We’ve been on our mission field thirty-two years this month. We came a little starry-eyed, sincerely wanting to help, learn the language quickly and perfectly, and start a new church. We were so excited! Two years of deputation behind us, and we were ready to dig in and do the work.
How naïve we were!
You know the old cliché, “hind sight makes wise men of us all.” After more than thirty years, what have we learned? Any wisdom? I’m not sure if I’d boast to be wise, but we have learned a few things. Let me share some of our not-so-starry-eyed lessons and observations.
- You can help other missionaries by just being there and being willing to work hard. My husband was fitting wood together, drilling an infinite number of holes (by hand), and helping with construction in the church before he could say two words. He was singing in a men’s quartet before he had any idea what the words meant. I jumped in and kept the nursery—our daughter and one other little girl—since I couldn’t understand the message anyway, freeing her mother up to hear the sermon every week.
- A foreign language isn’t easy to learn in your twenties—unless you have a special gift, which we didn’t. And, what’s even more disconcerting is that you will always have a foreign accent . . . and you’ll never speak it perfectly. My husband and I spent two years in language school and with tutors. We are still learning Spanish after all this time. It’s great to be a child, though. Our first child has always spoken with no accent at all. Spanish was her first language. Oh yes, we’re fluent, and we can talk about almost any subject with ease, but our dream of perfection . . . . Spaniards tell us that Spanish is the language in heaven. We live in hope!
- Mission work doesn’t always happen the way you plan it. We came to help our co-workers start a church. It was ten years before that happened, due to circumstances completely beyond our control. God has His own timing, and often it’s not exactly the way we envision.
- "What God orders, He pays for." From our beginnings on deputation, many moves on the field, children’s clothing, food, to the needs of materials for building the new church, God has always provided everything we need. Most of the time, the finances came when they were needed—not beforehand and not late. Praise Him!
- You won’t please everyone. If you sit down, they’ll say you’re lazy. If you stand up, they’ll say you need to rest. It doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be critics. In missions, it’s the same way. You will never please everyone, and you can’t expect to. It’s vital that we please the Lord and that we try as much as we can to live in peace with everyone.
- It’s important to be a Bible student. Missions means you’re witnessing to people. It means you’re discipling young Christians and helping them grow in the Lord. It means you do one-on-one counseling and Bible studies. You have to know your Bible! What does the Bible actually say? You must know! You need it yourself and so that you can teach others.
- Missionaries need the prayers of God’s people. No missionary will tell you his deepest problems on the mission field, but God knows. When our pastors and friends back home are praying for us, we’re encouraged. God answers your prayers! God knows our needs. Also, God is always working on our field. He speaks to hearts and prepares them for a gospel tract or a word of witness. Some of the ways He softens hearts are really amazing! Keep praying for your missionaries and for the people on their fields!
- Missionary work—anywhere in the world—is probably ninety percent plodding, hard work. It involves doing whatever needs to be done. On different fields you have different scenarios, of course. Missionary work includes cleaning the church, cutting the lawn, making sure banking is done correctly, and week after week doing evangelism, counseling, hospital visits, and phone calls. It’s praying and trying to be consistent in our own Christian lives. It’s looking for open-door opportunities to share Christ. It’s being a good neighbor and making non-Christian friends. It’s living a Christian life in a different place.
- There are stages in everyone’s missionary career. For us, the first ten years were learning years—the language, culture, and how to do things in an established church. The next ten years were starting the new church and trying to be a practical help to our co-workers. The last ten years have been mostly counseling, teaching, and evangelization. Some stages have been more exciting and encouraging, and some years have frankly been very difficult and discouraging. But, through good and not-so-good, God has always been there.
- The longer we’re here, the more obvious it is that Europe needs Christ. The sad thing is, Europeans in general are not interested in God. But it never ceases to amaze us how people come to the Lord. Two of our men came through gospel tracts. One of our women was desperate for spiritual help after her brother was killed in a car accident. You never know what catalyst God will use to open someone’s heart. It’s our job to be faithful in spreading His Word.
Thirty-two years later, we can only praise Him.
I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart;
I will shew forth all thy marvellous works (Psalm 9:1).