Confession #144: 16 Stages of Life as a Missionary
REPOST from January 2013: A few years back I shared what I believed to be the standard stages of life as a missionary. Although it varies from missionary to missionary, these are at least the stages I have gone through and today I thought I’d share them again.
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Stage 1: The Commitment You have heard the calling from God to get up, leave your home, and GO! You are full of fears and unknowns, but your excitement for what is yet to come easily distracts you from your life-altering future ahead. You find strategic ways to make your move fit into every conversation you have throughout the day- even to random strangers. You are head-over-heals about your mission and you can’t stop thinking about how much of an impact you are going to make. Your spiritual life is on fire. You have been chosen by God to do something great and you are overly enthusiastic to get started.
Stage 2: The Move You are off to save the world (so you think)! There is a lot of excitement surrounding future possibilities. You anticipate the people you are going to meet, the things you are going to see, and the new experiences you are going to have. You are anxious to get your feet wet. Once you arrive, you are full of energy. You get up early and stay up late. You exhort all your daily energy to helping others. Things are good. You couldn’t be happier. Who cares that you are daily battling diarrhea and you have more mosquito bites than you can count, you are a missionary. You got this!
Stage 3: The Adjustment You are loving life on the mission field and you are surprised as to how well you are adjusting to all the changes. Cold showers, inconsistent electricity, and minimal food options are no big deal. The sacrifices you are making seem worth it. Sure, you are sleeping a lot less at night time due to the heat, the mosquitos, the roosters, and the non-stop music next door, but you are running off of spiritual fuel so you are making it through the day just fine.
Stage 4: The Go-Getter You have hit the ground running with your ministry. Because you are fresh meat on the missionary market, people are flocking to you for help in every which direction. And because you have been called, you can’t help but to say “yes” to anyone who asks. Someone needs to go see the doctor? You can pay the bill. A church wants you to preach? You’ll be there. Someone needs a house built? You have two hands so you go build. “No” is not in your vocabulary. Everyone needs something and you are there to make sure as many needs are met as possible.
Stage 5: The Burn Out You hate to admit it, but you are becoming physically and mentally exhausted. Helping others nonstop is fun and all, but you are starting so slow down and your spiritual fuel is running rather low. You feel guilty for this and pray that God will help you get your act back together. You haven’t had a day off in months, but that is just part of being a missionary, right? People need you. Taking time off for your self would seem selfish. After all, you are supposed to being putting others’ needs in front of your own. Nevertheless, you are tired. Are you just being human or is your faith not strong enough? You start to wonder.
Stage 6: The Recovery You are giving in to your tiredness and you finally decide to cut back on your responsibilities, possibly even take a vacation to recover, recharge, and refocus. You spend your time evaluating your life so far as a missionary. What have you done right? What have you done wrong? What could you have done differently? What are the sources of people’s problems where you live? And how can you solve them?
Stage 7: The Problem Solver During your time of recovery you discovered just how wise you really are. You have figured out what is wrong in the country you are serving in and you have formulated solutions to fix everyone’s problems. Your energy has been renewed due partially to your time of rest, but mostly because of how excited you are to start problem solving. You work tirelessly trying to teach people where you believe they are wrong, providing for people where they don’t have, and creating programs and procedures to help others think more like you, the American you.
Stage 8: The Let Down You hit the ground running with your new, priceless wisdom. And although you now have all the answers to everyone’s problems, for some reason nobody wants to listen to you. They don’t want your knowledge on how to fix things themselves based on your opinion of what’s wrong with them; they just want you to help them in the moment. After all, that is what you did when you originally arrived. All they had to do was ask and they received. But now that things are different and they are mad at you. You are tired. You are frustrated. And you begin second-guessing everything you once believed.
Stage 9: The Rage You are mad at the locals because they aren’t listening to you. You are mad because you feel misunderstood. But more than that, you are mad because now you are working through deep theological questions that tend to feed into your already negative outlook on life. Why is there so much suffering all around you? Why is God allowing all of this? And why are the affluent churches in America not doing more to help? At this point in the game you become a finger pointer. The amount of problems and suffering you are witnessing first-hand day after day has become rather intense. You have trouble rationalizing the wealth of so many Christians back home while you live with your Christian neighbors who live on less than $2 a day. Why aren’t people giving more? Why aren’t more Christians down here helping? Why is it ok for Christians in America to have so much and Christians here to have to little? So little that in some cases their lack of literally kills them. And now you are angry.
Stage 10: The Reality Check Your rage has hardened your heart and calloused your faith in the church and even in the sovereignty of God. You realize it is time to pull yourself together. You take a few steps back, take a few breaths, and attempt to be humble. Thing is, you still have all those big questions that have yet to be answered, but you are starting to realize that they possibly never will be. It’s time for a reality check. It is time to reassess your mission, your heart, your mind, your doctrine, and even your faith in God. You turn to your mentors, to prayer, and to scripture. And when all is said and done this is what you come to realize: There will always be suffering in the world. You have been called to be a missionary. So a missionary you must be. Not a judge. Not a problem solver. Not a healer. Not a miracle work. Just a missionary- a person sent to share the love of Christ and give glory to God.
Stage 11: The Search At this point, God has rung you in from your previous missionary power trip. You now see the bigger picture. You now know why you are here. You now know better what to do and what not to do, what to say and what not to say, what to believe and what not to believe. Your anger has subsided and you are once again falling in love with the culture you are serving. You’re eyes have been opened so much and you are deliberating what God is calling you to do with all that He has shown you. You pray, seek, and search daily for clarity. God has called you to this place, so what are you supposed to be doing here?
Stage 12: The Decision You are feeling God’s presence in your life more than ever. He has spoken and you have heard. He has called you for great things and you are humbled and honored to bear His image in the country He has placed you. Now, you know what it means to be a missionary. Now, you know your boundaries. Now, you are ready to make the decision- the decision to recommit yourself to the mission God has called you to. Or for some, it is a decision to move on, follow God elsewhere, or serve in another capacity. How you handle the decision stage determines your future. Although your actions during the decision stage are up to you, you realize it is vital to allow God to make this decision for you.
Stage 13: The Acceptance You’ve made the decision. You know what you are supposed to do. You have fallen and you have been picked back up. Now, you are not only standing, but you are ready to run. As you begin to pick up your pace, you begin to accept the reality of what it means to be a missionary. You accept that it is not your job to save the world. That responsibility is for God, and God alone. You accept that you cannot help everyone and that no matter what you do, you will never be able to do enough. You accept the fact that you don’t have all the answers. You accept that the church is an imperfect body made up of imperfect people. You accept that there will always be rich people and there will always be poor people. You accept that sin is at fault for all the suffering in the world. You accept that life isn’t fair. You accept the sacrifices you have made and realize that in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t major sacrifices to begin with. And last of all, you accept that you are powerless in your mission; it is only God who has the power to save, help, assist, and love. You are nothing. He is everything.
Stage 14: The Peace Life isn’t perfect. Your mission isn’t perfect. The people around you aren’t perfect. And you are most definitely not perfect. But that is okay, because God is. And because you know that, you are at peace. You glean hope from the words of Paul in Philippians 4: 11-13: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this though him who gives me strength.” Life is good. God is ever present. And you are at peace.
Stage 15-16: The Transition & The Reestablishment- For some missionaries, God calls them to live their entire lives overseas. But for a majority of us, He eventually calls us home. I have not experienced either of these stages yet so I cannot personally write about how one navigates their way through them. So the details of these stages will just have to wait.
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So there you have it. If you are a missionary somewhere out in the world, what Stage are you currently in? As for me, I am enjoying the peace of Stage 14: The Peace. And I will admit, it has taken me a long time to get there, but the wait was more than worth it!