciating each other, that bond will not be easily broken.  This is especially true in the relationships between believers, where our mutual love for Jesus transfers into our love for each other and our likemindedness for God's cause in the world unites our desires and passions for the ministry.  I doubt that anyone can fully appreciate this bond until he or she has experienced it personally.

10. We look forward to eternal company in heaven.
- Yes, we get lonely.  That is one of the most difficult parts of being on the foreign field.  But why do we do it?  Family is the first relationship God gave us on this earth.  Why would we abandon that family and move to another part of the planet, removing our children from those families as well?  Because one day we became part of a bigger family.  We became part of an eternal family.  And the Head of that family asked, no, commanded us to go and invite into that family others whom He loves and desires.  We leave our first families on one part of this planet because our new family (of which many of our first family members are also a part!) is all across the planet!  One day we will be able to be together permanently, even eternally, as one big, happy family and that is what we look forward to.  That is why we endure the loneliness now for the fellowship later.

These are the things that we missionaries don't tell you enough.  But they are all true.


  1. Thank you and AMEN!! I saw that article too and was not happy with it. Now this I can actually share!!

  2. Thank you for your balanced perspective. Even on the worse days, I do try to remember that I chose to live cross culturally and I did chose to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. There is joy to be found even in the hard days.

  3. Another missionary friend shared your posting on FB. Loved it. Thanks for your great perspective!

  4. My wife and I are cross cultural missionaries in North India and can very well relate with this article. Thanks for writing this.

  5. There is nothing sweeter for any of us than fulfilling the will of God for our lives! Your perspective is MUCH needed and TOTALLY "Amen"ed! As Chuck Swindoll states, "Life is made up of 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it!" Thanks for your surrender and the challenge to all of us to see God's perspective on our lives and eternity. And, oh, the blessing of the incredible GRACE OF GOD! As parents who LOVE YOU ALL more than words can express ... we would not have you anywhere other then THE CENTER OF THE WILL OF GOD!

  6. I found this very critical and judgemental. About as much as you denounce the other to be just the judgement is directed to a different audience. It's not cool to dismiss others pain. Next time try some empathy. Or just writebyour perspective that may be different ratherbthan putting ndown other missionaries.

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  8. as an overseas worker that has shared every single thing on your list of things that aren't said enough countless times to supporters (because yes, they aren't said enough and i want them to feel my appreciation!), i've also experienced everything adam listed on his post. it's give and take. the good with the bad. highs and lows. both of your articles are written from a certain perspective and, honestly, probably when you were both in certain moods. and that's completely fine.

    but i think it's important to allow people (especially overseas workers who have limited emotional support and trouble trusting people and therefore opening up to people) to express their struggles and allow others with those same struggles to feel understood. it's great to have a positive perspective after the negative, but i have to admit, adam's blog left me feeling not alone and yours made me feel not good enough.

  9. I suppose, Alicia, that you're referring to my opening comment about "a tired, burnt-out missionary." I don't know Adam Mosley at all. I don't have any idea what his missionary life is like. That's why I wrote "It sounded like..." instead of "This guy is..." I am trying in this post to give the opposite side of the struggles Mosley described, not to judge or criticize him for having the struggles. My point is that his post showed an incredibly negative side of missionary life and I wanted to show the positive side of it.

    I have also written these thoughts to Adam Mosley on his own website and he has kept my comment on his page. I also didn't mean to make anyone feel not good enough, Andie. I have certainly felt the same way Adam has at times. These things I have written are the things I've reminded myself when missionary life gets tough.