It's been more than three years. Three years of shattered expectations. Thirty-six+ months of going against the grain of our natural inclinations. But it's also been over 156 weeks of learning that almost nothing we believed about foreign mission life was true.
Today I want to share a few things I think you should know.
Foreign missionaries are not spiritually superior. They are human beings dealing with all the same struggles and temptations and character flaws as any other human being. Many of us come into the field thinking we're here to do something amazing for God only to realize He took us across borders, and sometimes oceans, to show us the mess we really are. And while every missionary willing to work will find God has plenty for them to do, most of us find it all circles back to Him dealing with sins in our own lives that are separating us from Him.
Foreign missionaries are not fearless. Anyone who's ever read books on the missionary giants of days-gone-by knows that in ink it all sounds so incredible. But walking it out is another thing altogether. We deal with the fear of the unknown, the fear of being asked to do what we don't want to do, the fear of being required to give more than we want to give, the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. As parents, we deal with the fear of the sicknesses and injuries our children encounter in a land so different than our own. We struggle with the fear of nature and the elements; for us in Thailand that's largely been cobras and flooding. And we sometimes even fear that the time, effort, and separation from home will be wasted if we don't "succeed" in our "mission". Those fears are another reason God calls people to foreign lands ... when you're faced with so many, so often, you begin to learn there's actually nothing to fear at all. Those fears aren't weakness, they're the refining fire and it's as we (even s-l-o-w-l-y) come out the other side that they no longer cling to us like a dark shadow.
Foreign missionaries don't always naturally want to do what they're doing. There's an oft-repeated idea that we just sign up for the hardship when we set out for a foreign land. People say things like, "Better you than me!" or "I could never do what you're doing!". When we encounter trial or danger, often the knee-jerk reaction from well-meaning people at home is, "Are you sure it was God that called you?". Personally, I'm 100% out of my comfort zone at least 80% of the time. I never would have chosen this path for my life but now that God's chosen it for me, I wouldn't chose anything different. And that's how it works. The fulfillment of the promise that God gives us the desires of our hearts doesn't look the way we want it to most of the time. Because, generally speaking, it doesn't mean He'll give us what we naturally crave. It means He'll give us what we need, and as we surrender to it, He'll change our hearts so we desire that which He's given us. I wanted to get my birth children raised and be done with that part of my life and now it looks like that part of my life is my life. I was as surprised as anyone to find that I'm more than okay with that.
Foreign missionaries are torn between two worlds. They don't easily immerse into a new culture or find the same kinds of friendships available to them in their homeland. In unreached countries, church fellowship is hard to come by and likeminded people to gather with are rare. This is hard on our families, and often our marriages, as everything turns inward. Our core people suddenly seem like our only people and that's a challenging transition. Time begins to heal the wounds from loss and God opens our eyes to the reality that just because friendships now look different it doesn't mean they're less than they were. And modern-day foreign missionaries have the advantage of technology so we can easily keep in touch with the people we love, as long as internet is available where we are. The flip side to that is having such easy access, and things like social media, we're constantly reminded of what we no longer have. It's entirely possible to be happy your friends or family are gathering for holidays and vacations while simultaneously finding yourself envious and feeling forgotten or left out. It's hard to express that to people and so most of the time we don't try and many missionaries find their relationships fading with the passing of time. If you know a missionary serving in a foreign country, be the friend that gives without expectation. Check up on them, ask what they're doing and how things are going, pray for them, and encourage them. I have those kinds of friends at home and I could not be more grateful.
Foreign missionaries don't think they're better than you but they're sometimes concerned you think they do. Living a life of adventure and unknown, experiencing God in a way we hadn't at home ... it all ends up sounding a little like something it's not. When we share our lives, it's always at the risk of being misunderstood to be saying we're busier or more important or that our work is of greater value. The intent of sharing what's happening in our corner of the foreign field isn't to minimize what's happening on the home front. It's not to take from the work God has called people to do in the country of their birth. It's because we care about the people He puts before us here and we want others to know and pray for them. It's because we see how little access people have to God and we want people who haven't seen that firsthand to understand. It's because we still crave the warmth of sharing our lives over hot tea like we once could. And we want the conversation to go both ways so we know what's happening with you, too. My personal prayer list is still filled with people from home and I love hearing how God is working in their lives. I, like most other foreign missionaries, don't think I'm better than anyone for being here. But I also don't want you to think I do.