Diary of a Missionary: What Missionaries Need to Know

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[originally posted online at the Australian Church Record]


If you had a captive audience of fourteen missionaries, what would you say to them? What if you had them for five months as fulltime, live-in students? As they set their faces to places beautiful and broken, what do they need to know?

As our five months of missionary training draw to a close, I’ve been thinking about what we’ve learnt. We’ve had classes on mission, culture and language. We’ve written plans for self-care, risk management and coping with change. But what is the thread that pulls all these things together?

For me, the thread is weakness. Let me show you what I mean.

Just this week, during a risk management class, I started feeling a bit nervous about the frequent earthquakes experienced in our location. Thinking about tectonic plates and writing a survival plan has a way of rocking your confidence! Others in my cohort came face to face with the realities of kidnapping, car-jacking and civil unrest.

We go into this weak.

In self-care class we were encouraged to maintain our spiritual, mental and physical health. Are we responding to difficulties with godliness or a sinful heart? How will we deal with loneliness when we’ve left our family and friends behind? We’ve had full physicals too: poked, prodded, measured and weighed. But how will my friend exercise outdoors when this is unsafe for women in her location? How can a missionary go for a jog when thick smog makes it hard to breath?

Life is going to be harder there. We’re under more pressure. Our frailty will be obvious.

The most vivid picture of weakness was painted during language class. As we learn language we become like babies, unable to speak or understand. We require new mothers and fathers to nurture and teach us. As we fumble through toddlerhood we are humble and needy. But with help, we hope to grow into adults who are able to know and be known. I’m slowly seeing that language learning isn’t a barrier to ministry, it is ministry. I’m at ease being the one with a cup of tea and the answers. But I’ll have to get used to receiving ministry too. I’ll be asking for help. I won’t have the answers. And I’m ok with that. I’m choosing weakness.

I have long held to the Bible’s teaching that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. However I’ve not often had to test this truth. I’ve become comfortable in positions of leadership and influence, helping others with their vulnerabilities and I thank God for those opportunities. But my time in missionary training has shown me that the decision to pursue cross-cultural mission is a decision to be weak.

Mission isn’t about me and my strengths. Mission strips us bare, exposing our frailties and inexperience. I’ve spent most of my life getting by on my strengths, all the while trying to avoid suffering. But now as we sit on the edge, wondering what our new life will be like, we know that it will be hard. We know that the kids will struggle, that we’ll feel awkward and foolish on a daily basis.

And I still fear weakness.  But now I’m able to embrace it, knowing that this is God’s work, not mine. And this weakness isn’t hopeless; it only proves God’s power as he works in and through flawed jars of clay. I can trust that God is greater than the challenges we face and able to bring about his kingdom. I don’t need to hide my failures or try to stay in a safe place. I can take a risk, knowing that he has a mighty arm.

So what do missionaries need to know? The same thing that everyone needs to know: the gospel. This is the good news of our Lord who was crucified in weakness, yet lives by God’s power (2 Corinthians 4:4). I really shouldn’t be surprised that this strength-in-weakness has been the meta-narrative of our training. I’m thankful that we’ve had this precious time to peer a little deeper into the gospel of grace and find our strength there.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

— Stef


Diary of a Missionary: Packing Up


I’m standing in my kitchen again, this time weighing up the pros and cons of having a nice tea set on the mission field.

They are beautiful and I like them, I’ll need cups so why not bring nice ones that remind me of home? Stef, you can get cups anywhere, are you really going to waste valuable boot space on ancient, mismatched porcelain? 

I didn’t realise how many decisions I’d have to make about what to keep and what to get rid of. I’ve got a mountain of cleaning to do and I’ve been standing here for way too long thinking about cups. I can’t decide, so I put them back in the cupboard for later.

When we were first accepted by our mission organisation as missionaries-in-training, the thought of cutting down our possessions until they’d fit in our car was a frightful one. I’d been op shopping since I was in high school and had quite a curious collection! I’d taken meticulous care of things I’d assumed that I’d have for life.

It took about six months to fit our lives into our Captiva. Family and friends bagsed* the dining table, baby toys and my extensive collection of lamps. I started to feel a bit more comfortable letting things go. By Christmas most of the big stuff was sorted, but it was all the little bits and pieces that consumed my thoughts. Which preschool drawings to keep, which to recycle? Would I throw out the (now 9 year old) wedding cards or store them? How many picture frames is it healthy to own? Do missionaries take nice tea sets?

The last week in our Sydney home was exhausting. Where I had previously spent too long considering which possessions to keep, now I was disposing of things with barely a thought. Our final day was a Saturday and I honestly don’t know how we got out of there. Things that had last week seemed precious or useful enough to keep were now carelessly tossed into the Vinnies pile, because the car was bursting. But as we slowly pulled out of the driveway I felt a sense of relief. The mammoth job was finally done! But on a deeper level I felt lighter having less stuff to worry about.

God has taught me a lot over the last few months. I’ve realised that when your beloved possessions are in front of you, they hold great power and are very hard to part with. However the second they are gone, they are forgotten. I got rid of a whole house of stuff and I honestly couldn’t tell you what half of it was, even though six months ago I thought it was vital.

God has also reminded me that the value of a Shire girl does not consist in the abundance of her household items. I’ve always known that possessions don’t matter, but now I’ve had to put my money where my mouth is. At times it was hard, but it slowly got easier as cushions and ornaments loosened their grip on me. I ended up giving the tea set to a friend and it’s actually ok. And do I miss the rooms of stuff I used to own? No.

Interestingly one of the most common questions we were asked was, “What are you doing with all your stuff?” Some people seemed more concerned about where our furniture was going than were in the world we were going! I know that it was asked in all love and sincerity and I wasn’t annoyed with the question. I guess it just made me realise that for many of us, our identity is tightly bound up with what we have.

I’m thankful to God that I have been blessed with an abundance of everything I need and even most of what I want. I struggled to cut down my possessions to fit them in the boot of an SUV. How many more people are there in the world who could barely fill a box with their entire livelihood? I am thankful that God has shown me my excess, but I know that my greedy heart has a long way to go. Please pray with me that God would expose the idolatry of greed and consumption, both in my life and yours.

I look forward to sharing more of our missionary journey with you in the coming months!

— Stef

* bagsed may not be a real word.

NOTE: This post was also originally posted at Australian Church Record – you can see it here – http://www.australianchurchrecord.net/diary-of-a-missionary-packing-up/