I am going out on a limb here, so I have to put some disclaimers up in advance.
Disclaimer number one…I LOVE BEING A MISSIONARY!!! This blog is pointing out the bad aspects that you will not normally hear us say. It does not mean that I am unhappy or unfulfilled.
Disclaimer number two…I am speaking of feelings and perceptions. I know what the Bible says and can give a counterpoint to each of these. For example, when I share how we feel about shortchanging my children, I know that there are 100 positive things that people can point out to me. I am sharing our heart, how we feel. I don’t need anyone to send me a Bible lesson. 🙂
A friend of mine sent me a link to a blog with this title. It was pretty good, and got me to thinking. So, no copying, but there is some overlapping. Here is what your missionary will not tell you in their newsletter or at your church mission conference. Here is a little of the dark side of missions.
1. Sometimes, most of the time, living in another culture is hard.
Your missionary will talk about the joy of cross cultural missions and going into all the world. What they won’t tell you is that it isn’t fun most of the time. I was first exposed to this while on a short term trip to Ghana. I was invited to a missionary going away party. A nurse from Canada was returning to her home country after serving on the mission field…get this…for 40 years. She had come to Ghana as a 20-year-old and was now going ‘home.’ During the conversation I asked her how come she was saying that she was going, ‘home.’ If you have lived for all of your adult life, slightly over 40 years, in Ghana and only visited Canada every four years…then isn’t Ghana your home? She told me that no matter how incorporated you are into the culture, no matter how good your ministry, no matter how accepted that you are by the people…you are not one of ‘them.’
I have now been in Bolivia for eight years. I am fluent and have a great ministry here. I love what I do. But I am not at home. I am not a Bolivian. I do not share their cultural history or family ties. When I go to someone’s home to celebrate a birthday or wedding, I am the white guy. I am the stranger. I am the foreigner. When they begin to laugh about family memories or tell stories about relatives, I just smile at the right time. I do not belong. When I go to ‘La Cancha,’ our market place, children stare at me. I had a man visiting us from the States tell me when we were there, “This is weird, we are the only white people in sight.’
It gets old being a stranger. It is hard to not be in the group. It isn’t fun to always be noticed.
2. It is lonely and your friends and family from the States have forgotten you.
You won’t ever see this in a mission letter. We will tell stories of fun things and great times. We will be upbeat and happy and post photos of our family Christmas party.
You won’t have us posting videos of us crying or hear us complain about missing friends, but we do; and the harsh thing is that they do not miss us. When we were planing on going to the mission field, we interviewed 10 different missionary families. We talked to people who were single, married, married with kids and older missionaries. I asked them a question: “What is the hardest part of being a missionary?” Their answer, all 10 of them at separate occasions without any knowledge of what others had said, replied, “Loneliness. After the first year people totally forget about you. Even your best friend now will not continue communicating with you.”
We decided to fight against this, and using Facebook and social media, along with monthly communications and blogs, we knew that we would stay in touch with our friends. What surprised us was how quickly they did not want to stay in touch with us. Oh, we understand that their lives are busy and we have moved. The truth is that understanding why something happens does not mean that it doesn’t hurt. This goes along with the first thing…not being part of the culture. We don’t feel like we have a home, but we do feel like those from our previous home have forgotten us.
3. We are normal people.
People think that missionaries are some super Christian. We are one step up from being a pastor, and if you are a missionary pastor then even the Apostle Paul envies your spirituality. You won’t be reading in a missionary letter, “This week I did not spend hardly any time in the Word, got mad at my wife, yelled at my children and was jealous after seeing photos on Facebook.” We won’t report that, but it is the truth. We are normal people seeking to honor Christ even though we are weak and fragile vessels. We sin, repent, sin, repent, and then repeat. We are like you.
4. We never have enough money but feel guilty asking for it.
Missionaries ask for money. We have to. We put it in terms like “opportunity to support’ or ‘be part of the blessing’ or ‘looking for monthly partners.’
What we want to say is, “We are dying here! Please help us! We need money!!”
We can’t do that. We have to appear above money. We need to make it seem like money is something that we could probably use, but no big deal. We are walking by faith and trusting God to provide…that is what we need to display. You see, we don’t want it to seem like all we want from you is your money. It isn’t, but in all honesty we do need money. We need it for our family and for our ministry. We just hate asking for it, and you hate hearing it. So, we keep quiet or couch our needs in spiritual terms.
Another part of this is that we really struggle with being judgmental over money. This just happened this week. I posted a need for our ministry. We would like to purchase some additional dental equipment to help with our evangelistic dental ministry. We need $700. At the same time, a friend of ours in the States who sings occasionally at coffee houses posted that he wanted to raise $4,000 to make a CD. We had $210 donated. He received $4,300. Really? I am not saying that he should not do this nor that it was wrong for him to raise money for it, but really? He got $4,300 to experiment with a CD and we could not raise $700 to help the poor hear about Jesus through dental missions. Really?
5. We feel like our children are getting shortchanged by our choice.
You will see cool pictures in my newsletters of my children helping do outreach, being in the jungle, washing orphans or having a monkey on their shoulder. It all looks so cool. But the truth is, we feel like our kids are suffering because of us. This is compounded by Facebook. Just this week I have seen photos of kids playing football, music lessons, dance, debate, camps, concerts, movies, lock-ins and taking college classes at the community college while in high school. My kids do nothing like that. I know that I can post all the cool things that my kids do, but I simply cannot compete with the options that you have. I find myself fighting jealousy, envying and coveting.
6. I took a great vacation but I cannot tell anyone.
One of the neat things about social media is how we can share our lives with others. Pastors can go on cruises. Friends can go to some wonderful island. Family can travel Europe. They can all brag about their time and post photos on Facebook and social media sharing their joy.
We can save up money. Live on a budget. Spend less than we make. Then, after five years of frugality, take a much needed vacation. What do we hear? “I should be a missionary, then I could take cool vacations.” Or, “Is that where my donations go?”
Real example. My father passed away and after the initial burial and settling of the estate, I found myself with $19,000 of unplanned income. We prayed about it, and decided to tell the kids that grandpa wanted to bless them. So, with MY INHERITANCE, while we were in the States on a planned furlough, we rented a home outside of Disneyworld and after vacationing there took the whole family on a cruise. We received several snide comments and one donor quit giving to our ministry.