Reading Between The Lines: 7 Things Missionaries Aren’t Telling You

When I first approached my parents about guest-writing their prayer letter, I was grateful they (albeit tentatively!) agreed. It’s been 5 years since I’ve been to the Philippines. Now that I’m married and not involved in their work, it’s easy to forget what life was like on the mission field. That’s why I’m writing this: it’s for me as much as for you, to remind us both to read between the lines. Maybe you’ve kept up with their prayer letters and wondered what a missionary’s life is really like. Perhaps you hesitate asking missionaries questions about their personal life for fear of prying. As the daughter of a missionary and now the wife of a youth pastor, I can tell you some of my family’s struggles are unique but most of them are not. So here are 7 things missionaries aren’t telling you.
1. They love what they do, even though it’s hard. This is one of the biggest reasons missionaries don’t share more. I’ve seen my parents work to the point of exhaustion and shed tears of frustration, but none of it is for your sympathy or praise or even a pat on the back from the mission. Eric Liddell said, “I believe God made me for a purpose. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Missionaries do what they do because it’s their passion and calling. As my dad always says, “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”
2. It’s not easy to go deep. If you’ve ever moved, you know how difficult it is to connect deeply or establish close friendships with others. It’s simple to host a Super Bowl party or spend a weekend at the lake if you have an established group of friends. Due to extensive moving and traveling, however, missionaries don’t have that. Their work and personal networks are not only broad but one-and-the same. That is why it can be challenging for them to develop relationships beyond a certain level.
3. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. It’s a 24/7 calling. A missionary can’t come home at the end of the day, drop his briefcase, and leave work behind. My parents’ office is their home, and sometimes they get the most done during the distraction-free “after-dinner shift.” Doing ministry is like carrying a heavy backpack around all the time. Even when you zip it shut, the weight is still there.
4. Guilt-free family time is a luxury. 
You hardly hear about where the Weavers go or what they do to relax, do you? Because going to the beach or seeing a concert hardly sounds like “mission work.” Just like you, missionaries need some free time (but rarely take it) in order to have the energy to work.
5. Writing doesn’t always come easy. I cannot tell you how many prayer letters my parents have thrown out! (I remember using old drafts as drawing paper when I was a little girl.) You read their final product and many of you have commented over the years how creative their themed letters are. But those are hard to write and take a lot of time and effort.
6. Words of encouragement go a long way. Have you ever received a raise? Or perhaps you’ve had a co-worker compliment you when you were having a bad day? These experiences can seem more foreign to the missionary than their mission field! That’s why relational support like thoughtful emails, small packages, and coffee dates can mean just as much as your financial support.
7. They depend on youWhat would your life be like if you lived on 50% of your income? My parents and many other missionaries do just that, but do not like mentioning it. “Why?” you may ask. Well, if you got a pay-cut you probably wouldn’t broadcast it in the family Christmas card. It’s personal stuff! Besides, even if it’s true, telling already-generous supporters you need more just feels ungrateful. Fortunately, in addition to “Pray, Give, Go” there’s also “Share.” Missionaries love it when you tell others God is at work, because when you do, you’re reaching people they could never reach without you! You may not be able to give more, but you can inspire more to give by sharing their ministry with a friend, inviting them to speak in your Sunday school class, or sharing their updates on social media. It might not feel like you’re doing much, but trust me, keeping the supporter family grapevine alive and well truly matters!

for prayer letter-psaClosing thoughts: Like you, my parents desire to faithfully serve the Lord and make the most of others’ investment by stewarding time and resources well. While that can be difficult at times, God’s grace is always sufficient. Thanks for sticking with them, for supporting them and their ministry. As you can see, they have a blog now! They’ll be posting prayer requests, poems, and recipes soon, so if you’re not already on the email list, click “follow” to subscribe to updates.

Blessings, Rebekah Barnett

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