While speaking with a missionary not long ago, he shared his particular "issue." During a pause I asked, "Have you asked anyone to pray for you or with you about this issue?" He immediately responded, "Oh! how could I ever do that?" A momentary pause ensued, and then he continued, "If they knew about my issue, they'd probably drop my support, or worse."
Twenty-two years of missionary service and nine years in the American pastorate, points to at least 5 critical prayer-needs of missionaries.
1. Their Relationship with God
Many, if not most missionaries, at one time or another struggle in their walk with God. Cross-cultural workers tend to find themselves overwhelmed. With the needs of people they serve, demands of ministry, and challenges of living in another culture their pragmatic unspoken mission statement is: go, go, go!
Consistently while probing missionaries about their spiritual disciples and time with God, the answer is predictable, "I just don't ever get around to spending much time in prayer, Scripture reading, and other spiritual stuff." In going all the time, God somehow gets lost in OUR priorities. Simply stated Jesus said, "Your number one consideration is to love God with everything you are, have, and do." It's in the doing; both positive and negative, missionaries can lose their God-focus.
2. Their Physical and Emotional Condition
Missionaries gain weight, get sick, struggle with both physical and emotional ills. The high rate of "burnout" and attrition among missionaries and missionary organizations is alarming. Many suffer unspeakable traumas. A close friend shared after a missionary visited their church, "That missionary was a bit strange . . ." Having served as a missionary for many years my thoughts hovered around, "Wounds, burnout, trauma, soul-sorrow . . ."
While pastoring in Minnesota, a missionary the church supported called me. "Pastor Don," he began, "Some really bad things happened to us in _____________. My wife has been unable to leave the house for five years now. She is agoraphobic."
As I inquired to his condition and care, he made a startling statement, "I asked my pastor and church for help, he told me, 'The ministry is a tough place for everyone. I don't have time for whiners.'" He continued, "My mission's agency just fired me. They don't have time for missionaries like us now. We're broken." That missionary struggled with church, ministry, God, and life." No small wonder!
A wonderful pastor so concerned about four of his missionary couples, flew them back to the Midwest from Africa for care. Kathy and I spent a few days with the missionaries helping them work through their woundedness. We were just one prong of a multifaceted plan to help those struggling missionaries. Now, that's a great pastor! That's a great church!
3. Dealing with Loneliness
Recently, a young missionary asked me, "What do I do with my loneliness?" I asked, "Who do you suppose was the loneliest person ever?" In Isaiah 53, we looked at the Son of Man who was "despised and rejected" by all. Jesus was lonely too. From the cross he cried, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Missionaries can feel this way too, and often do.
Loneliness is listed as one of the major hardships of many missionaries. Thousands of miles away from home, family, and friends present huge challenges. Yet, Loneliness carries benefits too. Great spiritual progress can be made identifying with Christ, and releasing our loneliness to God.
4. Managing Stress
Studies show that missionaries suffer some of the highest stress levels in the world. Many missionaries taking the Holms-Rahe stress test show shocking results. A score of 200 on the Holms-Rahe scale indicates a level of stress leading to serious long term physical or emotional health problems within two years.
Many first term missionaries score 900 on the Holms-Rahe test! The average veteran missionary serving outside the US lives year after year at the 600 level of stress. It's no wonder we missionaries seem so weird! :-) Most are stressed beyond their limits most of the time. And, it's no wonder missionaries suffer from so many many ailments.
While serving in South Africa, my Holms-Rahe test scored me at 800. The test did not take into consideration the events of that year in our lives. Three murders, many dying African children, two burglaries, mass shooting of 45 people in our town, all three of our sons returning to the US for college, and my yet to be discovered P.T.S.D. Missionaries are stressed.
5. Dealing with Conflict
Family, Missionary, and Team conflict are listed as one of the top struggles of most missionaries, and their organizations.
Historically, missionaries struggle in close environments to work harmoniously. Many missionaries are strong passionate type A personalities born to lead. Put five visionary missionary leaders together on the same team and, well . . . one sees the probabilities. Missions Agencies share that conflict is in the top three reasons missionaries leave the field and return home.
Did you hear the one about the missionary dispute over peanut butter? It's a perfect example of veteran seasoned missionaries colliding with newer younger missionaries arriving on the field. A young missionary couple arriving on the field brought an ample supply of peanut butter. The young missionary couple loved peanut butter! Veteran missionaries from their organization believing since God called them to a place without peanut butter that the young missionaries must give up the tasty pasty spread. No one else enjoyed peanut butter. Why should they?
Over a period of time, the peanut butter issue intensified to such a degree that the younger family resigned returning to the United States. Older and younger missionaries collide all the time. Every missionary team we minister to sees this challenge.
The Apostle Paul wrote for one's whole spirit, soul, and body to be complete and blameless. Pray that it may be so with each and every one of us; especially our missionaries.
Just My Thoughts,
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.