Living life as a full-time foreign missionary certainly has its share of challenges. Beyond the ones related to general soul winning and discipleship in any context are those that, at least for this missionary, seem to be uniquely related to living by faith in a foreign context as a vessel for the Kingdom. Honestly, those challenges are not easy. Often times I find myself feeling discouraged, forgotten, confused, doubtful and yes, sometimes even useless.
Strangely enough however is that in the midst of all these challenges the Lord is using them all as great tools in my sanctification process. He indeed is bringing to life, in fresh and challenging ways, the Truths in His Scriptures. In this season I am being reminded that afresh that, “…All things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:28-29)
As I said the things I am learning are not always easy to learn or endure, but the Lord’s ways are not my ways and I trust that in His Sovereignty He knows much better than I do.
There are many things that the Lord is teaching me but for the sake of this blog I will share what I think are the four greatest things He is teaching more to have in this season. I will elaborate a bit on each of them after I list them. It is my prayer that they will both give you a little bit of a closer look into what my life is like on the field and also encourage you in your own walks with the Lord. Let’s get started.
- Greater Humility
This is perhaps the most consistent thing that I find myself growing in as a missionary in a foreign context. Being in a country where English is not the native tongue and the culture in many ways is vastly different from the one I have come from, there are many a days when I am greatly humbled by both. I am learning to both communicate in a language that is not my own and live amongst a culture that is not my own.
I could cave in, as unfortunately many Western missionaries have a reputation for doing and just be content with always needing a translator. However, aside from just not really finding that to be too missional or biblical, I am just too stubborn and I guess obsessive for that so I press on in faith.
The desire to share and talk about Jesus freely and without restriction burns within me. I do share what I can and communicate with the limitations that I have and trust that God operates strongly in my weaknesses, but still I am immensely challenged. Even this past week I had a fifteen year old young man who does not know Jesus and does not speak English in my apartment and I spent over an hour with him sharing the Gospel to the best of my ability. He did not repent of his sins and put his faith in Christ and I had so much more in me that I wanted to let out, but I simply could not beyond what I did. His name is Ionut, please keep his salvation in prayer. Such moments are tremendously humbling and can also even be frustrating but it doesn’t stop there.
While I certainly want to share the Gospel more effectively in the Romanian tongue sometimes I don’t even feel encouraged to speak Romanian by Romanians. Here’s what I mean. Unlike America that is used to lots of people trying to learn English, here in Romania it is not so common for them to have foreigners learn their language. So there are times when people laugh at you more than encourage you, tell you that your accent is terrible, are brutal on your mistakes, simply walk away from you rolling their eyes (especially out in public and by those far from Christ), or just try to talk to you English. I could spend more time talking about how all of those things can make you feel, but aside from any other emotions they might deduce all of them make you feel humble.
Then there are the days when the part of your brain that processes foreign language simply doesn’t want to work. I am often most discouraged by those times and find myself humbled by my own limitations and weakness realizing that I need even more grace from the Lord.
- Greater Sacrifice
With greater humility comes greater sacrifice. On the foreign mission field I find this to be not only more amplified than when I served Stateside, but also non-stop. For example, in the States there were those days when I still did what I had to do but if I was tired or lazy I could just coast on automatic mode or on what I knew. Here I don’t seem to have that luxury. Whether this is true for other missionaries I do not know, but for me it is the case. It seems that the days I feel most tired or unmotivated are the days when I am forced to speak Romanian the most.
What’s the big deal with that you might ask? Well when I speak Romanian or am communicating in only Romanian it involves a different level of concentration and I use a part of my brain that demands attentiveness. So there is no coasting. I have to put my feelings of laziness or tiredness to the side, pray for God’s grace and try my best. I used to think going through the motions or getting by on my instincts on such days was sacrificial but I am learning more and more what it means to truly be sacrificial. It is something I can honestly say I never experienced in such a manner until becoming a full-time missionary in a foreign context. But my learning to grow in my understanding of true sacrifice goes even beyond that.
In I Corinthians 9 Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.” I am in that process here and it is taking much more effort and sacrifice than I ever thought it would. I have intentionally tried to limit the amount of time I spend around English speaking foreigners as I find too much time around English to be a crutch and hindrance to that process more than a help. I firmly believe for the sake of my calling and duty to the Romanian people here it is the right thing to do, but it is not always easy and has stretched my understanding of the word sacrifice for sure.
Moreover, every day I try to set aside at least two hours for language learning. And by His grace, I am for the most part faithful to do so. Yet where I desire to be so that I may save some I am still a ways away from that. So I pray for greater endurance in my ability to sacrifice for the sake of the Romanian people and for the glory of God.
- Greater Patience
With both humility and sacrifice I am also learning a greater level of patience. First patience with myself, as you have by now realized my challenges living in a foreign context and my desire to minister freely in it. Secondly, patience with the Romanians whom I am trying to minister to here. Oddly enough I have found my patience with Romanians also stretched and challenged along with my own. And honestly at times, I have seen their patience with me also being tested and challenged. I of course attribute this mainly to having a cultural and language barrier.
I have also found myself needing to be more patient with those friends and people from back home. What do I mean? Well, being on the mission field often times you really can feel totally unthought-of and forgotten by those back home. Social media, which I guess is supposed to help, doesn’t really seem to. Sometimes people can go weeks or even months without checking in, yet you see them being quite active on facebook, twitter, or whatever other site they might use. And when you write them personal messages, especially on facebook which let you know when a person has “seen” your message and they sometimes don’t even reply, it can be vexing and very much tests your patience.
Ironically though, in the Scriptures the first thing mentioned when biblical love is defined in I Corinthians 13 is patience. So in the midst of all this testing of my patience I am learning just how unloving I am and how I really needed this to help me grow in my ability to love others as He loves me, and extend true patience unto them as He extends His holy unlimited patience unto me.
- Greater Trust in the Lord
Amidst all of these is conceivably what we always need to grow in, and that is our trust in the Lord. Aside from being a full-time missionary here in Romanian, I am also involved in the happenings and some of the projects our ministry has going on. And in addition to all of the things that I personally have going on here and that I have mentioned, there are other things going on right now that also contribute to me being stretched. I will just share a few.
Our ministry has project being planned for this summer in Rwanda and there are obviously tremendous needs associated with such endeavors. We need to recruit the right team members, work and communicate with the people on the ground in Rwanda to plan the most-effective project for the work being done on the ground for the long-term, and of course raise the financial resources.
From fund raising endeavors such as banquets or other sorts of campaigns to mobilizing and training teams, these endeavors require a tremendous amount additional time, energy, and the help of other brothers and sisters in the faith. Moreover, there is absolutely no way to do such projects without moving forward in faith trusting that the hand of the Lord is on such projects. When things don’t seem to be going how you imagine them to be going however, that trust in the Lord is both challenged and stretched.
As of late with these projects this has been my reality. I have faced challenging communication with the people in Rwanda. I have people who I thought we fully invested in the project go from a place of excitement to a place of uncertainty. And I have had emails and messages on facebook I sent out to people, whom I know both love the Lord and are committed to His work, asking them to help with some of the financial burdens and fundraising go completely unanswered.
Why has the communication with those in Rwanda been tough? Is it because of lack of internet connection? Is it because they aren’t as committed as I thought they were? Why are those whom I thought were sold out to the idea of the project and 100% on board now having second thoughts? Do they lack the faith? Are they scared? Is the Lord simply leading them in another direction? And why are people not replying to my messages regarding funding this project? Do they think I am doing it for my own purposes or that I personally will see a penny of it? Do they just find it easier to ignore me now that I am out on the foreign field full-time? Or perhaps most cynical to wonder, is God’s hand still upon our projects at all? Honestly, I do not know the answers to any of these questions. But what I do know is that the depth and meaning of the little expression that, “we live by faith not by sight” is developing and growing in me. Even now as I type these words I can feel a sense of deeper trust in the Lord building in me giving me the courage to press on and continue onward. Onward into the places that one can venture into when one dares to walk by faith in way so many before me have dared to walk in.
So even though I am deeply challenged in this I am also thankful. Thankful that the Lord is bestowing on my the faith to continue forward and trust Him in faith for greater things. Why is that a blessing? Because without faith it is impossible to please the Lord.
These are just some of the ways in which the Lord has been growing me in this season of living life on the foreign mission field. I hope that it has given you some insights into what life is like for me as a missionary and also challenges you in some ways in your own faith.