Mirages on the Mission Field

I truly believe that people give themselves to trust in whatever they believe will give them life. In a previous post, I discussed inordinate loves and the missionary. If our loves are misdirected then we misplace our hope. On the mission field, there are many mirages, or illusions that promise life but end up leaving us spiritually bankrupt.

Three mirages that promise life on the mission field:

The Mirage of Self-dependence

Spiritual warfare is real and pride is a favorite target for the enemy. The missionary needs to be aware and prepared for spiritual warfare in all of its forms, even that of self-dependence. Dependence upon self is one of the most seductive temptations for the missionary. You expend time and energy on language, relationships, and ministry. It is easy to begin relying on natural giftings, abilities, and past experience. The line between self-dependence and God-ward trust is a line marked by pitfalls. In that moment of self- dependence, you are declaring that you know better than the Creator of the universe. You lean on your own strength, eclipsing the strength of the Omnipotent one. In the end, all you have to offer is YOU.

The Mirage of the Familiar

Over the years, I have noticed a growing umbilical cord between missionaries and their lives back home. There is an over-infatuation with the American lifestyle in general, and the American variety of evangelicalism in particular. I counsel field-bound missionaries to cultivate a season of disconnect when they arrive on the field. If there is no mental or emotional disconnection from life back home, then the missionary’s identity becomes one of want and dissatisfaction, which isolates you from the people and place where you are serving. When in unfamiliar places among unfamiliar people, our natural default is to what is familiar. Comfort should not be in products or people thousands of miles away, but find those resources among your people and in your team. Wherever you are, be all there. If a missionary does not make that transition, when things get tough, it will be easier to go home. Once a missionary disconnects and isolates, picturing oneself back home where “everything is better” is a tempting fantasy. Often the process of leaving begins in the mind, then physical relocation follows soon after. The mirage of the familiar comes in many forms, but no matter the form, it boils down to a lack of trust. A lack of trust in God as Sustainer.

The Mirage of Relaxation

Missionaries often allow relaxation to rob them of true restoration of soul. It’s easy to sleep, binge-watch, or go to your favorite restaurant. These are not bad things, but they are poor substitutes for letting the Good Shepherd lead you beside quiet waters and make you lie down in green pastures. When spiritual fruit is little to non-existent, this can lead to phantom guilt. Ministry comparison to those around you or more seasoned missionaries, will always set you up for failure. You will always fall short of those expectations. Living in a different context can sap your vitality and vision for ministry, particularly if your are not a self-motivated type of person. When faced with phantom guilt or lack of motivation, it is easier to disconnect, retreat, and relax. Left unattended, patterns of relaxation morph into deeper heart issues like idleness, fear, and a lack of trust. The temptation in these moments is to drink from the mirage of relaxation and hoping to find life, but you instead find yourself more thirsty. Mirages leave you empty.

In the end, as Christians, we are called to take the gospel to EVERY tribe, tongue, and nation. A high and difficult calling for sure. For the missionary, this high calling engages them at every level of their being–task and accomplishment, their motivations, and their loves. When your loves are challenged or conflicted, do not settle for the lifeless mirages of self-dependence, the familiar, or relaxation. Remember that you do not travel this road alone, you have access to the One who gives life and gives it to the full (John 10:10).

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