Though I have been on the mission field in East Africa for several months, I still very much feel like a rookie when it comes to global ministry.
I came from a background of short-term mission trips, and those were all I had to compare with what life would be like on the field. In complete honesty, I didn’t contemplate how drastically different short-term trips are compared to living life abroad. In all my short-term global ministry trips, I cannot recall feeling super homesick, isolated, or misunderstood. And honestly, that is the beauty in short-term trips. They are specifically curated to make one feel comfortable, to an extent. I knew living in a foreign place would be challenging, but I don’t think anyone can understand it quite completely until you actually go.
Speaking from my experiences, short-term trips are filled with busy schedules, friends or people who can relate to you, tourist excursions, and even time set aside for debriefing. This is not what reality looks like on the mission field. When going for long-term missions, life looks extraordinarily different. In my case, I had to cultivate a schedule, continually put myself out there to meet people, and learn to debrief in solitude with the Lord. As a person with a bit of social anxiety, all of these tasks can be challenging. There have been extremely good days, and there have been extremely emotional days. I wouldn’t trade my time in East Africa for anything, but I do at times find myself feeling lonely, misread, or even embarrassed of my lack of cultural awareness.
Before coming, many people told me I would feel all of these feelings. It is no surprise that I sometimes feel the way I do, but what I have learned is to not let those feelings overtake you. It is healthy to admit how you are feeling, but I don’t think the Lord wants us to sit in our sadness. He is a God of comfort, love, and strength. In the times where we feel lonely or confused or question why we even do what we do, we must go back to truth. When I'm having a particularly difficult day on the field, there are two Scriptures I love to turn to for hope and comfort.
Philippians 4 reminds believers to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. In times of doubt, I must force myself to be reminded of God’s promises and not create false narratives in my mind. In my opinion, it is also really helpful to let others in on how you’re feeling. Maybe it is a trusted friend, mentor, or family member. Being honest with not only yourself but those who are in your corner can be very healing. Journaling is also another way to find a bit of comfort, and a way to put words to your emotions. This can be a helpful tool to acquire before anyone goes to the field. It will help in the moments of weariness but also can be something beautiful to look back on and see the faithfulness of God. You have the freedom to journal your prayers, praises, and feelings.
I have also found a lot of comfort in Genesis 16. This chapter tells the story of Sarai and Hagar. Many of us probably know that Abram (later called Abraham) was promised a multitude of descendants. But when Sarai got impatient with God’s timing, she gave Abram their maidservant. The maidservant, Hagar, got pregnant with Abram’s son, and because of this Sarai sent Hagar away. Hagar was alone, treated poorly, probably scared, and uncertain of her future. Yet, even in the valley of distress, God met her. An angel of the Lord sought her out and reminded Hagar that the Lord listens to us in our affliction. Hagar was encouraged that our God is a God of seeing His children.
My story doesn’t look like Hagar’s. We are very different and have walked through very different circumstances, but what we have in common is a God who sees us. He sees us in the times we feel like we don’t belong, or the days we wish to be in the comfort of our home country. He sees us when we question if He is still there or even working at all. He sees us when we are discouraged by no fruit from our labors. God sees each person whether on the global or local mission field.
Being a global missionary is challenging and frustrating yet beautiful and sanctifying. As believers, we have to surrender our timing and our plans. We have to remind ourselves to yield to the ways of God, because they are ultimately better than we could ever imagine. The Lord’s plans are not only better but they are sovereign. We won't always recognize the everyday evidence of God’s goodness, but like Charles Spurgeon says, even when we cannot see His hands, we can trust His heart.
Discover Your Calling
Talk to a Discovery Coach to see how God is calling you to get involved in His mission.
Missionary A lives and serves in East Africa. Because of the nature of her work, her identity has been concealed.