Last week I shared the first five questions and answers from missionaries around the world about the secrets they’re keeping regarding honesty, Corner Office Syndrome, guilt and MKs. If you missed it and want to catch up, come on over!
Obviously becoming a missionary in another country should not be entered into lightly. The common thread running through those of us who call ourselves expats is we’re committed, but missionary life tends to be harder than we let on. Most of us have great intentions of meeting needs, but being honest about our own is not usually on the radar.
This week we’re talking about marriage, money and moving, along with a bonus question about bizarre and hilarious donations.
In no particular order, we continue the top ten things your missionaries aren’t putting in the newsletter….
6. How do you feel supported the most by friends and family back home?
“When they call, message me, write a letter or email and ask how I’m doing. I always feel ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ When someone’s thinking about me it gives me a boost.”
“Very few newsletter recipients ever respond. Even a ‘thanks for sharing, we’re praying’ would be encouraging.”
“When they prayed for us, showed interest in our lives, read our prayer letters and occasionally sent special treats we couldn’t get in Italy. But it was hard to be back on home assignment and have people treat us like our life overseas didn’t exist.”
“Notes of encouragement, a text saying they’re praying, care packages and Skype. Taking time to let us know we aren’t forgotten.”
“When they write and say they’re praying and cheering for us. Also, when families are willing to open their homes when we’re back in the U.S.”
7. If God moved you back to your original country, how would you be different? Would you want to go?
“God definitely changed my perspective and priorities; I hope they would stay that way. I wouldn’t want to get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses.”
“He did move us back for years. I often felt out of place and like a failure because we were back.”
“I don’t look at people, church, serving, or one-week mission trips like before. Not interested in going back except to visit family.”
“I would struggle to leave because we birthed our children here; it became home. I hope I would move slower—to be with the person in front of me, not worried about my to-do list.”
“I would be like night and day—my priorities, perspectives, and passions all changed. I would only go if God called me back.”
“We did move back. I was happy to go “home,” where I was not an outsider. I won’t necessarily ever fit into mainstream America again, having experienced years of living in another culture and seeing/doing things differently, but I’m glad to be back.”
“I hope I would be super supportive of other on-the-field missionaries. I’m humbled that I wasn’t as encouraging or generous when I was stateside. I’ve been here for ten years and have no desire to live back in the States. Maybe when I’m old.”
8. Has becoming a missionary strengthened or strained your marriage?
“It was harder than hard and I wondered if we would end up divorced after our first year on the field! We’re in a much better place now—we make time to get out separately.”
“Both. At first my husband and I were on two opposite schedules. I was already feeling alone and unsure and I barely saw him. Now we teach together and we’re best friends.”
“Strengthened, definitely. I’ve grown more personally and in my marriage since being on the field.”
“Both. Satan hates what we do and would love to take us out so he attacks our marriage. Working, eating and planning side-by-side every day can be rough. But we’ve also gotten closer as a result of hard ministry junk.”
“Strengthened. We didn’t know a soul when we moved here; we only had each other. We’ve always had a choice to let struggles drive us apart or closer to God. We chose the latter and it made our marriage stronger.”
“We’ve definitely seen our marriage attacked. Now we’re more intentional about making marriage and family the priority.”
“Strengthened. When we lived in the States the kids and I saw my husband once a week. I prayed we’d become a stronger family and for the kids to know their dad. We moved to Mexico and started working, homeschooling and doing side-by-side ministry all together.”
9. Have you ever felt on the brink of burnout? How do friends and family back home help the most when you’re feeling fried?
100 percent of missionaries polled gave a resounding, “Yes!” to burnout.
“Yes. They tried to understand, prayed for us, and told us they cared. They made us feel useful when we thought we must not be anymore.”
“Yes, especially in the summers when we have groups and I feel pushed to my limits.”
“I’m there now! I don’t share it with friends or family.”
“Yes. I was depressed, tired, and emotionally spent so I saw a counselor for two months. Talking to friends and family helps, but keeping clear boundaries, making time for being in the Word and being alone is even better.”
“Yes, but when people write encouraging notes it fuels us to keep chugging along.”
“Yep—stressed and exhausted. If you try to talk to people back home about it they say they feel the same. It’s not the same. I’m praying God will be my All in All.”
“Yes. It’s mostly strangers who give us a weekend house or a place to rest though.”
“Yes—after eight years we took a furlough. Best thing ever. Refocused, recommitted and returned. Some family and friends still think we need to “get over this and go home.”
10. Does your home church support you financially? What about emotionally and spiritually?
“Yes, our home church supports us financially, but never emotionally or spiritually. God gave us another church to support us that way.”
“The church we married in and attended every time we came home for the last 18 years doesn’t support us. We can see the enemy of our souls do crazy things to attack and try to discourage us.”
“Financially, yes, which is a tremendous blessing. Unfortunately we don’t hear much from our church family.”
“They support us financially, but nothing emotionally or spiritually from staff or church members.”
“We get some financial support—not enough to cover costs though. If we call or write they’ll be there for us in the moment, but nobody checks up on us on a consistent basis. It’s more like a few times a year.”
“Yes, financially, but they’ve never sent a team. Our support comes from surprising places—none from the sources we fully expected.”
What is the funniest or strangest thing you’ve ever had donated?
“A coffee mug with the handle broken off, wrapped up for Christmas.”
“We work with deaf children and it’s always shocking when people donate MP3 players and headphones.”
“A sewing machine pedal. But our neighbor needed it, so God knew.”
“Good-intentioned work groups left paint-covered work pants for the poor. In our setting, the only people who’d wear paint-covered pants are painters.”
“A VHS player. We sold it to a church member and found out later there was a porn tape in it.”
“A gift of a photo book filled with some random family’s photos.”
“An old, legless couch. The cushions were right on the ground and I was seven months pregnant.”
“A high schooler donated his clothes after a week with us. His mom didn’t want him to bring them home because ‘the Mexican dirt would probably break her washer.’”
“A half-eaten loaf of bread, with half-eaten jars of Skippy and jam.”
“Used underwear, broken appliances, golf clubs and Canadian flag ponchos.”
“A church sent down gifts for a bunch of us missionaries, and my bag had old concealer and expired self-tanner—three years expired. Funny and depressing at the same time.”
Like all missionaries, the people and places represented here are unique. They are not cookie-cutter super-humans who thrive on learning new languages, being stared at or raising support.
Most missionaries do not feel super holy, but the majority of them do feel super tired, physically, spiritually and mentally. Satan would love for them to burn out and go home. You could be the one who encourages them to keep on pressin’ on.
Do you have a great idea of how to encourage a missionary?
What could your church do to support your missionaries emotionally and spiritually?
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Matthew 9:37-38, NIV