When Your Missionary Stories Aren’t Sexy

by Editor on January 4, 2018

by Erin Duplechin

We stood in the lobby after the funeral. We’d spent the hour before hearing beautiful stories of simple faith lived by a simple woman. Besides the fact that she was intelligent, caring, and genuinely interested in other people, one theme seemed to resonate throughout the eulogy: she showed up. She showed up to church. She showed up to serve and to teach. She showed up to be with friends and family. She simply showed up and said yes to Jesus in her daily life.

There will be no biographies written about her. There won’t be sermons inspired by her. Because she merely showed up.

In the Western world, when even Christians go after celebrity and fame, we want stories that are big and flashy. We want the “likes” and the thumbs up and the wow stories. Because the Church doesn’t often celebrate the everyday yes. We don’t celebrate the stay-at-home mom, or the man serving faithfully in his 8-to-5.

And the truth is that sometimes, even as vocational missionaries, we feel forgotten. We feel looked over. We feel like our work isn’t good enough to be recognized. A fellow missionary friend said it best: our stories just aren’t sexy enough. They aren’t sexy enough to be printed in the church newsletter or included in the Sunday sermon. They don’t bring in the big bucks or inspire the masses.

In the missions world, I know I feel increasingly more pressure to share the stories that will inspire people the most. Especially when 50 other people pay your salary, you choose to share the stories that will pack a punch. Because we want numbers and statistics and performance reports and for donors to know that their dollar is getting its worth. 25 people got baptized? Share that one. 100 people received Christ? Gold mine. You planted another church? Christian celebrity status.

I know there’s another side, and that’s that we can’t always expect people to know the right questions to ask, especially if they’ve never lived cross culturally. Or, because they can’t be expected to know our context of living, they don’t understand the magnitude or significance of our stories. And in that, we missionaries must extend grace and ask God for humility. We don’t have a right to be heard or understood or asked to preach or exulted for our work. We must aim to please God alone.

But there’s still no denying that the missionary life is often lonely and unglamorous. And often we put the most pressure on ourselves. We read the missionary biographies and the stories of our heroes of the faith and we feel like a failure. We compare ourselves to Christian celebrities and try to mimic their actions in the hopes of finally being good enough.

As we stood there in the lobby after the funeral that day, feeling more forgotten than we realized, a wise woman looked us in the eye and told us how proud she was of us, how what we do matters, how much she prays for us, and how important our simple “yes” continues to be. A daily yes to Jesus- not big, sexy, missionary stories. Not multitudes of salvations and baptisms and churches planted.

And with tears in my eyes I remembered: God sees me.

So, to you, fellow missionary, when you feel forgotten, I’ve been there too. To the ones who feel their stories aren’t good enough, God sees you and get this: He’s proud. He delights in the fact that you showed up today. That you got out of bed, that you homeschooled your kids even though you didn’t have time or energy to talk to a single national, that you got through that really difficult cross-cultural interaction, that you killed the mouse in your cupboards and the cockroaches in your shoes, that you tried your best to communicate in your second language, that you survived another day in the blazing tropical heat, that you endured a night without power and no sleep, that you choose to stay in the midst of political instability and uncertainty, that even though you desperately miss your family overseas and feel lonely, you pursue those in front of you. That you said yes and that you keep saying yes.

Because God isn’t asking for stories with big, sexy numbers and print worthy inspiration. He’s not asking for you to become famous or known. He’s just asking for your every day yes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Erin Duplechin is a missionary wife and mama of three living in Papua New Guinea. Before moving overseas, she served as a worship leader and continues singing and writing songs abroad. She writes regularly about God and jungle life at erinduplechin.com.

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  • Nicholas Lobo

    Thank you for writing this one. It’s brilliant. As a missionary in London, England, I often especially feel like my work is unglamourous even amongst other missionaries, since I’m not “suffering” in a third world country or reaching out to an indigenous tribe living in a rainforest. It’s a real encouragement. I appreciate your perspective.

    • Erin Duplechin

      Thanks for reading, Nicholas. Unfortunately, I know that many serving in the developed world feel like you do. Hopefully this is where we as missionaries can come together to support and encourage one another.

  • Shary Hauber

    Being an MK I understand that often you go unnoticed and it is a fact. I just remember the best missionaries were not the ones who got attention. Those missionaries where the ones I loved and admired probably because they noticed the people they were with. When you feel unnoticed you are probably being a good missionary. I also know that MKs who don’t go back into missions are not only ignored but also often considered failures for not becoming missionaries. Also the average person in the pew gets no recognition. All of us need to learn we are unconditionally accepted and loved by God. Teach your kids you love and accept them regardless what they do in life. I have learned God enjoys our daily activities. I think the missionaries I most enjoy are those who share from their everyday lives the real life events good and bad. It puts the missionary on the same level as the average person, and the person in the pew can identify with that missionary. Remember God is enjoying you.

    • Erin Duplechin

      Shary, thanks so much for your perspective as an MK! As a mom of three MKs, I hope and pray my husband and I can instill value in them that is separate from their missionary status.

  • Mandy Carpenter

    Thank you for this, it couldn’t be more true! I mean who wants to hear about the three hours it took to pay a bill or other seemingly meaningless things that take place daily. 🙂 Love it, so true!

    • Erin Duplechin

      YES. So true!! Things that take minutes in our home country can literally take hours or become an all day affair! That is one thing Westerners simply cannot relate to.

  • Carol Whitsell

    Thank you Erin. As a missionary in Honduras, this is so relatable and an encouragement!

    • Erin Duplechin

      Thanks for reading, Carol!

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