I knew, without a doubt, that our recent trip to the UK would have a great impact on my life. I didn't realize, however, what an impact it would have on my perspective on the life of a missionary. I thought I knew what mission work was all about and what the life of a missionary entailed, but nothing could have prepared me for the truth of the matter. It wasn't until spending time with those on a foreign field that I realized just how much I take for granted.
First off, many missionaries have little to no access to the many comforts of home. Simple things like a favorite cereal or candy bar are not available on their mission field. That may not seem like a big deal, but when we presented our care package of Fruit Loops, various candy, Mr. Goodbar, Goldfish crackers and the like to the missionary family hosting us during our stay, one might have thought we presented them with gold, frankincense and myrrh. The giddy smiles as the teenage boys tore into packages was enough to bring a tear to my eye. And, at one point, I feared we may be facing WW3 when a Mr. Goodbar went MIA. (In case you're wondering, that incident did not involve the children. LOL!) On a serious note, we have access to so many wonderful things, and so often we forget how truly blessed we are. Sometimes, it's the little things in life that bring a smile to our lips. Not only do we take these things for granted, but we forget about those who do not have access to such wonders. I mean, seriously, who wants to live in a land without Mr. Goodbar and Goldfish crackers?
Second, I realized just how lonely the mission field can be. Yes, there are people surrounding the missionaries, but the majority of those people are either unsaved or babes in Christ. The missionaries have so few people to whom they can relax with, be themselves with, and lean on for support. Everyone relies on them. Everyone expects them to be there at their beck and call. Everyone shares their burdens, seeks their advice, requires their aid, etc. And the missionaries are glad to do it, but they're also tired and weary. There's a whole lot of sowing going on and not much reaping, which is greatly disappointing. But with whom can they share their burdens? With whom can they discuss their difficulties or disappointments? Spending time with various missionary families during our stay helped me to understand just how much they cherish time spent with fellow believers who don't want or need anything from them. And it was such a privilege to see the difference a few hours or days of sweet fellowship could have in the lives of these who have left everything behind to reach the lost.
Lastly, I realized how remiss we've been in caring for our missionaries. Remember that care package we took over? Would you believe it was the first one those missionaries had ever received, and they've been on the field for twenty years? I was embarrassed and ashamed when I heard that. I also came to understand how difficult it is for them to keep up with the changes within their supporting churches because very few ever bother to write and update them. Oddly enough, we expect our missionaries to send letters each month, keeping us informed of their "progress" on the field, but we don't return the courtesy. Churches change pastors, reconsider their positions and sometimes even close their doors without ever sending out a notice to the missionaries. True, some missionaries are able to keep track through social media, but not all of them have that luxury.
Honestly, my heart has been so convicted over the past week or two after seeing firsthand how difficult the mission field can be. Sure, I give my money to missions each week, but sadly, that's about it. I don't read their letters like I should. While I do pray for them, I fear they're often lumped together in one generic group, as in "Lord, please bless the missionaries around the world." I thought I was doing enough by supporting the work financially, but now I understand that I need to do more. I want to do more. I want to bring about more smiles and be more of an encouragement to those who have given up so much to answer the Lord's call. What if a single care package or letter from home had such an impact that a missionary on the verge of giving up found the strength to keep going? Wouldn't that be worth a few moments of our time?
Obviously, I'm not telling you what you should do in regards to missions around the world. That's not my place. But I did feel the need to explain to you what I experienced firsthand because these are things that most missionaries will not speak of. Instead, they suffer in silence, doing all they can to keep the faith in a dark and lonely world. And now that I know, I cannot sit idly by. My heart is broken and convicted, and I am praying about exactly what the Lord would have me do. The Bible tells us that iron sharpens iron, and I'm ready to be a part of that process in regards to our missionaries. How about you?