Ten Things That Your Missionary Will Not Tell You

My wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this year. We did something really fun to celebrate. Here is what we did. We told our kids, “This is on the down-low. Do not say anything about it to your friends and do not put anything on Facebook. We don’t want anyone judging us.”

How stinky is that? You can share your joy, we feel like we have to hide ours or people will think and/or say that we are somehow taking advantage of our donors. We would love to post photos of our fun and have you just say something nice…but we can’t.

7. We hate being judged by a standard that our judges do not follow.

Every missionary that reads this will scream “Amen!’ When we meet with mission committees, churches, sending groups and donors, they always ask us very specific questions. I have NO problem with that. What drives me bonkers is when someone NOT doing what I AM DOING judges me because they don’t think that I am doing enough of what they are not doing.

The best example of this is when you meet with a missions committee and they ask us about our evangelism. I share how, this year alone, we have shared the gospel with over 2,000 people (true story) outside of the church walls and have baptized 35 adults. The committee talks a little and then says something like, “We are concerned about the follow up of the converts and why so few have been baptized. We would also like to hear more about your evangelistic endeavors. What do you do and how do you do it?” Then, after sharing what you do and how you do it, they have critical comments and corrections about methodology.

The problem is this. The church that this mission committee is a part of hasn’t baptized 35 adults in the last 10 years and does not have a single planned evangelistic event on their church calendar. I often want to say, “We have baptized 35 adults and shared Christ with over 2,000 people…what have you done?” or, “That is a great idea on evangelism, help me put some flesh on it. How did you guys implement this in your church?’ or, “What do you do for follow up after your community evangelistic event?” I can’t, but I really want to. It is honestly difficult to listen to armchair quarterbacks who have never suited up critique the game that I am participating in.

Another example of this is how people who are doing nothing to help the poor criticize us for how we help the poor. They tell us what we should do, what we should not do, how and when and to whom we should do it. They tell us of the latest book that they have read and/or the latest sermon that they heard. They do nothing themselves, but they know exactly what we should do, and if we don’t do it their way, then the threat of cutting support is dangling over our head.

If someone who is actually doing the ministry has advice, input or corrections then it is infinitely easier to accept. It is when we are told what to do by someone not doing anything that we have to constantly check our hearts and put a guard on our lips.

8. Saying good-bye stinks…and it is not the same in the States.

This happens to missionaries our age. Our lives become one of a constant good-bye. We are saying good-bye to fellow missionaries leaving for the States. We have to say good-bye to our children. Denise and I now have four kids living in the USA while we remain in Bolivia. When we visit for furlough and see grandpa and grandma, we have to say good-bye again to go back to the field. It stinks.

I was invited to speak at a mission conference in the States. The church was a little over an hour from where my 24-year-old son lives, so he drove down to see me. After I preached, I went to my mission table in the hall and was chatting with people, passing out prayer cards, shaking hands, etc. My son and his girlfriend came to say hi, and after a few minutes my son hugged me and said, “Love you Dad, see you in…what…two years or three?”

I started crying and people graciously walked away from my table. I realized that I was not going to see him again for at least two years. This week, three days ago, my wife took my 19-year-old to start college in the States. She called me from her hotel room weeping and said, “It doesn’t get easier. I hate this! I hate this!”

Now here is where the second part of my point comes in to play. Friends will say, with totally good intentions, “I understand, my son left for college this week also.”

It is not the same thing! Your son/daughter can come home for the holidays and on school breaks. They may be able to snag a $100 ticket and bop in for a three-day weekend. At the most they are a quick flight or short drive away. We live on another stinking continent. When we say goodbye, it isn’t “See you on break.” It is “See you for a few days in three years.” My son Jacob moved to the States and was living on his own. He had not been there long and called us, and after talking I let him know that he needed to go to the hospital because I thought that he had appendicitis. At the hospital he let us know that it was, and they were doing an emergency surgery.

It took my wife three days to get there. She could not hop on a plane and be there before he left the hospital. My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I knew that when the phone call came telling his children to come say their good-byes, that I would not be able to be there. I knew that I would miss his last words, not be able to minister to my family and probably not be able to attend the funeral. It is not the same thing as living in the States. It isn’t.

I would say that out of all the negatives to living on the mission field, this is the worse one. Saying good-bye.

9. Going to the States is hard.

You would think that returning home on furlough is wonderful. Every missionary looks forward to it. It is the focus of the year that it is going to happen.

That is partly true. However there are two things that your missionary will not tell you. One you probably already know. Logistically it is difficult. Most missionaries don’t have a place to live, a car to drive or a plate to eat off of. All those things that we need in everyday life, from pillow cases to car seats, we do not have. We have to find short term solutions and we HATE borrowing stuff. We also do not want to live in your basement. We want to be a family with our own privacy and family time.

We also want to visit and spend time with our donors and churches, but making that happen is so hard when we have donors in 12 different states. It isn’t cost feasible to spend $1,200 to visit a church in Arkansas that gives you $25/month. But you want to and think that you should. The logistics make home assignment difficult.

The second thing that you probably do not know is that it is hard emotionally. Why? Because we discover that we have changed and that you no longer really want to be around us. I wrote about this one time. Let me summarize that blog here. A man from the land of Blue became a missionary to the people of Yellow. He struggled because he was a Blue man among Yellow people. However, after a while he began to truly understand their culture and become partly assimilated. One day he looked in the mirror and saw that he was no longer Blue, he was now Green. It made being in the land of Yellow easier. Then, after many years, he returns to the land of Blue. To his dismay, no one there in his homeland of Blue wants to be with him because, well because he was a Green person in the land of Blue.

After being on the mission field you are a different person. People perceive you differently. Even people who were friends are no longer friends. They have grown without you. They have had different experiences without you. You are no longer ‘one of them.’ When you return, people want to shake your hand and say that they missed you, but they don’t want to be with you. They are also worried that you are going to ask them for money. We actually asked a person out for dinner, a person who had been a friend before going to the mission field. Their response was, ‘We don’t have any money to give you.” They REALLY said that!

After being in my home church, where I had been a pastor, and was now feeling ostracized, I shared my feelings with a staff member of the church. He told me that he knew why people avoided us. I asked him what it was. He said, “You intimidate people. Not by what you say, or what you do, but by who you are. We look at you and your choice and we feel guilty for being materialist. It is easier to avoid you than it is to repent of our love of money.”

I don’t know if that is the reason or not, but missionaries feel unwanted. We may think that you appreciate us, and we really are grateful for your financial support, but we feel like you don’t want to be our friend.

10. I constantly feel like I have to prove myself to you.

You, whether an individual or a church, give us money. You support our ministry. Like it or not, I now feel like I have to justify to you that giving us money is good. I have to prove myself and my ministry over and over again. My newsletters are not to let you know what we are doing…they are far more than that. They are items that I am entering into evidence as proof that you are making a good investment. And…if a period of time goes by where we don’t really have anything BIG to report…we feel like a failure and live in the fear of you giving your money to someone who deserves it.

Often we don’t feel like we are on the same team as you. We feel like you are our boss and it is time for the annual performance evaluation…and this year someone has to be let go. We are tempted to pad our resume and make it look better than it is. Instead of saying that we go to church, we say, “We are actively engaged in a local congregation.” We don’t say that we buy our fruit from the same seller every week, no, “we are building intentional relationships with those in the marketplace.” We may lead a Bible study, but we call it, “engaging in a mentoring relationship with young married couples.” Look at what I just told you. I buy fruit each week, go to church and lead a Bible study. That does not sound worth supporting does it? I mean, you do that. But if I am building intentional relationships while mentoring young married couples as I am actively engaged in a local congregation…then maybe you will think better of me.

So, we say things that make us sound better, holier, busier than we are. We can’t say that we are living in the culture and doing what we can to promote Christ, but it is difficult and we really don’t have much fruit to show you this year. That is because of numbers 4 and 7 above. We need money and you are judging our worth…and your evaluation will determine our money. This may not be true, but it is how we feel. We feel like we have to constantly show you that giving to our ministry is a great idea and you should keep it up. It produces a lot of pressure and emotional stress.

So, there you have it. Ten things that your missionary will not tell you. They may not be pretty, but maybe hearing them can help you relate better to your missionary. Comments are welcome, especially from fellow missionaries.

This article originally appeared here.

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Joe Holman
I am an ordinary father of 11, living in Cochabamba, Bolivia with the woman of my dreams...my wife since 1984. We are followers of Jesus Christ, and our sincere desire is to know God better, to love Him more, and to help others do the same!

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