Five things I’ve learned about missionaries…

All Christians are missionaries. Let’s first get that out of the way. If you’re a Christian, you’re called to spread the Gospel. That doesn’t mean you have to move to another country, continent, or planet to do so. We are ALL called to be missionaries.

But for this post, when I refer to a missionary, I’m talking about the ones who have moved their families to different countries and cultures completely different from the ones they were born in. I’ve spent time with missionaries in Nicaragua, Niger, Zambia, Uganda and Kenya, and I’ve learned a lot about their way of life. I’ve learned a lot about missionaries that I never imagined I would learn.

Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn't compare to being with family.
Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn’t compare to being with family.

1. Being a missionary sucks. I lived in Uganda for a year. For one year, I gave up American friends, family, food and holidays to live in a third-world country and serve God. But the people who do it full time? They give all that up… every… single… year. No Starbucks, no Target, no Macy’s at Christmas time, no nieces and nephews in school plays, no grandma’s 90th birthday party, no fun of the “normal” kind. Missionaries are literally a world away from their family and friends for a majority, if not all, of each and every year of their lives. It’s a part of the “job” that really sucks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Being a missionary, especially in a place like Uganda, means spiritual warfare is a very strong and very real thing. Missionaries experience it like you can’t even imagine. It’s treacherous on the heart and soul, and it’s easy to lose faith. Your soul is constantly under attack in ways that can’t be explained. And don’t get me started on the physical threats missionaries face.  Most probably won’t admit it, but being a missionary sometimes sucks.

2. Being a missionary is awesome. The benefits far outweigh the bad. There was a time where I began  to wonder why anyone would do such a thing to their kids- move them to a foreign country where life would be so drastically different from the rest of their peers back in America. Then I got to know and teach MKs (missionary kids) for a year in Uganda, and I saw that they are simply spectacular children who have experienced life to a degree their friends in America will never understand. They are smarter for it, better for it, and more cultured because of it. Not saying it makes these kids better than those who aren’t MKs, but being an MK certainly doesn’t make their lives any less awesome. Being a missionary, or an MK, is incredible. The experiences both culturally and spiritually are matchless.

3. Not all missionaries are “nice.” Missionaries do great things. That’s obvious. They have hearts of gold for people who have less and need assistance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean missionaries have good people skills with people of their own kind. Some missionaries appear to be very bitter, or they seem to not care about any mission other than their own. Missionaries gossip, missionaries sin, missionaries say hurtful things, missionaries…. are human. And we can’t forget that. They do a tough job, and maybe on some days it’s difficult to put on a smile. While the downright “coldness” I sometimes have felt from missionaries still shocks me, it’s important to remember that none of us are perfect. Being a missionary doesn’t mean being Miss Congeniality.

4. Missionaries don’t care about your mission trip. They won’t admit it, and maybe the wording is harsh, but full-time missionaries in the field often feel like they are being stabbed in the gut when you say, “Oh I know what it’s like in Uganda! I went there on a mission trip last summer!”  No. You don’t know what it’s like. Not at all. I went with some friends in Uganda to pick up someone at the airport after we’d lived there for about six months. While waiting, we saw wide-eyed mission teams ready to take on life in Uganda for a week or two. We kind of laughed at them and the idea that they thought they would truly experience Uganda. It was the first time I really realized why missionaries were never impressed when I told them I was going to spend two weeks in Niger, Nicaragua, or Zambia. A few weeks doesn’t even begin to compare to a lifetime. And the same goes for my situation. I was in Uganda for just short of a year. I still don’t know what it’s like to truly be a missionary in a third-world country. My year in Uganda is but a spec of time compared to those who serve their entire adult lives. I can’t blame them for not being impressed that I lived there for just a year.

Can't imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.
Can’t imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.

5. Missionaries deserve treats, just like the rest of us. Probably more than the rest of us. Oh the things people say. A few of my missionary friends in Uganda have even stopped posting pictures on Facebook of times they go out to eat because one of their supporters will say something about it. “Wow. Looks like a nice place you’re eating at there. Guess you aren’t “roughing it” after all.” Or, “I see where my support money is going now.” Yes. People say things like that. People are ignorant. If you support a missionary, you support their well-being. Part of surviving, and part of staying healthy, means having some time off. It means enjoying a special treat or vacation. Yes, even with your support money. A missionary will never succeed if he or she doesn’t have the opportunity to get away and unwind a bit. In my opinion, they need it and deserve it more than the rest of us, who are technically living in luxury each and every day of our lives. Do you have a car? Air conditioning in your home? A television? You are living in luxury compared to the rest of the world.

As Christians, we have to support missionaries. Some might not all be super friendly. They might not be impressed with your mission trip. They might not even love what they do every day. But the bottom line is, they are doing God’s work, they do it for a living, and they don’t get paid. The best way to support missionaries is financially and through prayer. Trust me, every little bit helps.

Unless you’ve done it, you don’t get. And I mean really, truly done it. Not even serving for a year in Uganda makes me qualified to say I know what it’s like to be a missionary in place like Uganda. These people go through things we can’t even imagine, both heartbreaking and fantastic things. They need, and deserve, our support. If we’re really Christians, we will support them, as we continue to be missionaries to the people around us, no matter where we’re located.

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4 thoughts on “Five things I’ve learned about missionaries…

  1. This is awesome. My people skills suck so when we relocate to Nica I will be heads above the short termers…really though this is great! #5 especially. This is going to sound stupid but I still want to do IPSY when I get to Nica. My own selfcare. Though I am still stateside for a few more years I am ready to jump in. Thanks for the reality of this…

  2. Being a Missionary is not a simple job … we should shore them up not only financially but also with our togetherness… May God bless everyone of them!

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