I am going out on a limb here about what you should ask a missionary, 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 if you ask a missionary about their experience. 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. If you ask a missionary about their work, here is what they will not tell you in their newsletter or at your church mission conference. Here is a little of the dark side of missions.
Ask a Missionary #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.
Ask a Missionary #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.
Ask a Missionary #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.