You’ve seen the blogs that tell about the secret hardships of missionaries. We leave our families behind. We miss weddings, birthdays, funerals, and other occasions. While there are a thousand different missionary situations, some missionaries face physical danger, health risks, culture shocks, difficult languages, persecution, and great difficulties that pertain to their field. These things are all true, but there’s another side of missions that these blogs don’t cover. Perhaps few missionaries share these things.
Many people who aren’t missionaries also live far from home.
While some Americans live within close range of most of their families, many are spread all over America, or even overseas. People in the military are often far from family for extended periods of time. Other people relocate for career or simply preference, and they may not see their families every holiday either. Foreign missions usually takes us farther from family than most others situations, but we certainly aren’t the only ones who experience this separation.
We have the advantage of internet and social networking that previous generations of missionaries never dreamed of.
Snail mail cards and letters are almost a thing of the past. We can call, Skype, or email to keep in touch with our families. Internet brings a world of information to gadgets we can access anywhere. Even at the end of the world (I’m close to that in Invercargill, New Zealand) as long as we have internet, we can keep track of what’s happening everywhere. When slow broadband incites huge irritation, we have to realize we have so much more communication capability than we had even twenty years ago.
In most missionary families, dad, mom, and kids live together in fairly healthy relationships.
We forget how rich we are. Everywhere you look, even in churches, are broken marriages and dysfunctional families. In missionary families, most often the kids above a certain age are all Christians. Most missionary families eat most of their meals together. Sometimes the children are home-schooled and spend much more time with family than an average child. It’s easy to compare our lot to ideal church families in the States, but we fail to realize our families have so much better family relationships that many others.
We enjoy many advantages that missionary pioneers never had.
Some living situations are much harder than others, but overall we have much easier situations than missionary pioneers. Often we live in very comfortable homes, live normal lifestyles, and eat healthy diets. We may not have as much “stuff” as the average American, but do we need it?
We have the prayer support of many churches and individuals.
Few home church pastors enjoy the prayer support of the average missionary. The nature of missionary work (speaking in churches, raising support, and sending prayer letters) invites prayer support. We can even email updates to get quick prayer for urgent occasions. That’s a great benefit.
Many times our children are able to be very involved in ministry.
When we first moved to New Zealand we had two teenage girls who became very involved in our church. One or both of them taught a kids’ class, led a puppet team, sang in choir, and engaged with the adults as well as the rest of the teens. Our family spent a lot of time at church, but as my husband and I led the youth group and Discovery Club, we spent time with our own kids and their friends. At the same time, we were serving the Lord and building our church. Our daughters were able to be much more involved in ministry than they would have been had they belonged to a big youth group in the States.
Furlough time usually allows us to spend extended time with our families back home.
Yes, we often have busy schedules and travel extensively, but we can schedule family visits as part of our furlough schedule. Many working families would have to take vacation time and perhaps lose pay to do this.
We experience the blessing of Matthew 19:29.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (NKJV)
As missionaries, our highest motivation for service should be pleasing the Lord, not the reward we get for it. At the same time, however, Jesus does offer blessing for those who leave all to follow Him.
Even here and now, missionaries who have left their homes are invited into hundreds of homes as they visit churches. They become family to other missionaries on their field, national believers on the field, and churches who pray for them and support them. Beyond this visible benefit in the here and now, God promises his reward throughout eternity.
With all these blessings, how can missionaries feel sorry for themselves?
The problem is comparison.
Comparison usually gets us into trouble. It’s easy to lose our contentment when we compare ourselves to people back home or other missionaries who seem to have it easier than we do. If, however, we compare ourselves to others who, for a myriad of reasons, have life harder than we do, we see that we are truly blessed.
I recognize that missionaries bear genuine hardships. But I don’t find it especially helpful to focus on these hardships. I try to shift my focus to positive benefits I receive from being a missionary. How can I do this?
Let’s look at one of the hardest situations a missionary faces.
When I left home back in 1980, I got on the plane with my husband and ten-month-old daughter, and waved goodbye to my parents, knowing I wouldn’t see them again for four years. I would travel to this new country (Taiwan) I’d never seen, learn a language I’d never spoken, and start a whole new life. Finally we had our support and we’d begin this whole new adventure.
Where were my mom and dad at this point? They were back at the airport, blinking away tears, waving through the airport windows. They had wished us well and rejoiced that the Lord was taking us to our new place of ministry. In short, they were making it easy for us to leave. Wow. What a gift!
Eighteen years later we were standing at the airport, sending our daughter off to Bible college. This time we were the parents who were left behind, praying, worrying, wondering about the daughter who would only come home to New Zealand once in those four years. (Though we would visit her on furlough.) A year and a half later we were standing at the airport with our other daughter who was packed and ready to leave home. Watching our daughters leave us was harder than leaving our own parents, but I had learned from my parents. Bidding them goodbye at the airport, we hid our tears, wished them well, and rejoiced that the Lord was leading them down a new path. We were trying to make it easy for them to leave, as our parents had done for us.
Now we could have dwelled on the hardship of being separated from our daughters just out of high school. Even now, more than fifteen years later, tears run down my face as I write this. But we choose, when faced with the many goodbyes in our lives, to make them quick and clean. We don’t drag them out for weeks. When it’s time to go we give the hugs, say goodbye, get on the plane and leave.
When my daughters left home, what did I focus on?
- We were in God’s will and our daughters were following his will too.
- We needed to look for ways to support our daughters in their new living situation. Phone calls, emails, prayers, birthday and Christmas packages all helped. Packages were expensive to send, but our supporting churches sometimes sent packages to our girls in college. (I was never more thankful to our churches for the gifts and help given than when they sent packages to our daughters in college.)
- While I would have loved seeing our daughters more often, the empty nest did give me more time to serve more in our church ministry as well as my writing ministry.
- Our daughters were learning to trust God and find his path for them in a new way when they were farther from home.
- Serving God, though sometimes difficult, is a privilege. I can’t claim we’ve seen astounding visible results for our efforts, but I feel that we’ve done what God put before us. Yes, we’ve seen some people saved, but I like to think God is working through us in ways we will never know this side of heaven. God has blessed us by giving us a ministry in which we can get close to people, encourage them and help them.
- Would I seriously want to be living in an easier, more comfortable position outside of his will? Would I want my family to keep me from the path God has for me? The safest place for my family, and me as well, is in the center of God’s will. It is the place of blessing for us. I could ask for no less.