When we think of missionaries, we think of exotic locations, life lived in pure community, and people being helped or coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior ... and you know what? Those are certainly aspects of the missionary life, but there's a more challenging side to long-term missions.
As a missionary in a foreign land, it often means leaving all familiarity--your job, your church, your family, your support system--and you pray for a thriving ministry in an unfamiliar culture. But as you go about building such a ministry, you'll find that your cultural norms are challenged, and you may even find yourself disappointed with yourself and maybe even God.
When the Lord strips away the unfamiliar, you find a unique opportunity to find just how much your culture has influenced your faith. It can be a struggle to make sense of all of it as you seek to bring others into that same faith.
This can be an exhausting and lonely endeavor that leaves some missionaries disillusioned and insecure, but this uncomfortable time can also be fruitful.
Often true growth comes at the expense of our own hardship and discomfort, and the life a of a missionary in a spiritually dark country will likely have plenty of both. But it's in these times of difficulty that the Lord is teaching you to see Him and His Word in a new way ... and maybe even see yourself in a newer and truer light.
Overseas ministry gives you the chance to examine your life and faith in a different cultural context. Additionally, you will likely witness God work in some incredible ways through you and for you. And all of this will affect you and how you view God and your role in His work.
How to deal with the challenges
There is no way to completely prepare for every mental, emotional, or spiritual challenge that will come your way as a missionary. However, there are a few things you can keep in mind ...
- Be prepared to have your expectations challenged
- Focus on those you're ministering to and not yourself
- Start recognizing the cultural influences on your faith
- Be prepared to see Scripture in a new way in a new cultural context
- Be ready to let go of some of what you hold most dear
- Focus on God's sovereignty
You will feel uncomfortable and even fearful at times, but it doesn't mean it's time to give up or that you can do no good where you are.
"Don't run from the things that make you uncomfortable; run with them to your Father, who seeks to use them in unimagined ways to transform you." --East-West Director of Missionary Care
How others can support you
As you face challenges and grow, your community of supporters back home may find themselves at a loss for how to help or support you in this unique time. Here are a few ways that you could ask them to walk with you through this journey ...
- Continue to connect when you can and how you can
- Share what's happening back home
- Listen well
- Understand that everyone has experienced change while you were/are gone
- Give you space to adjust any time you come home
- Pray some more