I’ve been a missionary, a foreigner if you will, for almost all of my adult life. I came to Africa when I was in my early 20s and have been here for 34 years. (Oops, did I just give away my age?) It’s safe to say that I’m in this thing for the long haul. When I think about what else I could be doing with my life, I’m stumped. Where else I could possibly go or what else I could possibly do besides missions work? Where else would I, the misfit, fit?
By no means has life here been a cakewalk, we’ve had our challenges just like everyone else all over the world. There’s no escaping the ups and downs of life. Running away when things get tough won’t ensure easier passage to the next stage. Running away might throw you from the frying pan into the fire.
What causes us to run? To give up? To look for greener pastures? Wasn’t what we’re struggling with today a dream we had once upon a time?
The children we hoped and prayed for fall off the rails.
The dream job no longer holds the promise we thought it had.
The brand-new house holds, instead of joyful moments, stress-filled evenings of budgeting, painstaking work and brainstorming of ways to pay all of the bills.
Or, in our case, the mission you dreamed of puts you in intractable situations day in and day out – making you wonder how you will ever make a difference.
No One Cares, Why Should We?
Disappointment, dejection and misunderstanding can lay such heavy burdens on our shoulders that we can be tempted to throw away the dream to escape the load. We didn’t get out of “it” what we put in, and that stings. No one notices, no one seems to care, so why should we?
Perhaps the mistake we’ve often made isn’t found in what we are doing, but in our motivations. If we work with the thought that we “deserve” to be treated in a certain way or “should” be recognized for all of our efforts, we are sure to be disappointed. In this world’s system it’s expected for one to be rewarded in the here and now. When someone retires from a long-term job, for example, a pension is offered, parties are thrown and there’s usually some kind of gift presented to the retiree.
What happens, however, when that company holding their life insurance goes under or they lose other benefits? (I recently read an article about this happening in the news.) The disappointment that comes in a moment like that could be overwhelming. What about all the years of service, were they for nothing?
In God’s Kingdom, our mindset needs to change from that that we see in the world. People outside of the Kingdom work for the here and now. We of the Kingdom work for what we will find waiting for us in eternity. Understanding why we work helps us keep a firm grip on our reality. We know that this world is not our home and the recognition for what we do won’t necessarily come in this life.
I’m a foreigner here in Burundi where I live and serve. I have loved this country for decades. There is an unexplainable draw that this land has on me. My “foreign-ness” is on open display daily. Obviously, I wasn’t born in Burundi and it’s commonplace for me to be called, “Mnyamuhanga” (foreigner) many times during the day while I am out. While I don’t feel like a foreigner, I know that to the people who don’t know me, I am.
No Emotional Reinforcement
The term mnyamuhanga, foreigner, is often used in a derogatory way that could, if I allowed it, discourage me. I certainly don’t get much emotional reinforcement in being a foreigner here. Yet, I do well to remember that I’m not in this country for emotional reinforcement. I’m here because of a calling that I can’t explain, because of a love that I can’t fathom and because of a message that has changed me forever. My motivation for being here doesn’t have to do with how I feel, it has to do with eternity. I know Someone Who has changed me and Whose love for me supersedes everything else that matters in life. It’s now my turn to serve the world around me with that same unchanging love, even if to them I’m mnyamuhanga.
The emptiness we feel from day-to-day when we’re not recognized for what we do fades when we see Jesus represented in those around us. It’s for their joy that I work, for their joy that I serve, and when the time comes for this earthly to be changed into heavenly, I’ll have my reward.
2 Corinthians 1:24 NASB “…(we) are workers with you for your joy.”