Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Romance of Missions

Does the life of a missionary sound exciting and adventurous? Perhaps you went on a short term mission trip and "fell in love" with the people of a certain country, or just the idea of living somewhere else seems appealing (remember the grass is greener theory). In the states, missionaries are well respected and for the most part, churches that invite us in, especially for a missions conference, often roll out the red carpet. They do this because they love missionaries, and are grateful for the work that we are doing. We appreciate this, and it is a boost to our spirits because traveling can make you weary, and the church that is excited to see us come is a breath of fresh air. Many greet us with baskets of fruit and candy, take us out for dinner, sightseeing, shopping for the wives--and it makes us feel so honored. From the pulpit pastors encourage us and challenge us, and we are "charged up" and ready to win the world for Jesus.
I call this the "romance factor." I compare it to the young woman who is eagerly awaiting the bridegroom of her dreams, then the Lord brings him into her life, they marry, and now she realizes that there must be more to life than this, and something is still missing to fulfill her desires, which must be children, and the Lord gives children, but then too it feels that this isn't really what is going to fulfill her...and on it goes. No matter where we are serving the Lord, we feel that it must be more exciting somewhere else. Ever look at someones life or ministry and think it is so much more used of God?
We plan and prepare, selling our homes, packing up our goods or selling them, and purchase our tickets, with anticipation of what the Lord is going to do when we get to the field. We get a hero's sendoff at our home church and at the airport, with tearful goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch.
Oh, what a difference when you land on your mission field. If it is your first term, it will probably just be you and your family arriving at a foreign airport, perhaps greeted by a fellow missionary, or if you are on a pioneer field, it will only be your family. No big welcoming parties, just trying to get your bearings and acclimate yourself to this new environment. At first it will be exciting, kind of like a honeymoon--so much to discover, so many different sights, sounds, and smells. But there aren't too many people saying, "oh, we are so glad you are here! We can't wait for you to tell us the good news that we have been waiting for." Maybe fellow believers will say that, or perhaps it occurs on a few fields, but in most of the world, people seem to be resistant to change, and they don't really see their need for Christ nor do they want someone to tell them that their religion which has been a part of their heritage and cultural traditions for hundreds of years will not take them to heaven, but only believing in Jesus Christ will save you from your sins. It is not "politically correct" to preach the gospel.
Once the honeymoon is over, the stresses of trying to get things done in order to set up house, start up bank accounts, apply for residency, etc. soon can get overwhelming, especially considering language barriers and trying to figure out how they do things in your country when in the states they do it so much differently! Nothing seems to get done in a hurry, and sometimes we have the American "fast food" mentality where we want things done right now, and can't understand why it takes them so long and so inefficiently.
Months go by, and at first you are too busy to feel the loneliness. But months soon turn into years, and the friends you have in the states are busy too, and you wonder if they have forgotten about you--but no, it is that we are all so wrapped up in our own lives that things get put aside. We have good intentions, meaning to write or call, but something else comes up. Missionaries make friends with the nationals, but it is never really quite the same--there is something about speaking in your own language with someone from the same culture that bonds us.
Actually, being in a missionary has changed tremendously in the past 25 years. When we first went to Mexico, we didn't have cell phones--we didn't even have a land line--we had to use the neighbors--and it was really expensive. Computers were just starting to be developed, and there wasn't the Internet--so no email, Skype, webcams, etc. which are really great tools to connect us now with friends and family. But it still isn't the same as being face to face.
Depending on your mission field, things can be really modern and up to date, or you may find yourself living in some remote village. Other challenges might include sickness--some missionaries fight malaria, hepatitis, parasites, just to mention a few. This can quickly wear down even the most determined family. It is easy to serve the Lord in health and prosperity, but when you start suffering physically, it wears down the human spirit and you start asking if it is really worth it (I know it doesn't sound very spiritual, but it is true--missionaries are human too!)
So, you want to be a missionary because it sounds exciting? I would challenge you first, try being a missionary where you are. If you don't enjoy telling others about Jesus where you live, where you speak the same language, and in the same culture that you can more easily "relate" to, what makes you think that just changing locations will make you enjoy it all of the sudden? Take as many mission trips as you can, and if possible, if really considering the mission field, try spending a year working with another respected missionary. A two week mission trip is good, but not really a true reflection of what it really is like to live on the field.
When we were in the states, we were always involved in ministry with our local church, whether it was soul winning, teaching Sunday school classes, teaching new believers, music ministry, children's outreach, jail ministry, nursing home, etc. That is the best place to start being a missionary. Our pastor once said something to the effect that missionaries do the same thing we do here at home, just at a different address. There is a lot of truth to that. I am basically a housewife, living in a foreign country, making meals, folding laundry, making beds, cleaning and washing dishes, and home schooling my children. Nothing really exciting. If I were expecting it to be more, I would be really disappointed. The only difference is that I don't get to go to a big church surrounded by 400-500 like minded believers, and live in the comfortable USA (believe me, there is still no country in the world like it, even with its faults). I am not saying that I don't like it here on the mission field either--but it is not "romantic" or suddenly exhilarating serving the Lord just because you are a missionary. It is just ordinary life and Christian living.

1 comment:

Melanee M. said...

Carolee,

I like your Blog! You said it all so well, and it is so true! I'll be back to visit again.

Melanee M.