Friend of Missionaries

by Angie Washington on November 15, 2012

Alternate title: “Missionaries are like Manure”


Musicians love music. They make their own music but they revel in the music others make, too.

Artists love art. They create their own pieces but they thrive on experiencing the creations of others.

Technicians love techie stuff. A game designer plays hundreds of hours of games on a plethora of gaming systems.

Following this reasoning we could conclude that missionaries love missions.


When we were in missions school one of the teachers told us that the top three reasons missionaries leave the field are: money matters, sickness, and relationship problems. He went on to expound on the difficulties missionaries tend to have getting along with others. The famous quote we took away from that class made me laugh.

“Missionaries are like manure. Spread them out and they do some good. In a group they are just a stinky pile of… crap.”

I didn’t believe it. Until I saw it with my own eyes. Missionaries fighting against missionaries. Mission organizations undermining other mission organizations. The saddest? People who had given up everything they once knew to help the people of a foreign land, leaving earlier than planned because they couldn’t get along with their team.

I closed myself off from relationships with other missionaries. I could count on one hand the number of other missionaries I allowed myself and my kids to have contact with. It was fabulous for language learning. I connected really well with the Bolivians. I think God was cool with it for a while, for about five years, in fact.

Then I felt urged to consider the possibility of opening myself to relationships with other missionaries. Upon reflection I saw my reasons for not making friends with missionaries tainted by an ugly shade of pride. My miss-goodie-two-shoes mindset kept me away from problematic relationships, but it also validated my sin of pride. I was so proud of myself for not getting trapped in a pile of manure that I began to judge those who worked on mission teams. I criticized the workers bound to the conditions imposed upon them by their overseers. I puffed up our independence.

Knowledge puffs up but love edifies. I have to love other missionaries, too? Yes.

Bit by bit I began making friends with other missionaries. I quit ducking away from the foreigners at the market. I stopped crossing the street if I spotted another pair of blue eyes.

This stirring started about six years ago. Guess, what? I am still on the mission field.

I am so glad that God’s gracious treatment of resentment removal has been fun. It’s been so good to get to know other workers. Our family has benefited. Our mission has benefited. I am most grateful for the personal benefits I have undeservedly gained from friendships with other missionaries.


What’s your experience with relationships with other missionaries or foreign workers? Are you guarded or welcoming with other ex-pats? As passionate, dedicated, people of mission how can we build healthy relationships with others? Are missionaries like manure?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: twitter: @atangie

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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
  • Funny, I think there is definite competitiveness among missionaries. I went to particular church for two years (when I was studying the language), and the pastor specifically didn’t want anyone show casing their ministries during church. He said it was time to set aside differences and just worship God. Then one day some folks said they wanted to spend church doing slide shows because, “no one at church knew what their ministry was about.” I understand what the people were saying, but I could see that the competitive aspect of it.

    • Yes, I think as missionaries with such adversities to confront, we develop a competitive nature. What a unique strategy for helping people to put aside their differences your pastor had. Thanks for joining the conversation, Lana. Also, thanks for adding your blog link to the directory page.

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  • I felt like it was really hard to connect with others on the field. It was like you would get close to someone and then they would be gone for 5 months on furlough. I think the transient nature makes things difficult.

    On the other hand, I do think that the slower pace of life gives more opportunity to build community. It just takes people being really intentional and proactive about it.

  • Oh, and my favorite line was:

    Knowledge puffs up but love edifies. I have to love other missionaries, too? Yes.

    A good reminder that we don’t get off the hook to be intentionally loving towards the other expats. Even the ones from “that” organization.

    • Sweet Laura

      I am glad your favorite line was the one that started with the bit from from the Bible. God is a pretty reliable source. 🙂

      In your first comment you mention the hardship of getting close to someone and then they go for a 5 month furlough. So true. It might have been on your blog or of someone else that a commenter addressed that issue too. They said, “Why not make friends with the nationals because they are not going anywhere?” I read that and I agree with it to some extent. Although (and this might be for another post) friendships with the people we minister to take on a very different dynamic than ones we have with co-laborers. Yes, Jesus called his disciples friends. I wonder if He called those of the multitude friends too. Ponder fodder indeed.

      Love ya!

    • That was my favorite line, too!

      And sometimes, the hardest ones to remember to intentionally love are the ones from my organization… and some days, the ones living in my own house!

  • AlyssaMM

    Interesting article. As the daughter of a pastor as well as someone in the process of moving my family to the mission field, this strikes a chord with me. I have seen competition between pastors bring down churches and separate families. I have made a goal of NOT doing this in my personal life- with other mothers especially. We as people have competitive natures, don’t we? This article reminds me of two important truths. First, how we as Christians treat each other is just as important as how we treat those to whom God has called us to minister. Second, if we truly had God’s perspective on the work other missionaries and pastors are doing, we would not trample on HIS work so freely. He doesn’t see us as being in competition with each other. To Him, we are all pieces in the same plan, all loved and appreciated by Him. Good things for me to keep at the forefront as we make our own transition to the mission field. Thanks for the food for thought.

    • Hi Alyssa

      You have a unique ‘insiders’ perspective as the daughter of a pastor. I am sure that will afford you many advantages as you prepare to relocate your life. You are completely correct. A logical analysis of the situation will help you to arrive at the conclusion that exclusion never works. I am glad you joined in on the conversation here at ‘a life overseas’. Keep us posted on your journey. Peace!

  • We were told the same things before we moved to another country (the top 3 reason missionaries leave the field). I guess our experience so far has been different. We live in St. Kitts in the West Indies and there is only one other missionary family here at all. They aren’t even with an organization but just from their church. They have become dear friends and we often partner together to reach the people here. We have differences of course, but we are just so happy that we HAVE other people at all! Before we came they were here for a year by themselves and were ecstatic to find out the Lord had called another family to come to St. Kitts. I know that people have a hard time getting along but if we didn’t have this other family, we wouldn’t have anybody else so we are much more willing to overlook each others’ differences. Missionaries are still growing in their faith and learning to walk in the Spirit like every other Christian but we should always seek to work together. It is sad that people leave the field because they can’t get along with others…

    • Hi Mandi

      I was so relieved to hear that your experience with other missionaries has been so wonderful. I hope that this is a trend that stays around in the world of missions. I agree, it is so sad that people leave the field because they can’t get along with others. It is very interesting that you also heard about the ‘top 3’ in your training. May God be with you and your co-laborers in St. Kitts. Peace!

    • Mandi – our experience has been very similar. Our first year hear we struggled with our colleagues and I have never felt more isolated and alone, even though there are several other missos in our city. The next two years here, we were the only ones working here from our organization and while the work load was phenomenal and backbreaking, we became a part of the entire expat community and the difference was amazing. You are so write, you don’t have to agree on everything to choose to get along…

      This community is one of the reasons we are so thankful we did stick it out after that awful first year!

  • Our mission org, because of its technical nature and safety issues, very rarely leaves missionaries in the field alone. I’m glad. We live on a small base and had the rare experience of being “alone” for a few months this year. Wow. It was hard. By God’s grace we survived and i think He must have put blonders on us because we didn’t realize how much we needed teammates until the new ones arrived! Now, we don’t want to let the, out of our sight….over-possesive much? 🙂 Okay, yeah, after 8 years in 4 different countries, I’ll admit we’ve had some stinkers….but the truth is, I am grateful for each of our many missionary friends and the lifelong relationship we now have!

    • Hi Rebecca

      I like the cute nickname that you gave the difficult people: stinkers. Nice! I am glad you survived the alone time. I would imagine that since your mission is designed to operate in a team environment that relationship skills are emphasized as a priority maybe not directly but as an inferred expectation. I think that is great. Congrats on 8 years on the field. Keep up the good work! Peace!

    • Rebecca, it’s really wise of your org to not stick you alone. We were largely by ourselves our entire time on the field and it. was. so. hard. Glad you have tasted the goodness of community.

  • In my experience, building healthy relationships includes
    *choosing to overlook irritations- things that grate just a little bit continually tend to be more damaging than major differences,
    *finding the things you have in common and can share and focusing on those,
    *letting go of expectations and letting God do as He will with those relationships, and
    *not being afraid to love someone else just because you know it will hurt when your lives/paths no longer intersect/intertwine.

    i’m sure there’s tons of others – but those are the ones i have to intentionally choose to work on.

    • There are so many components to tending relationships. I like that part about finding and focusing on our commonalities. amen.

  • Beth White

    thankful for our friendship Angie!

    • Oh, Beth, I am so very grateful that God put you in my life! You are wonderful!

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