Monday, January 14, 2019

Dear Missionary,

James and Ellie Carr

Dear Missionary,

I know we haven't spoken in a while.  We don't have to tell each other; we've both been busy.  And after all of the day's phone calls, planning meetings, and of course dreaded fundraising attempts, the last thing you want to do is reach out to another missionary to talk.  I get it.  It's okay.

I get that you are dreading almost any human contact this late in the day.  It's after dinner, and you just want to unplug, but are missionaries even allowed to do that?  I know the feeling that you are always being watched.  I know it too well, and have let it control me for too long.

I know the fear that others are critiquing your every move.  Questions flood your mind, "Are you doing enough with your time/money/life/resources?" "What could you be doing better?"  "What if someone else has more impressive 'results' to show at the end of the year?"  "What if I'm not the most engaging missionary at my church?"  "Would the donors approve of the time I took off last weekend?"  By now you're not sure if others have actually verbalized those questions, or if you invented them yourself, but they constantly make you doubt yourself.

You know there are others who put you on a spiritual pedestal, but the ridiculousness of that notion keeps it from being any comfort whatsoever.  You've been humbled so many times since entering the field, you wonder some days why it was you that was called.  But two things are always clear to you; you are no spiritual giant, and your calling was no mistake.  Those are for sure.

Don't let critics control you.  They didn't give you your calling.  Your network at home is an important piece of your ministry.  Use it for strength, but letting it determine your every move will only weaken your work, and drive you insane.  I've been there, and it's a hard place to escape.  It is one thing to be careful what you communicate, but don't let others define your words.  It's unstable footing, and mentally harmful.  Speak carefully, but not out of fear.  On that note, take care of your mind.  Your work, your peers, and your critics can damage it.  Keep it healthy as you would your body.  Don't worship self care, but don't reject it either.

But then there's the other missionaries.  We're all so peculiar.  That slight social awkwardness defines us all.  I don't know whether it is something brought on by the unique circumstances of our lives as missionaries.  For me it has always been there.  You catch yourself asking, "Am I really that weird too?"  But you have bigger worries than to let that question bother you.  Other missionaries belittle you for your time on the field.  They brag as if their umpteen years here make them an expert.  When I was in nursing school, they used to tell the new nurses to beware that nurses "eat their young," but nurses are nothing compared to missionaries.  It doesn't matter what field you are in- church planting, orphan care, urban ministry, missionary care- someone will have been doing it longer.  Don't let it get to you.    What does time measure, anyway, in such a changing field? The harvest will be there.  Experienced missionaries can be extremely effective as well as rookies.  Remember that calling that was so certain?  It is unique to you and not to me compared.

Humility is key.  Don't let yourself get proud; your fall will just be harder.  Take it from me.  Taking glory in your established achievements will only make you look foolish, and you will do more harm than good for your ministry and reputation.  Trying to steal glory that belongs to God is just a bad idea, speaking from experience.  Don't let success define you.  Success on the field has no definition except for being obedient to and glorifying the Father.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

You know me as well as one could in such a transient field of work.  You can help me.  Don't let me get that proud.  Remind me that there is always more to learn.  We are here to build each other up, not prove our superiority at every turn.  Stay honest, but avoid gossip.  Try to help the new guy, and not in a know-it-all sort of way.  You might just learn something from him.  Find the beauty in making lifelong friends in a field of work that is often temporary and transient.  Don't be afraid if they are from different background, serve in different ministries, varying ages, and time on the field.  It's what makes the Body of Christ beautiful.  Let the friends you have know that you are grateful for them and value those relationships.  I know, it's hard.

Most importantly, draw near to the Lord.  Without Him, your work is nothing, so don't find yourself far from Him.  Find your identity, place, calling, and meaning in Him.  Let what He thinks of you replace what everyone else thinks of you, and let others see Him through you.  For me, it's a daily struggle, but it's a non-negotiable.  Remember that it was He who called you to serve others- not to be served yourself.  You will be battered, backstabbed, and deeply hurt by others, but as another wise missionary said to me, "if they did that to Christ, why should we expect anything different if we are following His footsteps?"  You won't see your pain as a privilege in the moment, but count it as such, because you, my friend, were chosen to live in the image of Christ.  What greater honor is there?

Serving the same Father,
- Your Missionary Friend

James and Ellie Carr / Author & Editor

James and Ellie Carr have been missionaries in Gautemala since 2014 and write to share their feelings and how they have experienced God's goodness and mercy on the mission field.

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