Confession #131: Next time you ask a missionary what their greatest challenge is…

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I often get asked what the most challenging part of being a missionary is.

It’s a weighty question, mainly because where do I start? And do you really care to hear my monologue?

I have a collection of responses stored away for questions like these. If I don’t really know you and you are asking me about my challenges only in part of a series of questions, I will probably tell you something like: lack of choices, freedom, food, or air conditioning. And I wouldn’t be lying to you. Those are all challenges in my everyday. Living without Blue Bell ice cream is something nobody should have to endure.

But if you are really asking, really asking because you genuinely care and sincerely want to encourage me, I will tell you the truth.

The most challenging thing about living oversees as a missionary is watching others move on without you. It’s knowing that while you work in a far off distant land your friends and family are still back home living lives you long to still be a part of.

It’s missing the weddings of close friends.

Or missing your friend become a mother.

It’s missing graduations, family reunions, and even funerals.

It’s not being there when someone you love is going through a difficult time.

Or not being there when someone you love is going through a time worth celebrating.

It’s missing coffee dates, football games, and going out to eat after church.

It’s missing birthdays and anniversaries, homecomings and deployments, engagements and breakups.

Really, the most challenging thing about being a missionary is missing the ability to make memories with those you love.

At first it’s not so bad. The first few years can feel like an overextended vacation. You’ll be home soon you think. But as time progresses, it gets more difficult.

Skype calls and visits home are all about catching up, but you never really can. You’ve missed too much. Facebook, although a blessing, can often be burdensome as you watch your wall fill up with pictures that you never seem to be in anymore.

So yeah, the “living without ___________” is a good answer as to what is difficult about being a missionary, but it’s not the whole truth.

I think about the man whom Jesus told to leave his father’s burial behind in order to follow him (Mark 8: 18-22). Until now, I have never really understood the gravity of that sacrifice. But now I feel its weight. Now I understand what it means to leave behind your family and friends for the sake of following Christ. And let me tell you, there is nothing easy about it.

So next time you speak with a missionary and want to ask them about their challenges, know that underneath the stereotypical responses of missing Starbucks and paved roads, they are really just missing their people back home. So please offer them a hug and a listening ear. They will be so grateful.

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2 Comments on “Confession #131: Next time you ask a missionary what their greatest challenge is…

  1. Hi Jillian. Great post, thank you for sharing! I find the hardest part of mission work and living overseas that I miss seeing my nephews and nieces grow up and just not having time to hang out with my brother and sister. Or commitment to God and His Kingdom work challenges us here on Earth but our reward is waiting. God bless you!

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  2. This is a problem that once struck a chord in me as a second generation missionary to Haiti. I began to realize that, I was still treating the people I came to live with as strangers. I refused mentally to call them ‘close friends’ and their vastly different culture as my own. As home. Why? Was that not my purpose? To live as they do and love what they are? Then why do I still prefer the American culture as home, despite the fact that I’ve never grown up in it (but TV and internet has taught me all about). My immediate family, and my uncle’s family, both live here in Haiti, so I’m not even ‘missing’ large portions of family life. As a missionary kid, in my late teenage years I began to realize that my heart was not with the people. They were my ‘job’ and this is horribly wrong. To this day I still cannot find myself feeling ‘at home’ with people I grew up around. The idea is too frightening because the culture is not Christ-centered yet and I don’t want to associate with that. There is another challenge missing in this article- choosing to love what we don’t have desire to. For me, this is the root issue behind it all. Because we cannot find means to love the life around us, THAT creates our hardest challenge which is finding something to love and value. Everybody has family and friends who are not near, no matter your status. We miss out on their lives but because we have an active social life with those near to us, it’s not a struggle. Why can’t that transfer to missionaries? Because there’s no reason to give your heart away and replace a perfectly good love with something you don’t understand and believe can’t love you back. Even the way you feel loved has to change. It’s something you have to choose to do, or struggle without.

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