Misperceptions on Missionaries, Part 2

REPOST(TOP 10 POST OF YEAR) #7

Last week I posted ten misperceptions about missionaries. If you didn’t read that post, I encourage you to go there now.  Here are ten more misperceptions:

“We’re never afraid.”

Missionaries are faithful people, but fear can be a reality. Depending on where they serve, they may face public opposition, violence, threats, natural disasters, and strange illnesses. Some live continually ready to flee their area if necessary.

“We don’t need support from our home churches.”

Many missionaries look forward to encouragement, support, relationships, and visits from the churches that sent them. They recognize it when churches seem to have forgotten them.

“Saying ‘good-bye’ gets easier over the years.”

The good-byes for missionaries are numerous and seemingly continual: to family and friends the first time they leave home, and then each time they return to the field after a furlough; to friends on the field each time they return to the United States; to graduating children who go to college; to colleagues who leave the field; to aging parents, likely for the final time. It never gets easier.

“When we come back to the United States, we’re the same people who left.”

Returning missionaries may look the same, but they’re different. Their experiences on the field change them. Temporary stuff that used to matter doesn’t matter so much any more. Big church buildings no longer impress them. Church conflicts seem foolish now. People matter.

“We stay on the field because we love our people group.”

They do love their people group, but that’s not the primary reason they stay. They stay because God loves their people group, and they’re just the vessels through whom God gets His message to them.

“We can’t wait to speak energetically to your church when we return to the U.S.”

They really do want to tell you what God is doing through their work, but they’re usually returning after several years of hard work with few breaks. They’re tired. They’re facing their own culture shock. Some are also not naturally gifted to speak to large crowds.

“We don’t have time to hear your prayer concerns.”

Sure, missionaries want us praying for them . . . but they equally want to pray for us. Some of my missionary friends are the best intercessors I know.

“We trust God, so we’re never lonely.”

They’re never alone because the Spirit lives within them, but missionaries can still be lonely. Some serve in isolated places with no other believers within days of them. They long for their families, especially when they miss weddings and funerals; in fact, they’re often as close to their own families as others who’ve said to them, “I could never do what you do because I’m so close to my family.”

“We don’t know it if you don’t read our newsletters.”

Many missionaries work hard to send well-crafted, concise accounts of God’s workings and their prayer concerns. Because of technological resources available today, they can know how many people actually open their newsletters and read them. Don’t discourage them by ignoring their news.

“Our greatest conflicts come with nationals.”

Actually, the greatest struggles often come with teammates. Interpersonal conflicts are typically magnified in a cross-cultural setting.

I’m sure I have my own misperceptions about missionaries, but I don’t think I’m wrong about this conclusion: they are godly people who serve faithfully around the world. Let’s learn about them, listen to them, pray for them, and walk beside them.

And maybe even become one of them.

Chuck Lawless Contributor
Dean of Graduate Studies , SEBTS

Chuck Lawless is Dean and Vice-President of Graduate Studies and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions. In addition, he is Global Theological Education Consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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