Guest article by Mike Pettengill
Most missionaries are struggling. They battle emotional, physical and spiritual battles while on the field. Due to the fact they want to appear like a missionary worthy of support, they typically hide their pain and keep their suffering private.
Certainly, supporting churches, friends, family and missions agencies should be caring for the missionaries they have pledged to support. A missionary’s support network can greatly influence the struggles the missionary is experiencing. But to all my missionary co-laborers out there, you have the greatest impact on your own wellbeing. Missionary, you must care for yourself.
Too many believers do not realize our physical body is important to God. Sometimes we are so focused on the spiritual realm, we do not acknowledge that God values our earthly bodies and wants us to care for them (1 Cor 3:16-17, 6:19-20; Eph 5:29). There is a well known connection between a healthy body and a positive attitude.
Good diet, regular exercise and sufficient rest are important in ensuring we can serve at peak performance. Keeping ourselves healthy improves the odds we can give increased performance for God’s glory. Stay healthy, not for vanity, but so you can better serve in God’s name. Catherine Booth said, “I know not what He is about to do with me, but I have given myself entirely into His hands.” Don’t neglect time off and adequate preventative care. Proper care for your body improves longevity and improves the chances you will be able to serve longer on the mission field.
Missionaries experience spiritual battles and persecution at an elevated rate. Maintaining your faith and your walk with Christ is important. It is challenging for any believer who has a crisis of faith. When a missionary is overcome with spiritual doubt and questions his own faith, it can mark the end of his ministry. As a missionary, you must guard against spiritual dryness and dedicate yourself to frequent spiritual nourishment.
On the mission field there are fewer options when it comes to feeding your soul. Fewer conferences, guest speakers, DVDs or books are available outside the States. Missionaries need to daily place themselves in the study of God’s Word. With few resources at their disposal, a missionary will need to get creative to feed himself spiritually. Never neglect the reading of your Bible. In addition there are a bevy of electronic resources available via the internet. Use electronic books, simulcast conferences, internet study groups, theological blogs, podcast sermons, distance learning theology classes, prayer boards and more.
It is radically offensive to our selfish, me-centered culture to promote the idea that we need Jesus to save us and reconcile us to God. It is however true and magnified on the mission field. We must die to our cultural traditions and biases in our faith and learn to adapt our spiritual lives to the conditions we find ourselves. Giving our lives to God’s service doesn’t mean abandoning study and enrichment, it amplifies the need to lean on Christ. C.S. Lewis said, “Until you have given up yourself to Him, you will not have a real self.”
If you, as a missionary, are immersing yourself in poverty, spiritual warfare, heavy workloads, high crime, suffering, or cultural challenges, it will take a toll on you. This constant barrage can truly do a number on your heart and mind. Emotional fatigue can impact your ministry longevity, spiritual life, physical health and family life. We must first die to what we consider “normal” and embrace the grace and mercy of Christ in order survive the emotional weariness. A.W. Pink said, “The first step toward a daily following of Christ is the denying of self.” Get up, shake off your fears, self-doubts, embarrassment, and lack of confidence and do what God has sent you to this planet to do.
Don’t be afraid to share your fears and concerns with others. Perceived weakness is not a statement against you, it is a statement about our need for Christ. When you are struggling don’t hesitate to pray, seek help, cry and lean deeper into God. It is imperative to always remember the blood of Christ is the answer to your pain.
It is more common for a missionary to struggle on the field than to not struggle. It is preferential to receive care from others for your physical, spiritual and emotional struggles. Don’t hesitate to ask your teammates, supporters and family to help you process and recover. But, dear missionary friends, you must first learn to make caring for yourself a priority.
Giving yourself over completely to God’s will and following him into uncertainty is the mark of absolute dedication to his glory. A heart that avails itself to God’s will is open to serve the Lord in whichever way he calls and is enthusiastic about sharing the gospel. Scripture confirms that pain and suffering is a frequent part of being a disciple of Christ. Lean into God’s grace and mercy and know that even your suffering is for his glory.