Leaving for the mission field is an exciting time! In fact, I can still remember the butterflies I felt in my stomach on the day our family left for China. The nerves and excitement that came with the fact that the day we had waited for had finally come!
As we stepped onto the plane, we, like most missionaries, left trusting the Lord. That He was (and is) Mighty and that He had a plan to use our family to accomplish great works for His honor and Glory in Mainland China.
With all the excitement that we feel as we arrive on the field, How do we, as missionaries, find ourselves just several months (or even years) later miserable on the mission field? How do we go from trusting God has a plan…to unhappy and homesick?
Upon our leaving, something that I didn’t fully understand, and I think many of us don’t, was that for Him to do anything through me or through my family…I would have to begin living a life of total surrender. That even in an age of incredible technology, we would need to die to everything we were leaving behind and cling tightly to Him…continuing to plow and work harder than ever before in further preparation for the plans that lie ahead.
The truth is, adjusting to our new life on the field is often harder than we anticipate. For many, as in my own personal case, learning the language and a completely different culture can in itself seem overwhelming. We fall for Satan’s lies that tell us it’s all just more than we can handle and find ourselves trying to accomplish our first set of tasks while gripping tightly to anything “familiar” we can get our hands on. We tell ourselves that leaving America was our “surrender.” But surrender is more than just “going”… Surrender is ceasing all further resistance, being present for what God has laid in front of us, and giving up our selfish desires to see His plan fulfilled. It’s painful. It’s daily. It’s never easy. And yet when we find ourselves in a state fully surrendered to Christ, we are most content and in a position to truly be used by Him.
It is our lack of surrender once arriving on the field that keeps us from flourishing in our new environment and causes us eventual misery.
“One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.” ― Elisabeth Elliot
Practically speaking, what are some things we need to “surrender” as missionary wives to combat this misery? After speaking with several friends on the topic, we agreed that the following are true “misery culprits”…and need to be surrendered! This is obviously not an exhaustive list but just some areas in which you can consider the need to surrender:
- Your time with the Lord. This is number one and obviously not something you need to surrender…but it is sure that you can not be surrendered to Christ if you have a weak relationship with Him. Friend, you need time with Him. You need to be in the Word to fight Satan’s attacks…his lies…that He will bombard you with on the field. Develop a good prayer life. Listen to sermons online. You may not understand a sermon or even worship (if the language is very difficult) in church for a very long time. You must have a strong personal relationship with Christ.
- Your time on social media/using technology. I’ve heard for several years now from those both on the field and in the States, that technology is a wonderful thing for the missionary family! And while I definitely agree with that statement, I have to warn of the dangers that come with technology as well. For the new missionary who has just landed on the field, social media and technology such as FaceTime and Skype can be harmful in regards to adapting to their new life and culture. To be honest, a missionary wife can attend language school in the morning and return to her house to spend the rest of the day “in the States”… spending hours on the internet, Facebook, making phone calls home, and spending little to no time out in the “real world” making new relationships with the people that live around her. She can go to church on Sunday and feel like she is doing ministry while she spends most of her week in her home avoiding the foreign world around her. It is a difficult thing…to put your phone and computer down when you can not speak and you do not understand in the beginning. Technology makes it so easy to essentially keep one foot in America while you have one foot on the field. But making this surrender is so necessary! I know because I struggled with this and it caused me to miss out on so many beautiful relationships that I could have had our first years on the field! We must surrender that part of our life and move forward…putting both feet active on foreign soil! Technology is truly a wonderful thing, but we must learn to use it wisely, especially in those first most crucial years on the field!
- Your language, Your culture. Most missionaries put learning the language and culture at top priority upon arrival. However as wives and mothers, it can be easy to get overwhelmed at all the tasks before us in those first few months/years on the field (especially if homeschooling is involved!)… so much so that we decide early on that language learning is just going to have to take a backseat to all the other stuff we have on our plates. Dear friend, please hear me begging you to please not fall into this trap and believe this lie from Satan. Learning the language and culture is a must! If you do not do so, you can bet that it will not take many years before you find yourself in that state of misery! You can handle all thats before you with the mighty God of Heaven’s help! Surrender this idea of defeat early on and take the language head on! You will not understand the culture fully until you can talk to the people who live it every day. Until you can sit down with an elderly lady and ask her why she does things a certain way?! And how, friend, can God use you to further His kingdom if you can not share the gospel?
- Your relationships. Surrender the idea that the only relationships that matter are inside your home. Do not use your children or family as an excuse not to minister in your community. Adopt the idea that your children need Chinese (or insert your country here) grandparents as well American ones. Surrender the idea that only an American could understand you enough to be a close friend…and realize that we are all human beings with so much in common at our very core, especially if we are in Christ, that God could bless us with true sisters and friends all over the world from every culture. Make new friends, new family members. Make a completely new life…a whole life. A happy and content life involves relationships with those around us.
- Your negativity. Surrender it friend. Don’t focus on the hard things that come with living in your country. Don’t focus on the potential consequences of working in a closed country or on the difficulty of your language. Stay positive.
“…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8
- Your need to compare. As women, we have the tendency to compare ourselves. We compare ourselves to the mom down the street, to the other wives in our church. On the mission field, we can find ourselves making even more comparisons. We compare ourselves to other missionary wives….how they do things, how involved they are in the ministry, how well they know the language… We can not compare ourselves to others. We also can not compare the mission fields we serve on. Don’t compare how hard your mission field is to another…don’t focus on the things someone else might have access too. Don’t compare language difficulty or writing systems. This will only steal your joy.
“…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” 2 Corinthians 10:12
- And lastly, Finding your satisfaction in ministry instead of Christ. I know that sounds like a strange one, but ultimately we have to understand that life changes and throughout our lives we will experience many different seasons. Seasons of public ministry, seasons where we find ourselves mostly behind the scenes. Ultimately our satisfaction can not come from ministry …it can only come from Jesus. Our satisfaction and contentment has to be found solely in Him.
Want to make yourself miserable on the mission field? Hold tightly to your wants…your needs…your ideas…your plans…
You’ve surrendered enough.
Or instead understand that surrendering to “go” just isn’t enough…we must surrender every day of our lives…and hold tightly only to Jesus.
What about your family? Did you know you can make them miserable on the mission field as well?? Check back for our follow up post to learn more…