When we married twenty-seven years ago, my husband was called to God's service as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew that I was marrying a missionary, and at the time we were headed to the mission field of Mexico, although I didn't fully understand what all that would entail--I kind of had "on the job" training.
I was nineteen when we married, and was very insecure. I worried about what everyone thought of me, our ministry, and our children. We were doing what is known as "deputation," which basically is traveling around the United States, presenting your ministry to other like minded independent Baptist churches with the intention of raising financial and prayer support for your ministry. I wasn't sure what was expected of me, and in fairness to all missionaries out there doing deputation, it is impossible to be everything to everyone, as every pastor and church has different expectations. I did my best to represent our family and the Lord in a way that was pleasing to Him, but many times I felt inadequate, inexperienced, and not spiritual enough. I always looked up to the older missionaries, wishing I could be more like them.
They call deputation kind of a "boot camp" for missionary preparedness, because if you can survive the rigors of traveling and being in a different church several times a week, you can probably survive on the foreign field. Nothing I had ever experienced in my life prepared me for deputation--we were a newlywed couple living on a shoestring, and in a matter of three years had three young toddlers. It was stressful to say the least. I always felt like my children had to behave perfectly, not touching anything, just sitting quietly, etc. I am thankful I had good kids, but even so, they all need time to play, run, explore, let off energy, etc.
Sometimes you would travel in the car for hours, arriving at a church for a meeting, with frayed nerves from crying babies, or sometimes even sick babies, no family doctor in the area, etc. I remember meeting pastors smelling like sour milk or even worse if our kids were throwing up along the highway. Or maybe your car would break down on the way, or you would get lost--(this was in the day before Map Quest and GPS). Ever try sleeping in a different bed every night? I don't think it is possible to ever feel totally rested on deputation.
You felt the pressure to always "put your best foot forward" so to speak, and rightfully so, because the short time that you spend in a church is their only clue to what your true character is about. They want to invest their hard earned missionary dollars in a family who is going to represent them in a way that reflects their values and convictions. People work hard and give sacrificially to help missionaries make it to the field, so I understand completely how they have to examine the missionaries they support carefully.
Even still, I always felt blessed to be in a church that allowed missionaries to "be themselves" and didn't put pressure on you to be "perfect." Some pastors have the ability to make you feel like you can relax a little and be real. Of course more is expected from the families of missionaries and pastors because we are to be examples to the flock, and that is Biblical--but at the same time we are human and want to be given a little room to breath and make mistakes just like anyone else.
Doing deputation the second time, for the Canary Islands, was much easier than the first time back in the 1980's. Most of it had to do with the fact that we were in our forties rather than our twenties. I had matured a little, and realized that most pastors do understand how difficult it is to be on the road, and do everything they can to understand what we are going through and make us feel comfortable when we get there. I was able to be myself, and realized that you can't please everyone, but just worry about pleasing the Lord. The most important thing is that people see Christ in you.
Missionaries have to make difficult decisions at times. As much as we wanted to always travel together as a family, sometimes circumstances dictated that I stayed home. Some churches required us to be there as a family, and we tried to comply with the pastors wishes. But sometimes missionaries have to make decisions based on the needs of their families. Being on the road made it difficult to maintain some normalcy of routine in home school. It was sometimes impossible for all of us to go. It is easier to travel as a family when all of your children are young, in my opinion. As they get older they often have activities that they want to be involved in at their home church. Sometimes health reasons would keep me from traveling all the time as well, as my allergies often made it difficult to go into different homes all the time. Some missionaries have special diets that are easier to follow if they can cook for themselves, so traveling makes it much more difficult.
One of the things that I have learned is not to criticize missionaries for the decisions they make, even when you don't think you would do it that way (and I am not referring to things that are sin, rather preferences). It amazes me how Christians like to criticize others for the way they do things, but have never "walked in their shoes." Have you ever tried doing what they do? It isn't as easy as you think. It sounds adventurous and exciting to be a missionary, but most of the time it is just plain hard work and requires much endurance. Missionaries need our prayer, support and encouragement, not our criticism.