I’ve seen a lot of posts from fellow missionaries describing the difficulties of being missionary, the challenges they face, how misunderstood they feel at times and how things are never the same once you move to another country.
A lot of what they say is true, and a part of me wants to click “like” and share it with everyone so they will feel my pain. On the other hand, when I stop to think about the things I love about being a missionary and count my blessings, I find that list outweighs the difficulties.
So here are a few of the things I am thankful about what I do.
Travel! We get to travel! One of the top things people regret not doing enough of in life is traveling. As a missionary, I get to do that all the time. Part of the is due to where we live, Guatemala, and the fact that we have six kids and often limited resources, so when we return to the U.S. to visit family, speak at churches and raise support for our ministries, we drive.
I tell my kids we don’t take trips, we take adventures. A trip is when you know where you are going, how you are going to get there, have your transportation set, know who you are going to see and everything is set. An adventure is when you know where you are headed, but the details are a little fuzzy of how it’s all going to play out, yet we head out anyways making an effort to see all the amazing sights along the way and seeing what a beautiful place the world is.
Traveling has taught me and my children to value experiences over things. Going places has so much more value than the material possessions we don’t have. When we spend a long time in one place, we can often fail to see its beauty and we cease to be amazed by it. But when we are visit new places it helps us appreciate the beauty in the world.
The world and its people are immensely diverse. Even within the same country, the way people live from city to town to village often varies. Yet behind the color of their skin, the food they eat and the clothes they wear, we have learned to see people as people, different than us, yet with the same hopes, dreams and fears.
They have learned to relate to people from diverse cultures and walks of life and have escaped the echo chamber that is so common these days where everything someone believes about life is reinforced by the town, city or state they grew up in, and everything else is foreign.
We get to learn other languages. Ok, even after 15 years in Guatemala, I still struggle a bit. But my kids… they are fluent in Spanish, they speak it like a “Chapin” (Nickname for Guatemalans). The benefits of this are huge and it gives them access to communicate, work or live in many other countries.
I can’t even count the times God has come through for me in amazing ways. When people live in a country where things just “work”, it’s easy to find rational normal explanations for things working out. But when you live in a developing country where often times there really is no logical way for things to work out, when you see an endless series “coincidences ” fall into place for something to work out, you realize that what you are seeing is God at work. From our car breaking down in the middle of the desert, to getting stranded in the mountains, from having a gun put to my head during a robbery and surviving, to escaping attempted kidnappings, from meeting a stranger at a wood mill who helps launch our woodworking, carpentry and engineering programs, to meeting someone whose passport was stolen, sat next to me at the US embassy and decided to fund our mission work in a big way. God is at work, and I get to see it happen.
The conviction of knowing in my heart that I am following where God has called me, gives me the faith to do what sometimes seem like crazy things, even when the circumstances aren’t ideal.
I’ve never had the funds, resources or knowledge to do anything I’ve done. What I have had is a conviction that if God has called me to do something, that he will provide.
Setting up community centers, woodworking and engineering workshops, starting computer training programs, teaching programming, leading mission teams, organizing summer camps and vacation Bible studies. I didn’t have the training for doing any of those things. Yet I saw the need, and was persuaded that if God loved the orphans and vulnerable children he had placed in front of me, than he would provide the wisdom, ability and means to serve them with excellence. And he has! Time and time again as I have stepped out in faith and started programs, He has come along and provided the means to make it happen.
I not just get to do what I love, but I get to share about it with others. Often times in life we have to do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do, but for me, they are one and the same. Not just do I get to do what I love, but I constantly get to talk about it with people who are interested. When people ask me what I do, telling them that I’m a missionary opens the door to sharing more than just the logistics of what I do, it gives me the opportunity to share my faith in God.
I get to see the gospel at work! I get to see God’s Kingdom coming here on earth, child by child, family by family and community by community. His truth is changing the world and I get to be a part of it. As I impart the truth of God’s word and see it come alive in people’s lives, I learn what is authentic, valuable, and of eternal consequence. I see the gospel at work, and it is truly amazing.
Gratitude, even for the simple things. Life in most western countries just works, in the rest of the world, it often doesn’t. Driving laws, government business, legal stuff or even getting your car fixed-everything takes longer, and doesn’t always happen the way it should. So when it does, you learn to give thanks to God.
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” Mathew 6:21. As we have moved from house to house over our 15 years in Guatemala, it has made me place a higher value upon my family, my kids and my wife, on my family and my relatives. It has made me see home as any place that we are together. It has made me strive for what binds us together as opposed to what tears us apart.
Ultimately, as Christians, we know that this world is not our home, we are just passing through. Becoming disconnected from the place we were raised. When life there moves on without us and we find ourselves no longer a part of where we were “from”, it’s not a bad thing. Ultimately it can help us accept the reality that we are pilgrims and strangers on this earth and our true home is that heavenly place, whose builder and maker is God.
For these things, and many more, I am thankful.