Everyday tasks, like errands and chores, take longer to accomplish abroad. In many non-western countries, there is no supermarket, a one-stop shop to get all my essentials and ingredients. I currently have about 6 stores I go to on my shopping day. I can attest that I spend a lot of time looking for how to substitute an ingredient that I can't get or how to make things from scratch. Chores abroad are the same as chores in your house, although sometimes it takes longer to accomplish. I have no dryer. I line dry my clothes inside my store room in West Africa. In rainy season, sometimes it takes 2 or more days for the laundry to be mostly dry before I can do another load. In Nepal, getting a package from the post office was a half day task to accomplish. Expats have to adapt to a slower way of life.
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Missionaries are sometimes put on a pedestal by those from our passport countries. (Picture Source). When you place people or things on a pedestal, it becomes an idol. Idolatry occurs when you place something above God. God warns against idolatry numerous times. It even made the number 1 and 2 positions in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:3-4). This pedestal can be put in place by missionaries and sometimes by the churches that send them. Whichever the case, it is still idolatry. Leslie Verner explains this from a missionary perspective.
"I had climbed the evangelical Christian ladder right up to the top, perching on the pedestal the church reserves for missionaries. I had this 'living for Jesus' thing all figured out. Hard always equaled holy, I believed. Discomfort was always best. And poverty was external and had nothing to do with the poverty of my own soul. As a missionary, I had been a superstar, both in China and back home. Now? God’s greatest gift has been to bring me back to live the unglamorous life of the ordinary stay-at-home mom. God has shown me that I was worshipping my call, instead of my Jesus" (Source).
on you sometimes, other times it is 0 to culture shock in 3.5 seconds. Many people from our passport countries, dealt with culture shock for the first time during Covid lockdown. Matthew Hirt explained, during the initial lockdown, our "entire society [was] collectively going through culture shock at the same time"(Source). Culture shock and stress become the new normal when living in a new context.
For the sake of transparency and if you find yourself struggling, here is some encouragement from my friend, Aaron (Note 2).
"People always think we have it all together, that our life is perfect. And that they can never be as good as us. This keeps distance between us and them in their minds. So we have to open up a little and be real. This week we have felt loss, exhaustion, pain, frustration, hopelessness, alone, and overwhelmed, unsure and more. We smile a lot, but this week - not so much. We struggle. I struggle. But we depend on God together and he is always good to us - even when he doesn’t immediately give us what we want or ask for. If you are struggling, trust Jesus. You don’t have to figure it all out or get it all together. Bring all your junk to him. Let him be your strength, your hope, your comfort, and your guide. If he can save us, he can save you. If he can hold us together, he can do the same for you."
Remember friends, in the midst of struggling, “The Lord is [your] strength and [your] defense; he has become [your] salvation” (Psalms 118:14). Are you on the struggle bus and would like someone to chat about it with? Have you changed your mind about the missionary romance? Do you have any questions, comments, concerns or complaints? Send me a fan letter or comment on the blog itself. Don't forget to subscribe to be placed on the short list when new posts drop. Until next time.
Note 1: For the record, I am not hating on Batman. He is my favorite.
Note 2: Quote was used with permission (March 2023). Aaron and his family are missionaries in the Americas.
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From a sending church perspective, you can also place false assumptions on the missionary themselves. Does Wonder Woman or Superman need saving? No, it is the sidekicks and normal people that need saving. (Picture Source). If missionaries are superheroes, you can begin to overlook the struggles that they go through, like culture shock, depression and loneliness. There are no easy places left for missionaries to go. Living in another culture is hard. Learning a new language, no matter how easy someone says it is, is hard. Culture shock sneaks up
anyone and everyone can come and peek into your windows whenever they desire. (Picture Source). C.T. Studd once said, "The 'romance' of a missionary is often made up of monotony and drudgery; there often is no glamour in it; it doesn’t stir a man’s spirit or blood. So don’t come out to be a missionary as an experiment; it is useless and dangerous. Only come if you feel you would rather die than not come." The call and relationship with God are the major things that keeps missionaries on the field, even in the hard days.
Missionary life is sometimes boring. There is nowhere to go where I live. There is no coffee shop or movie theater or restaurant to hang out. I provide my own entertainment. Some missionaries live in the hottest, coldest or dirtiest places in the world. It is definitely not glamourous to walk outside, minding your own business, and have a cockroach or lizard jump or fall on you. Or have a lizard poop on your toothbrush (an acquaintance's story). There is nothing glamourous about living in a fish bowl, where
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The Missionary Romance
The missionary romance is filled with adventure, traveling and everyday is brimming with rainbows. Missionaries are the superheroes of the faith. There is no way I could possibly be like those people. Have you ever had these thoughts? I am sometimes introduced to people as: "This is my (insert relationship), she is a missionary in Africa." When people introduce me like this, they sometimes unintentionally end up making the job or calling of a missionary seem more important than me, as a person. (Picture Source).
Viewing missionaries as people with this glamourous job, who are always on adventure is like saying Batman is a superhero (Note 1). Bruce Wayne doesn't have super powers, therefore he is not a superhero. He is a normal guy, with a lot of fancy toys, who views his calling as a protector of his city from the bad guys. In a similar way, missionaries are normal people who feel called to another location to tell people about Jesus and make disciples of all nations. This is the basic commandment of all believers and followers of Jesus (Matthew 18:18-20). In some locations in the world, people have never heard of the bad guys (the devil and demons), and the gospel of Jesus, the savior the world needs because we can't save ourselves.
Viewing missionaries as the superheroes of the faith can potentially
lead to theological problems. It assumes a hierarchy of the faith
and leads to a false works-based theology. (Picture Source). It also
places a burden on people trying to be more spiritual to get closer to
God. Anna Price explains, "When we see full-time cross-cultural work
as the best way to get close to the Lord, we cheapen the very
message missionaries carry: that God already came down to us to
make a way for that relationship" (Source). The Bible gives clear
warnings about those who spread a false theology. We should be careful we aren't unknowingly wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15-23, Romans 16:17-18, 1 John 4:1-6). We need to also remember that the Great Commission is for ALL believers to carry out, not just the missionary.