Today is a milestone for me. August 12th is 3 years to the day that I said tearful goodbyes and boarded a plane to move from my family and all things familiar to Chiang Mai Thailand to join the Ransom Ministries team. I remember how long three years looked at the time. Like an eternity! Now I look back and think about how short it’s been.
If you would ask me to talk about what these last three years of life as a missionary have been like, I think I would say it’s just hard to put into words. I think I would say that the more I learn the less I know. (Cliché, but true.) But if I could put into some main points what I’ve learned, they would be these:
1. Missionaries are just normal people. One of the things I most dislike about being a missionary is when people glorify it. “You’re doing a great work!” People say, and mean the best. But I’m not. I’m simple, ordinary, and used of God. Just like you. Whether or not we’re serving God on the foreign field or in North America where we grew up, we have the potential to be used of God is we avail ourselves to Him to use. If you’ve ever said that to me, don’t fear. I’m not offended. 🙂 I just want to recognize that life is life, and service to God is service to God, no matter where you are on the big, wide earth.
2. Missionary life (normal life) will always involve an encounter with the cross. I like how Elisabeth Elliot often defined suffering: “Having what you don’t want, or wanting what you don’t have.” I’ve learned more about suffering and sacrifice these past few years because life with God involves this. I’ve also learned that it doesn’t stop there. There is always hope. One of my favorite quotes right now:
“Hope is not an absence of sorrow but a refusal to allow powerlessness to silence our cry or to shake our confidence in God. Instead we are to call on God to be God—to protest His silence and anticipate the day when He speaks. And we are to risk despair by asking God to show us himself…how much easier it is to listen for good words that speak of him but do not comfort us with his presence or lead us forward with his promise.” –Allender
3. Missionary life is often NOT doing great things for God. We like the idea of doing great things for God’s kingdom. But in reality, missionary life is just doing normal life in a foreign setting. It’s plodding along with the language and the struggle to express oneself in that language that can be oh, so very exasperating at times! It’s keeping my house clean and deciding what to do for dinner again. And it’s going to work every day, even on the days when all I want to do is cover my head with the pillow and shut out the world. “The taking up of the cross is no great action done once and for all, but the continual daily practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.”
4.Missionary life has taught me more about just how very much I need God. Oh sure, it’s something we all know. But I think these past several years have shown me in greater ways than ever before that “Without me, you can do nothing.” I come face to face with it every time I get ready to go out on outreach one more time. It’s those moments when I realize that I can extend friendship and care all I want, but what it comes down to is God’s Spirit in me reaching out with love. I think about it when I’m sitting in the card room and am faced with a bad attitude or challenging situation and I know that I need God’s wisdom more than anything. I think about when I am once again stressed out with life and all it’s uncertainties and He whispers, “Hey…just be still. And know that I AM GOD.”
5. God doesn’t call us to be successful as much as He calls us to be faithful. This is one I must remind myself of often. Right now as I look back over the past three years, I want to measure success by what I can see. I’m tempted to look at all of the hours and hours of hard work learning Thai and think that I should have more to show for it by now. I look at relationships and I see people who have come and gone and I think I should have been a better friend, Christian, missionary. But the truth is, if I’ve been faithful in what God has called me to do, that is what matters. If I have loved, to God, that is beautiful. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. ( 1 Cor. 13)
These are some of the biggest things I’ve learned. And there’s much more I could say, because every day is an adventure of learning with God. Can’t wait to see what the next three years bring!!