by Missionary Benjamin Johnson
I know you are excited about getting to the field. It is what drives you forward and keeps you going. You look forward to the next step, the new beginning, the new challenge.
It’s been one year since we have landed on the field. Much has happened in that one year that has caused us to grow and learn in various ways and I would like to tell you some of the things that I have learned since they are so fresh in my mind.
Every Field Has Its Thing
Let’s be honest, missionaries are people and being people, we compare. We compare families, ministry, work effort, abilities and in the case of us missionaries: mission fields. We all try to one-up one another. This field is harder.
This field is more open. This field has more opportunity.
One area it seems that missionaries on the field seem to dwell in is the difficulty of the field they live in. Again, one-ups-manship is key here. “On our field, we cannot….” fill in the blank: get certain items, allow our children to go here, be out after dark, etc.
The fact is that every mission field has its thing: it’s one thing that makes it difficult for the missionary to live. For some, it is the prevailing religion; for some, it is the living conditions; for others, it is the culture; for others, it is the hardness of the people.
Comparing mission fields is a quick way to get discouraged or to feel superior. The fact remains is that it is important to fight your thoughts. Realize that no matter how hard it is, there is always harder and there is always good to look for in your field no matter what it is,
Every Person Has Their Problem
Not only do fields have their things, but people have their problems. And just like fields have differences, people have their differences too. One person will struggle with leaving their children in the care of another. For others, it will be the difficulty of the language. For different people, it will be the weather or perhaps missing their family.
Your problems and faults will be exposed on the field. As a missionary to China long ago said, “The scum rises to the top on the mission field.” This scum needs to be dealt with and put away. The first year on the field is an excellent opportunity for God to work in your heart and life to better mold you into who He wants you to be.
You Will Be Attacked
This goes hand in hand with the last point: you will be attacked by Satan. Just as everyone has their struggle, Satan will use whatever is your weak point and focus on that.
The pressure will come. Sometimes it will seem unrelenting – it will be one thing after another. You can’t catch a break. You will doubt God’s goodness. You will doubt you should be on the field. You will even think that God has it out for you.
There were many pressures and problems we have faced in our first year, but one of the biggest and seemingly most impactful was one at the end of August and beginning of September. We had a wonderful summer break that allowed us to get some more practice in Chinese and even my parents came for a visit.
The first Sunday in the month we received the phone about Crystal’s mother. Crystal and Evie flew back and upon their return to China, Evie had pneumonia and had several asthma attacks. We essentially missed our first week of university classes due to doctor’s visits.
There will be times when everything within you wants to pack up and go. It will not seem worth it anymore. You will feel like you walk around with a giant target on your back, and you will just want it off. But do not give up. God is big enough and although the attacks are hard at times and unrelenting, you can grow and God can use it for His glory and your good.
Deputation is your boot camp
Some, mostly missionaries currently on deputation, lament having to spend so long on deputation. I will not go as far as to say that deputation was an easy and wonderful road because it was difficult at times. Living as a nomad for years, the seemingly endless miles, the horror stories and so much more.
But deputation is an excellent time to prepare your heart and mind for the field. While driving, I listened to many books that I still think on as I am here on the field. The way I believe deputation is best compared is to boot camp. Boot camp isn’t easy. It has its struggles and difficulties, but it isn’t the active war zone that is the mission field.
Deputation is a great time to become better prepared for the field. It can shape you and mold you to be ready for what lies ahead. God can use deputation as a boot camp and form you into a battle ready soldier.
You will be attacked and/or tried in ways you did not expect
Be prepared to not be prepared for what’s ahead. When we landed, I knew culture shock would happen. I knew the language was a difficult one. But there were different ways that I didn’t expect to have problems. One of the most notable is the culture shock my daughter experienced. She was old enough to understand the change, but not old enough to necessarily process the change.
When preparing to face the unexpected, look to God for wisdom and patience.
Some things just take time for adjustment and that adjustment can be many, many months. Love God and love your family during these times. Learn to endure, pray and trust God and His plan. He is at work.
Don’t find balance, make boundaries
One article I read shortly after arriving on the field helped me a lot pointed out how everyone looks for balance but what is needed is boundaries. Boundaries about spending time as a family. Boundaries about spending time with your spouse. Boundaries about needing the necessary time to set up your home.
The problem with balance is that it is abstract. Boundaries are clear. This day is our family day. This time is our setup time. This time is for (fill in the blank). No, it can’t be super inflexible, but it will need to be guarded. It may not make you popular with others, but if you can make sure to keep your family, you will keep your ministry. Don’t keep your family, you definitely won’t keep your ministry.
Don’t forget the first goal: the language
You have spent years telling people how you want to spread the gospel and start churches. It is deep in our bones that we want to preach the word, but don’t let that passion get you off track from learning how to effectively communicate in another language. The primary goal of the first term is to learn the language.
You will be pulled to do ministry in English in many places in this world. But the most important thing you can do is learn the heart language of the people. Go as far in ministry as your language allows. Push yourself to do ministry, but in the language of the people you are reaching.
I really don’t think I can stress this enough, but have fun. Fun does not mean not hard, but you can enjoy it even when it is hard. Travel when you get a chance. Find things that your family enjoys to do together as a family. Your first year on the field does not have to be drudgery. We have truly enjoyed the first year. It has not been problem-free, but it has been fun.
Enjoy life. Serving God is not a burden, it is fun! We have the privilege of doing one of the most incredible jobs that has ever existed. Don’t take that for granted. God has allowed you to go to another country, learn another language to tell others about how much He loves them. If you can’t enjoy life and have fun in that, then perhaps you need to find a new career.