Friday, November 28, 2014

The Missionary Life: Inside Story

I have read countless missionary stories, and they are each filled with excitement in their own way.  Yet, I have yet to read one that accurately portrays the deep loneliness and difficult good-byes we experience.  As I think of my family all gathered yesterday for Thanksgiving, I am blessed by countless memories with them.  I miss them, and re-think so many things we have done together. 

My mind was brought to a memory of some of the farewells too.  I can remember the last farewell with one of my sisters - we both fought back tears (and failed) as we said good-bye.  We have always had a deep connection and our families mesh so well together.  Saying good-bye was difficult enough when I lived in Oklahoma and she in Michigan.  Even then we would often cry.  Now it's different though.  The communication is often limited, and we see each other once per year.  This is a lot in comparison to most missionaries.  Still, it is difficult. 
This makes me wonder what other families feel when saying goodbye and spending so many years apart.

When God calls a family to missions, He asks them to give everything up and trust Him alone.  You give up your friends, comfort, family, habits, language, culture, lifestyle, and most of what you own.  All of this is for the sake of furthering His Kingdom.  Do I think it's worth it? YES!  Do I regret any part of it? NO!  Would I do it again? In a heartbeat... Still, that does not negate that it is often a difficult road.  I am humbled and honored that God would ask me to live this life for Him, and I need Him so desperately - I need Him to be so real each and every day - or I simply would not make it.

So, as I recall the difficult goodbye's, the things we miss out on, I want to encourage you - whoever may be reading this.  Do not minimize the impact you can have on a missionary!  It does not matter who you are, or what you are doing - if you know someone in the mission field, you can be an incredible encouragement to them!  Write them letters, text and email them, send care packages, reply to their messages with encouragement.  Those little things mean the world to us. 

Do not think you cannot have a part in the adventure they are on - God has called the church to stand behind those who are on the front-lines: your pastor, elders/deacons, leader of you home, and those serving in missions are just a few examples.  I cannot express to you how much it means when someone sends an email/letter to us just for the sake of encouraging us.  Similarly, when someone says, "I want to send a care package.  What do you need/want?"  Wow - what an encouragement! Even knowing that it may take months to get here, we are encouraged and blessed in the anticipation.  So, if you do not know a missionary yet, go to your church and see who your church is supporting.  Then be the voice to tell them to get on board with encouraging that person/family - let them know you care, you miss them, and you stand behind them.  This will be a blessing they will not forget!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Choosing Friends on the Mission Field

A choice of love, not an act of obligation

I cannot tell you how many times people have talked with me about friendship in missions.  More often than not, I have been told that "you get what you get" essentially.  I can recall multiple conversations with varying people who have told me, "If you were state-side, you might not be friends with any of those you are serving with.  Still, God has placed you here together, so that's all you have."

I have wrestled with this throughout the past 18 months, and was not sure why.  Lately I have been re-thinking that, and trying to determine why that bothered me so much.  I came to the realization of two things.

1. Why does serving together mean that you have to be the closest of friends?

It seems that everyone keeps telling me that I have to be best friends with anyone I serve with.  The reality is, this was not the case state-side.  Why should it be now?  While we do not have as many Americans to be-friend here, we can still build deep and meaningful relationships.  Additionally, all friendships, regardless of where they are formed, when, or even why - are in varying degrees.  My best friends all qualify as such for different reasons.  Those that I serve with may not fit this bill.  I may find that I connect with people who have grown up in this culture even more-so than those who match my own culture.  I am not bound to having American friends out of duty or obligation.  Yet, I can connect with my fellow missionaries as friends if I desire to.

2. For varying reasons, sometimes we choose a friend; sometimes they choose us.

I honestly cannot tell you why my friends have chosen me.  Many of my closest friends have seen my faults and all the ugliness that is within me, and yet still love me.  Why?  I guess for the same reason I feel the same way about them.  We love each other in the ugliness and beauty, pain and rejoicing, suffering and peace.  We CHOOSE to love each other - that is the point!  I could give up on my friends when it gets difficult, but I don't.  Why?  Because I choose to love them - just like God chooses to love me. 

So, as I thought through these two things, I came to a conclusion.

I can choose to be a friend to anyone
I serve with.
It all starts with love!
 
This is where my view started to change.  I am not saying that all of those who spoke what they thought was encouragement, or perhaps empathy, were wrong.  In fact, they are quite right - maybe we would not have been friends state-side.  But why should that matter now?  I love that my friends vary in age, life stage, and location.  I do not want that to change.  So as people try to tell me that I am "just stuck" with those I serve with, I choose to reject that mindset.  The reality is, if we approach relationship in that way, it is doomed to fail.  Instead, I choose to remember that each of the people God places me here with is a gift.  Every person who crosses my path is the potential for me to grow and become more Christ-like.  So I choose to be friends with all I serve with - not because we just happen to be in the same place, but because I truly want to love them.