when you feel like a bad missionary

When You Feel Like a Bad Missionary

What do I do if I feel like a bad missionary?

When I first read this question in my inbox, it felt deeply familiar. And then, it broke my heart. Because I know how isolating this feeling can be, and how much that feeling can effect the good God has for us to do in our communities. 

I know not all of us would consider ourselves missionaries (we’ve had that debate over on IG and I’m not super interested in rehashing it here, ha!) but for the sake of this conversation, I’m going to use missionary, because that’s how it was originally phrased to me. You go ahead and fill in the blank for however you would title your cross-cultural role. Humanitarian worker? Missionary? Expat? International nomad? Kingdom worker?

Whatever label you’ve chosen here; What do you do, if you feel like you’re a bad one?

Because, if we’re being honest, I’m sure we’ve all felt like this in some season. Maybe you feel this now, too.

If this is you, or has ever been you, I want you to close your eyes for a minute and picture yourself in a cozy little cafe, curled up in your favorite sweater, drinking your favorite hot beverage, sitting across from me. I see your heart, and I hear how much you are hurting. I ache for you as you share the guilt and embarrassment you feel, or the questions you have in your heart. 

Sweet friend. Right from the top, I want you to know this: you are a cherished child of the King. You have a beautiful role to play, and He who called you to that role is able to equip you for his good works. He loves you with a love that makes all of your doubts and shortcomings invisible to him. To him, you are perfect for this role, because he is your strength and your hope when you reach the end of yourself.

If it’s okay, I’d like to ask you a few questions. I’ll be gentle, but I think these are important. Throughout our chat, please hear the grace and love I have for you, and that your Father is singing over you right now. Are you ready?

Here’s my first question. Who is writing the definition of “good or bad missionary”? Are there concrete benchmarks or parameters you aren’t meeting? Are there people around you that you trust that have legitimate concerns that they have communicated to you? Is your leadership or accountability encouraging you to make changes, or expressing reservations about certain things? Are you acting in ways that are detrimental to your ministry or the Kingdom? 

Or, is this feeling more subjective? Is it based on an uninformed or naive picture of what you assumed your life would look like before you moved abroad? Is it based on what you think your supporters or team thinks of your lifestyle and decisions? Are there specific things you can point to where you are missing the mark, or is it just a general feeling?

Another way to think about this question: is my feeling that I am a bad missionary based in reality, or is it mostly in my head? Is it internal or external?

Now, sometimes this can be tricky. Often, we end up having a reckoning between our own expectations (and what we perceive to be others’ expectations of us) about our lives, and the reality of what they look like, or what is needed for us to be healthy. This could look like a number of things:

A nicer house or car

More vacations or rest breaks

More household staff

A bigger food budget

Writing less newsletters

Adding counseling into your budget

Taking longer in language training

Ministry going slower than planned

Taking longer to make local friends

More or fewer trips back to passport country than planned

These are just some examples of places where you may need to have your life look different than your planned “perfect overseas life” in order for you or your family to thrive. Does this make you a bad missionary? It doesn’t. In fact, I would argue that being willing to sacrifice your ideal and be flexible in order to maintain health on the field makes you a good one.  But I won’t gloss over the guilt you may need to wade through as you make these transitions. It can be heavy. Lean on your people to speak truth over you. Your health = the health of your ministry. Full stop.

Another related question: are the things that make you feel this way based in scripture or doctrine? I don’t want to discount the reality that it’s possible there are things that actually do need to be changed in our lives in order to make us better cross-cultural workers. Maybe this feeling is a spiritual attack on your work, but also, maybe its well-placed guilt about something genuine? This is between you and God, and I am praying for you as you sort through your feelings and consider how He feels about your life overseas. Bring your heart to Him, dig into Scripture and Worship. 

Finally, can you let this feeling keep you accountable or create change? Regardless of if you’ve decided this is legitimate or in your head, chances are there are places you can peacefully challenge yourself to “do better” along the way. 

Maybe your feelings are rooted in a poor understanding of your country’s history, or your lack of conversation around racial rights. Take some steps towards change and growth in that area! 

Maybe you feel guilt about your lack of strong cross-cultural friendships. Start small- pick one person to really invest in- and make a first step.

Maybe you feel like you should be writing more newsletters to your support team. Figure out a way to schedule this into your life and make it as painless as possible. Build in a reward if you have to! 

Friends, as always, I pray that you hear nothing but love and grace from me to you today. I know these feelings of inadequacy and missing the mark well, and I pray that as you sort through your own heart, that the Lord would give you clarity and peace. And I am praying that you are released from any burden or heaviness surrounding your ministry that doesn’t come from the heart of God. I am praying against the attacks of the enemy that seek to destroy the beautiful things Christ is working through you. May you be surrounded by the peace of Christ as you seek to build his kingdom.

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