For many people in the Church, missionaries can seem like exotic, bold, Christian warriors ready to go and claim the nations for Christ. They can seem fearless as they pack up their clothes, sell their belongings, and take off to the four corners of the world to fly the Christian banner. At certain points during the preparation for missions work, missionaries may even feel this way themselves.
But this isn’t who missionaries are…at least, not most of the time.
There is certainly a boldness and courage that accompanies relocating to another culture to spread the gospel, but missionaries certainly don’t always feel the way their stateside reputation might suggest. There are many ways in which missionaries struggle that folks back home may not realize. Here, we’ll examine three.
This can happen at any time, but I imagine every missionary asks him- or herself this frightful question about six months after their move: What have I done?
After all the excitement of the new culture wears off — once the apartment has been set up, the suitcases put away, and the flow of life becomes more “normalized,” your missionary friend suddenly has the subconscious realization that they actually moved away from home and into a brand-new culture. There is actually a new language to learn. Their way of life is actually going to have to change dramatically for the foreseeable future. They can’t just go visit their parents, friends, or pastors as they could before. This isn’t a mission trip. Everything has changed.
Missionaries are flooded with ceaseless attacks from the Enemy (which we will talk about momentarily); one of the most common arrows he fires is the arrow of self doubt.
What are you doing here?
You had a good life back home..why did you leave it?
Do you really think you’re doing any good here?
You just made a huge mistake.
Far from the self-assured Christian juggernauts they are perceived to be! Missionaries, like all other Christians, need to be reminded that they find their identity, strength, and fulfillment in Christ. And they need you to help remind them of that.
Increased Spiritual Warfare
As soon as someone answers the call to missions, they go up on Satan’s “Most Wanted” list. Missionaries may seem like the strongest of the strong, but they will learn quickly just how powerful the Enemy’s attacks can be.
Missionaries will struggle with things they never thought they would struggle with. Perhaps they will suddenly develop an anger problem, flying off the handle at the slightest inconvenience. Maybe they’ll start struggling with anxiety or depression and not feel equipped to fight it because they never used to feel this way. They may start finding it harder and harder to commit to reading their Bibles and praying, disciplines which felt like second nature before.
Being a missionary opens up the door to experience God’s goodness and faithfulness in new, fresh ways. It opens up more and more doors to learn just how much God loves His people, and how much God can be trusted to care for them no matter where they are in the world.
But your missionary friends will also face sins and issues they never thought they would. So they need prayer and encouragement from other saints regularly.
This leads to the final struggle…
Whether they are moving to a new place as a church planter, a church/ministry staff member, or marketplace missionary, your missionary friend will deal with some degree of isolation. This may be one of the most common struggles for missionaries that goes unnoticed by those back home.
In the weeks leading up to the move and the weeks directly following, the messages and phone calls of encouragement seem endless. Some missionaries are blessed enough to be brought up before their church and commissioned, leading to a frenzy of we’ll-be-praying-for-yous, hugs, and tears. It will feel great. The missionary will feel empowered and ready to take on this next season of life with an army of believers behind them.
But after about two months post-move, the phone calls stop (or at least, they slow down dramatically). Encouraging texts and Facebook messages become much less frequent. Life goes on, both for the missionary and those back home.
And suddenly, your missionary friend will start wondering: Have I been forgotten?
There is a great deal of loneliness that comes with moving to a new culture and country — and that’s regardless of the presence of an established church in that area (although, an established church helps a great deal). The Enemy will whisper in their ears, “They’ve all forgotten you,” “You don’t matter to anyone back home,” and “You’ve lost all your friends.”
Of course, none of these statements is true! The folks back home still love and think about them. They still have friends, and they haven’t been forgotten. But when they’re on the mission field, these obvious truths can become clouded by insecurity, doubt, and spiritual warfare.
This is why it’s important to remember: You may think about your missionary friend often, but they’ll never know unless you tell them.
Missionaries need financial support. They need prayer. They need solid home churches who are behind them 100%. But they also need to know they are remembered. They need to know their friends and family back home still love them and think about them. They need to know they haven’t been forgotten.
So on behalf of your missionary friends, once you finish this article, send them a message of encouragement. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but I promise that it will make a huge impact on them and their ministry. Help your missionary friend combat the lies of the Enemy by simply proving the Enemy wrong. Let them know they are loved, remembered, and supported from back home.
And then in a couple of weeks, be sure to tell them again.
Missionaries struggle with many things, and it is important that Christians in their home country are aware of what their brothers and sisters abroad might be feeling. Remember them in your prayers, support them financially, and give them encouragement as much as it comes to your mind to do so. They need it.