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