Have you read many missionary biographies? Or listened to talks about great pioneer missionaries? These can be challenging, exciting and inspiring but some can leave the impression that missionaries are a distinct species of super holy Christians who wear strange clothes, eat weird food and live lives of constant adventure and excitement. Since most of us are actually rather ordinary, we can feel that mission work is for the chosen few and not for people like us.
Thankfully, when I was a child I met lots of ‘normal’ missionaries, so that’s not the view I formed growing up. We had missionaries come for meals and spent Sunday afternoons writing to them. We read newsletters and listened to talks as they shared their struggles, challenges and encouragements. It was clear that these were ordinary people, with strengths and weaknesses like the rest of us, but were being used by God in his Kingdom work. Knowing this was a great help when God called me as a missionary to Uganda. If I thought that ordinary people couldn’t be missionaries, I could never have gone.
So I know first-hand that missionaries are very ordinary. We struggle, just as others struggle. But I also want to testify that God always cares for his people, and never lets us down.
Missionaries miss our family and friends
For me leaving family and friends behind, along with the endless goodbyes as the team in Uganda constantly changes, is the hardest part of being a missionary. We all long for the stability, unconditional love, acceptance and a sense of belonging that such relationships provide.
Maybe the real question people want to ask is, ‘Why would you leave that behind?’ or maybe it’s more of a statement – I could/would never do that. Maybe God isn’t asking you to, but what if he does? Or what if he calls one of your family members to move to another country?
Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:37, ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’, are pretty hard hitting and make us look at our hearts. Who do we love the most? Where do we get our sense of identity and security from? Are we willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus?
Jesus also says in Mark 10:29-30:
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
I can testify to the truth of these verses. God has provided me with a family and a community in Kiwoko Hospital that I love and miss when I am not there. More than that, he is teaching me to lean on him alone as my source of security and proving to be a more faithful friend and brother than any earthly person could be.
I am grateful to live in a time when email, skype and Facebook make communication simple. and for the many emails, letters and parcels I receive when in Uganda. There is even a list of my favourite chocolates in my sending church in case anyone is stuck on what to send! I know that these practical gifts are a reflection of their regular prayers for me and this is a huge source of strength and comfort in the harder times.
Missionaries miss being ‘home’
I often wonder where ‘home’ is! Usually I refer to home as the place I am currently not! But in reality I have many homes as people generously welcome me into theirs, and I have a home in Uganda for the time being. Ultimately though I am looking forward to heaven where I will truly feel at home, where there will be no language or cultural barriers, no feelings of homesickness, loneliness or isolation and no more goodbyes!