The Upside of Missions and How We Just Need to Have More Fun

by Laura Parker on April 11, 2013

Missionaries can be a negative, cynical bunch sometimes. And I’m not pointing fingers because I get it. I’ve drunk the kool-aid and have come up woefully short of expectations (of myself, the work and others), and I’ve done this same fall-on-my-face-move on four different continents. Hacking out a life overseas can make a pessimist out of the best of us.

But it doesn’t have to. And maybe it shouldn’t.

Because yes, international living can be brutal. Yes, kids get hurt and marriages suffer. Yes, culture shock can lay us low and goodlord sometimes other missionaries can do that, too.

And this space at A Life Overseas is most definitely a safe place to air those realities. And it’s a place to be reminded that you are not alone in them.

Yet, yet.

I do fear that missionaries can become all work and no play. All sacrifice and no joy. All sprint and no marathon.

I mean, there are some pretty amazing things that take place overseas that would never happen were we to all have stayed home . . .


Okay, so bring it. What do you LOVE about living overseas? Let’s fire up this comment section with the post ivies . . . it’ll make us all feel a little better.

Laura Parker, Co-editor/founder, former humanitarian aid worker in SE Asia
blog: Laura Parker Blog  |   work: The Exodus Road

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About Laura Parker

Living on three continents and moving 15 times in 15 years of marriage, Laura is no stranger to transition. Recently living in SE Asia with her family, Laura now serves as the VP of a counter-trafficking organization which her husband began, The Exodus Road. Laura is the co-founder and editor here at A Life Overseas and writes at her blog,
  • Currently, I am in Colorado. We’ve been here about 8 months after several years in SE Asia. I love, love, love the mountains here– the clear air and the blue sky. The physical beauty is amazing. I also love the small town we live in and its simplicity and a group of friends who have really stuck by us when they most definitely didn’t have to.

  • splatty

    Well… I have to say I must be one of the ones who is NOT hating life as a missionary. ha! I LOVE IT!! In fact, when I first started, I would feel a little guilty going home and sharing about what I was doing because I loved it so much, I thought my enthusiasm and JOY would make people stop supporting me! Missionaries are supposed to be suffering for Jesus… paying the price… sacrificing it all on the alter… and a whole lot of other phrases that just have never made sense to me – AS A MISSIONARY. Yup, I have given my all to what I do, but it is so in line with who I am and what I love, that I feel kind of like I’m cheating a little. 🙂 All I know is — I was MADE for this. My friends think I’m sacrificing… they apparently see something I don’t. And yes. I am away from family, and friends I’ve had a good chunk of my life. I’ve missed weddings, funerals, significant milestones in the lives of my nieces and nephews, and some really hard situations my friends have gone through without me there to walk along-side them. All that has been hard at times, but NEVER has it made me go – this was such a dumb idea!! I will drop dead on the mission field unless God pulls a fast one on me. I can’t think of a better way to devote my life to the things on His heart than what I’m doing now in the area of sex trafficking. NOTHING. So you won’t be hearing any “Debbie Downer” from this girl. God is up to WAY too much!

    • Yes! Me, too! Last time we visited the states, people kept asking things like, “What is the biggest sacrifice you make in your ministry?” and I could never think of how to answer. Or they’d say, “Thank you for all the sacrifices you make!” Um, what sacrifices?

      • splatty

        haha! Soooo true!! Glad to know it’s not just me! 😉

      • Phyllis– love that you are loving it. 🙂

    • I’ve always been irrked by the complainers because my life in America always sucked much more. I just had different challenges overseas. I can also say the worst culture shock I had has always been going back to the US. Asian culture is more comforting for me. I think we’re all diffferent.

      • hahaha this made me laugh–
        “my life in america always sucked more.”

        That was awesome, Lana! Seriously,that was the statement of the night.

    • Awesome– love that you are loving it. That’s a gift, for sure, and don’t ever apologize for it. Sounds like you are right where you are supposed to be. 🙂

  • I used to feel guilty for having fun. As if our supporters would not continue to support us if we did this or that. I even blogged about it under “This Missionaries Guilt” and received much support that I shouldn’t feel the way I do. In the end, it is the Lord that is our provider and I personally have to focus on that and not whether I am going to please my supporters or not.

    • Debbie– yes– ultimately its about please God, not the people writing the checks. And I think wrapped up into that is this idea that its important to make living overseas enjoyable for yourself/family. This is crucial to overall health, and thus, overall longevity on the field.

  • We have to be careful about how much fun we publicize because we are missionaries in the Caribbean. There are SO many challenges but we also get to be at the beach, snorkel, hike and swim all year around. Apparently, I took too many pictures of the view and talked about going to the beach too much (however we only go once a month at the MOST) and a couple of people said something about how we are just “living it up”. And when I do say something about the challenges then I can get “brushed off” because “I am making it seem worse than what it is”. It’s a really tough position to be in… most people love to know that we are enjoying the island… and some really do think we are “livin’ de life”. 🙂 There are some serious perks to living on a Caribbean island but there are many challenges too… living here is different than being on vacation for a couple of weeks. We are still trying to find that “sweet spot” of having fun, working hard and figuring out what exactly we share to everyone back home…

    • Mandi– oh this is hard! We were in a fairly exotic spot, too, and it was hard to know that we were going on one of the best beach vacays of our lives there, while on support. It’s awkward, isn’t it? Yet, yet .. while there is a wisdom there about what you post to others, there is also def. a wisdom in soaking up the joys your home offers you and yours. I hate that you got “smacked on the hand” for that. I think its a really unhealthy perception that missionaries should be hating life, you know?

      Go snorkel for me. 🙂

  • My husband and I just talked in prayer last night about this very topic. I felt the Lord was telling me “missions is God’s playground, you should be having fun!”. I do think the stress and our commitment to our work can make us take this life all too seriously at times. We’ve just returned to the field after a month in the States and I am trying to savor the friendly welcomes, the green mountains surrounding us and the great joy it is to be back in the place He chose for us.

    • Yes, totally– sometimes we ARE too serious and need to lighten up.

      Love that your first thankful thing related to people “friendly welcomes” — love that lots. 🙂

      ENJOY your weekend, Colleen!

  • The easiest way to have fun virtually anywhere in the world: find the closest group playing soccer and join them!

  • Randy Hacker

    Ahem. Some of us have no choice but to “hack” it out ):

  • Editor

    Sorry for the screwy post!! AHHH– webworld is doing weird things– cut off the last part of the post itself, then closed comments . . . so sorry, guys! fixing it now . . .

  • funny – i’ve told many people that never in a million years would i have picked up a globe, pointed to here and said it was a place i wanted to see, much less live – because when you think about the perks, there aren’t many that would draw people to this locale, at least not in the traditional way. yet where you live is so much more than road trips to the game park and an African safari, bonfires on the top of a Sahara sand dune, looking out the front door to see a camel ambling by – like right there… we’ve loved playing with chameleons, raising goats and chickens, learning new languages, learning to play new instruments, girls gushing over african fabric, sharing frites at the hippodrome, memorizing Bible verses in a new language that first feels like jibberish and then suddenly one day makes sense and then hits you from a totally new perspective!

    What most makes living overseas amazing, though, has to be the community of people with whom we are sharing this experience. Just this past week, we had our first mango rain… first rain since last September. It only lasted about 15 minutes with the announcing winds, blowing dust, few minutes of water falling and residual coolness – but everywhere you looked, regardless of nationality or reason for being in this place, you could see people celebrating… and that reminder that regardless of where we are, we can almost always choose to become part of a community and discover that there is more to share and unify learn to love than to hoard, drive apart and choose to hate… God will always reveal that spark of Him that He has gifted to each one… that, to me, is the best part of of being here – because here is where I first began to learn that…

  • we too love missionary life. While it does have it’s challenges, it also has many, many rewards. We love being able to travel and visit the countries around us. We love having international friends. I love SEEING things others only dream of. I am blessed!

  • I love that hearing American accents shock me now. : )

  • Joel W

    To you lovers, that is awesome to hear. But remember all of us followed God there, but sometimes it takes longer for some of us to find our stride and enjoy life in His service in a new culture, new languge. No, we are not less spiritual, but as someone said, below, “just hackers.” After almost two years in Asia Pacific, heading back in the Fall, we really struggled with coworkers acting like we were weird because we had culture shock, culture stress, and often missionary stress.(they had it too, just didn’t talk about it) They were very happy to be there and were so content….and they made us feel like dirt as we pushed forward in our first two years. No, it wasn’t intentional on there part (I hope not) but beware that the hackers are just as much part of the team as the ‘naturals’ (can I coin that?). I praise God for the naturals as you all are just as critical to the team as the hackers and we all have to learn to be sensitive to the others and supportive.

    What do I love about living overseas? I love riding motorcycles (okay scooters by US standards) and the crazy traffic where you get to use your horn. (US drivers loosen up; I’m not mad, just coming through…beep, beep) I love the fresh fruits that no one has ever heard of in the US. I love the fresh markets where you get to be the lone white person in a sea of brown faces and then when you open your mouth and they realize that you aren’t a tourist and pepper you with questions. I love fellowshipping with believers in a second language. I love swimming in January and eating watermelon in February. I loved watching my little girls enjoy interaction with our neighbors and that it didn’t phase them that they were white and our neighbors were brown. I loved watching my wife and our house helper work together. The sheer thought of having house help scared us going to Asia Pacific, but upon our departure for the States, it was like leaving family. She was my wife’s best friend and ‘teacher.’ I loved watching my wife ride her motorcycle to town, confidently hunt for something and return victorious…with a substitution cuz she tried three shops but nobody had THAT item…. I loved studying the Bible in a second language. (still very hard, but oh the progress God has wrought) I loved my language school teachers and tutors. It was so hard to say goodbye…

    So remember, naturals, hackers do have things they love too, just may take us a little while longer to “love it!” Thanks for some great blogging….will have to follow this new blog….

    • Joel–

      Thanks for your honesty. I lived for 2 years in Asia, too, and I never grew to love it. I was most definitely a hacker. And i remember how hard it was to hear people belittle my struggle– esp the long termers who had lived in “harder” places and found Asia “so easy.” I get it.
      Sometimes obedience is pleasant and sometimes it just really isn’t.

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  • Ruthie

    One of the things I love about living overseas is when the “unexpected” occurs. While sometimes this may be a disappointing occurrence, there are also those occasions that bring a lot of joy. After a long and tiring day last week I returned to the ministry compound and enjoyed cultural dances being performed by visiting Uganda pastors – in our dining room! It brought so much joy to those dancing and to those watching! I also love all of the amazing people I have been blessed to meet. Some of my dearest friends are folks from my home state, but whom I had never had the opportunity to meet before coming to Africa. 🙂

    • Yes! I love that, too– people overseas can be so much more spontaneous I found, too, with visits especially.
      Glad you are enjoying Africa!

  • MissNurse

    Hmmm, We lived in Asia for three years and now in Europe… I loved the surprises in Asia. The things you would never see in America. I loved that the people would listen to what we had to say–maybe out of courtesy or novelty or maybe just plain curiosity. I loved that we could be “dumb Americans” -it opened so many doors.
    The down side was we were new and thought we had to be serious, couldn’t complain to anyone when we did have a “culture fatigue day” We had been there a year and a half when we realized we had not laughed!
    In Europe now…we have only been here a few months but are truly loving this job- relearning skills we had before leaving America and seeing how God prepared us for where we are today.

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  • Megan Tucker

    I keep finding these great posts months after they’ve been written and the comments have died down, but I still want to comment! I’ve only lived in SE Asia for a month, but my favorite part right now is being able to drive my moto around and actually *know* where I’m going and how to get there and not feel like just some barang who doesn’t know how to drive. It’s nice to finally start to feel a little bit settled.

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