May 23, 2012
Is it all we thought it would be?
My blog friend, Annie, submitted a comment recently and asked several questions,
".... Is it like you imagined? Do you find joy often? Do you feel like you are doing what you thought you'd be doing? I am so curious as I often imagine living the life of a missionary."
I thought I would just answer these questions here, as maybe there are others who wonder this, too. These are certainly questions we ask ourselves often.
Is it like you imagined?
Yes, overseas missions is exactly as I imagined. Or should I say, as I've read it to be in all those missionary biographies. We've done several overseas short term mission trips before, but living it long term is completely different. Short term, you know you are going home. Long term, you know you're not. At least, not for a while. It changes everything when the going gets tough because there are no quick fixes, few comforts, little respite. It is what I imagined in that it is : Hard. Crazy. Unpredictable. Messy. Scary. Dirty. Uncertain. Busy. Challenging. A lot of work. Rewarding. Not for everybody. A calling. A sacrifice.
But worth it. Every time we have stepped out into the unknown, sometimes right off a cliff, we have found Jesus to be there, waiting for us, his arms full of grace.
And no, it's not what I imagined: It is not exotic. It is only sometimes exciting. Fascinating, yes. Fun and super cool at times, sure. An adventure, most definitely. But mostly it's hard, frustrating, lonely, annoying. It's upsetting when people misunderstand you when you're just trying to do good and follow Jesus. Upsetting when you are just being yourself and truly have sincere intentions, but the cultural filter and lens others see you through sometimes says something you are not saying, nor doing. It is an ever-present downer to see so much poverty and suffering.
Tony and I are here in obedience. We don't love living here like perhaps some missionaries love where they are living. I envy missionaries that can say that that is true for them, I really do. I wish those were my feelings, it would make things easier. I pray for that kind of love and joy. For us, it comes in smaller windows. But that's okay.
God calls different people in different ways. I am called to two things that I know of: faith and obedience. Right now that means having the faith to obey to live here and do this. Sometimes emotions follow, sometimes they don't. I try not to follow emotions or feelings because I have found them to be fickle and unreliable, often getting me into trouble. God's Word, on the other hand, I can rely on.
Do you find joy often?
I had a hard time answering this one. So I asked Tony. He had a hard time answering it, too.
"Sometimes" I guess would be our answer. There has been joy in the journey for sure, but I don't know that that is always the case.
Did Richard Wurmbrand always find joy in prison? He after all was an obedient, faith-filled Christian.
Did William Tyndale find joy living on the run in Germany? He was doing God's work.
I wonder how Martin Luther felt nailing his thesis to the church doors. Joy? Fear?
Did Paul always find joy in persecution? I can't imagine he felt great when he was shipwrecked, cold, hungry, beaten, and in chains. But He was doing what God asked of him. And that was enough for him.
Is there joy all day, every day, as a Christian? As a missionary?
There are too many hardships in missions - in following Christ period - to have joy ALL the time, at least for us, here. What we find is deep satisfaction that we are reaching others in need. That's what we feel most often: satisfaction. Joy is an overwhelming happy feeling that can elude us in the face of all we see and do here. Yes, I find joy in my position in Christ. But frequent difficulties, stress, and trials can snatch it away pretty quickly.
Like when I was standing on the kitchen counter spraying Raid at the spider that had made its home way up in the corner, watching it twitch and fall to its much deserved death... I was not feeling joy as I hyperventilated many prays that it wouldn't be a black widow. (It wasn't.) But that run-in with, even if it was imagined danger, was kind of a killjoy for me. Every time my kids get sick I think it's Hepatitis, or Scarlet Fever, or a strange disease they picked up in the slums. Yeah, I'm a worrywart, but I never thought these things back home.
Neither one of us loves it here. But we like it, and we enjoy doing missions; we find joy in each other, in our kids, in Jesus, in obeying his commands. We are satisfied sitting in a dirt house sharing the gospel. We are content sitting with kids in children's homes and talking to them, hugging them, teaching them the Bible.
The other day when I was at the children's home, sitting at the table, listening to the lesson and the gospel being shared, we were asking the kids about their siblings. One little boy, about 8 or 9, said yeah I have some. He pointed up and then drew his finger across his throat. Yeah, I have some: they're dead. They're up there *pointing up with his finger*.
It's hard to hold onto the joy when things like that happen. That kind of stuff leaves me feeling sad, and a far cry from joyous. Joy would be an inappropriate feeling at a moment like that.
Do you feel like you are doing what you thought you'd be doing?
Yes. Absolutely. We are doing almost EVERYTHING that we set out to do. We are evangelizing, working with the poor, reaching the unreached.
This is, I think, our one greatest sustaining joy: that we are doing exactly what we thought we'd be doing. And so much more. A lot of the stuff I don't even have time to post here on the blog. Going on mission trips, organizing mission trips, evangelizing at events (some put on by others, some put on by us), sharing the gospel one-on-one, helping native missionaries, visiting orphans, discipling youth, starting ministries, hosting Bible studies, working with the native church, building houses, doing church construction, and so much more - yes, we are definitely doing what we thought we'd be doing. The only thing we are waiting on is an open door to work with the Mapuche. God will open that door if and when He chooses. After the little we've learned about their culture since being here, I don't doubt that it would be our hardest field yet.
But there are things that have happened here along our mission journey that we were never prepared for, things we never expected we would be doing or even thought of doing.
Following Christ, really following him with our lives, has ruined us for so many things.
I confess, it has ruined us to mere Churchianity forever. Sometimes we wonder if it has ruined us for organized church, as well. We honestly prefer at this point to be out evangelizing or visiting or helping those in need, than sitting in church on a Sunday morning. It fills us so much more to be out there.
Missions has ruined us for the mediocre Christian life. I don't think we could ever go back. We may return to the States some day, but I don't think we could ever go back to some of the pointless things we used to do. Sitting around and talking about God is boring to us when we're not also doing something for Him. We're so done with that. I'd rather not call myself a Christian at all, let alone walk around calling myself a missionary, if I'm not doing anything that makes it clear that I am. What good is my faith if it is without works? Can it save me?
When you see so much poverty, so much abuse, so much spiritual and physical need, when you read the Bible and the words of Jesus and examine what it is that we are we are doing in the church - it just kind of ruins you for all the fluff. I think that's a good thing.
So, yes, Annie, thanks for asking. It is pretty much is all we thought it would be. And then some.