Honest Frustrations of a New Missionary on the Field
My wife and I have been on the mission field for many months and even though we sat in on several classes to prepare us for landing here, nothing could have prepared us for many of the things we have faced since arriving here. I want to share those things with others so that I may help him avoid having expectations he should not have. Also, I hope that the veteran missionary will read this and endeavor to be more of a help to new missionaries as most of our frustrations came from the veteran missionaries. I know that some of these things are specific to my field and may not apply to other places, but most are across the board for every missionary and every country.
1. Missionaries are not excited about missions.
One of the first things we noticed when landing on the field and meeting several new families is that they were not excited about ministry. We found ourselves leaving dinner wondering why the family we met with is even on the mission field. They did not want to talk about ministry or the people of our country. Instead, the conversation was continually directed towards coffee hot-spots or the best golf courses around. Other missionaries want to know our hobbies rather than our ambition for ministry. Now, I do believe these are men and families that left deputation as fired up as I am, but somewhere along the way, they have lost their drive to change a country for the gospel of Christ. Maybe it was the missionaries before them that talked to them the way they talked to us, or maybe it was the fact that they did not learn the language or make a friend in the country. Whatever the reason, most missionaries on the field do not have the excitement and drive they presented from the pulpit of deputation.
2. You will not be encouraged to do great things.
This goes right along with the first frustration but becomes much more personal. A new missionary, especially one with VBM’s training and drive, lands on the field with a tenacity to change a country overnight. All he can think about is beginning language school and starting churches. He has spent the last two years on deputation listening to churches and pastors say, “We are behind you,” “This family is going to do something,” and “We are praying for you.” Now he has left the choir and has joined the discouraged. Instead of encouragement he hears “Why are you starting language school already?,” “Why do you need that nice of an oven?,” and “It doesn’t work in this country.” In the short time I have lived in this new country, I have been told how stupid the language is and how I can’t trust any of the people. These words are poison to a new missionary stepping off the plane ready to turn a world upside down.
3. Business visas consume the work.
One of my greatest frustrations is being a missionary in a creative access country. In my particular country, you can start churches freely, go on visitation, and even hang a sign showing where your church is. However, the government does not give missionary visas to people entering the country. This causes a lot of confusion for missionaries. In order to work and live in a creative access country, they have to start a business. I have seen two great problems with this model. The first is that a missionary starts a business that looks a lot like ministry. They will start something that assists ministry like a printing ministry, and it quickly becomes the priority of their time. Instead of keeping them in the country to win souls and start churches like they told churches they were going to do, they stay in the country just to stay in the country. We cannot call it ministry if a lost person could be paid to do it. We need every missionary giving 40-60 hours a week to planting churches and discipling men, not sitting in an office. The second problem is that missionaries start a business that interests them. They use their hobby as a business model and try to make it great. The fact that they are passionate about it causes confusion about what the business is for. We are not called to be great businessmen but great men of God in a country that is dark with sin and idolatry. I know that in order to live in this country long-term and make a difference here, I need to avoid this confusion between visa and ministry.
4. People always think you are clueless.
When I surrendered to missions a long time ago, I knew that one of the hardest things was going to be moving to a new country and learning a new language. What I did not know, and what has been extremely frustrating, is that even after learning parts of the language there are many frustrations to overcome. I will give a few examples of this, and you can use your imagination for the rest! The first few months, people assumed I knew nothing in the language. After two months of language school, we had a missionary friend ask if we knew the alphabet and did not believe us when we said we did. Our neighbor continually translates the words for “hello” and “thank you” no matter how many full-sentence questions we ask her. Another great frustration for me is when I understand all the words but not the sentence. In a different country the small talk small talk is different, their sayings are different, and they express things very different. Finally, the most frustrating thing is when I speak the language to the people, but they try to figure out what English word I am saying. At a restaurant last week, I asked the waiter for water, and he kept showing me “honey” which sounds similar to his word for “water.” These language frustrations happen on an almost daily basis and happen after learning parts of the language.
Maybe you have never experienced the frustrations I have faced these first few months on the field, but I am sure you could write your own list. Frustrations on the mission field cannot be avoided. These frustrations can stop a missionary from being successful and we must be able to recognize them as so and conquer our frustrations before they conquer us.
I recently told a group of my friends that were finishing deputation that they had some tough days ahead of them as they leave for various fields. I warned them that there is nothing they could do to avoid these frustrations and difficulties, so they better have some help nearby. It is like being thrown into a pool before learning how to swim. You cannot make it easier but you can make sure you have some floaties close to you in case of an emergency. This is where my missions mentor has helped me. Several times a week, I call him or text him, sharing my frustrations and victories so that I have a sounding board of truth and reason on the mission field. This has kept me from making bad decisions and mistakes that will hurt me in the long run of being a new missionary.