As a little girl in church, I always sat transfixed as missionaries came and shared their stories of working in the field. My heart would swell as they told of people coming to Christ, large chunks of the Bible being translated, and house churches starting and growing exponentially overnight. I knew then that God wanted me to be a part of reaching the world for His Kingdom, and I couldn’t wait to get started!
Fast forward about ten years…that little girl found herself living in Southeast Asia. And for some reason, none of those things I remembered hearing missionaries talk about when I was younger were happening. My students I taught weren’t jumping at the chance to know Jesus, no matter how excitedly I presented Him. I missed my baby sister’s high school graduation, meeting my other sister’s new boyfriend, and countless weddings and new babies. The people I was working with were…different in many ways. And since I was starting out in a volunteer position, I ended up having to learn flexibility quite quickly as I was sent from job to job.
When preparing for missions, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of getting started and answering the call the Lord has placed on your life. This is what you have prayed about, dreamed of, and prepared for. But you must be cautious to guard your heart against inside and outside factors that could distract you from your mission. (Proverbs 4:23) Let’s consider some of those factors now.
- Raising financial support – For many missionaries, finances can be a huge test. It takes a great deal of time and effort to raise support, and that support can ebb and flow as your ministry builds. For some missionaries, it can take much longer than anticipated to raise the necessary support, leading to stress and impatience. When the waiting seems long, hold on to the promises of God, such as Philippians 4:19- “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” It may take longer than planned, but the Lord will provide what you need.
- Team dynamics – While your mission team can be an incredible source of encouragement, teamwork, and friendship, whenever a group of people is placed together for an extended period of time, issues will arise. There will be different opinions on how to do things, and certain personalities can rub each other the wrong way, causing frustration and discouragement. You can guard against this by beginning to pray now for good team relationships and wisdom in working through differences of opinion. Spend time getting to know your team beforehand, when possible, building relationships and setting a foundation for what life will look like on the field.
- Convenience – It is amazing how far much of the world has come in terms of electricity, technology, and availability of resources. However, many nations still do not have reliable Internet, electricity, or running water. You may not be living in the middle of a jungle, but in many places, there will still be power or water outages, unreliable Internet, or new-to-you natural phenomena that require you to adjust your attitude and way of living. (Monsoon season, anyone?) Learning to be flexible and to find new ways of doing things can take time, but can make a huge difference in your time on the field.
- Loneliness – Loneliness can hit for different reasons. It takes time and energy to form new friendships. Locals may not be very receptive to you at first. When you go back to your home country, many people do not understand what you’ve gone through and how you’ve changed. They care, but they may not understand what you’ve gone through on a deep level. Ask the Lord to help you form strong new friendships, and to help you rely on Him when the loneliness hits. He also experienced loneliness, and can empathize with your feelings.
- Homesickness – When you begin your time as a missionary, it is easy to think that time somewhat stops back in your home country. Technology is a wonderful blessing that helps us to keep in touch, but things back home will definitely change while you are gone. You may miss big events, like weddings or birthdays or funerals. More likely, it is little moments that will prick your heart and cause you to miss home. No matter how much you love the place and the people you are assigned to, there will be moments that you are homesick. It is okay to feel this way, but the danger comes in wallowing in it for too long. Ask the Lord to help you celebrate the things that are happening “back home” while also rejoicing in the ways that He’s using you where you are.
- Pedestal syndrome – Many missionaries have heard the words “I could never do what you do,” or “God has called you to such great things.” Although many people mean this to be encouraging, it can cause missionaries to place unnecessary pressure on themselves to live up to a certain standard. Living on a pedestal can make it hard to share your struggles, ask for accountability, and confess your weaknesses. You must be cautious to find your worth in what God says about you, not what you think the people around you expect.
- Unmet expectations – This is possibly one of the hardest areas to realize you are struggling with and to fight against. Missionaries often head to the field with great excitement, anticipating the ways the Lord is going to move. But when your family struggles to adjust to a new culture, or the locals don’t seem open to your being there, or you don’t see fruit for years at a time, it is easy to get discouraged and wonder why God called you there in the first place. Isaiah 55 reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways. We can rest in the promise from that same chapter that God’s Word does not go out and return empty, but accomplishes His purposes for it. Missions work may not look like what you expected, but the Lord will be doing things you cannot imagine in and through you.
There are many more factors to consider about the reality of life as a missionary. Thankfully, Scripture promises that you are not going to the field alone. In Matthew 28:20b, right after He gives the command to “go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus makes this promise:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:20b (ESV)
No matter what you face on the field, you are not alone. The Lord will enable you to fight both the inner and outer battles that will arise, giving you strength and grace to endure many trials. He has called you to this, so He will be faithful to help you fulfill it!