It’s a terrifying shiver that runs through you the first time you step foot in a new country. You’re ready to conquer the world and nothing can stop you. You start off in a hard sprint. But before you know it, you struggle, slamming into one wall after another. Life as a missionary is nothing like you expected.
First year missionaries come to the field with an excitement and eagerness that cannot be matched. But often they’re not aware that they’ve started at too fast a pace and are heading right towards a burn-out.
Here are five dangerous things that first-year missionaries are too quick to do.
1. Demand Immediate Normality
You want to make good friends now. Learn all the best local spots and become an expert in the public transportation all within weeks. You fight against the culture shock that hits you in waves. You can’t be the world’s best missionary if you’re struggling to adapt. So, you ignore it and refuse to embrace the difficult season of adaptation as the important learning experience that it is.
2. Prove Expertise
You cringe when people call you ‘new’. Maybe the other missionaries have years of experience under their belts but you know what you’re doing. Really. You don’t need them giving you a tome of advice on how to do ministry. In fact, they should listen to the opinions you have to offer. Maybe they could learn a thing or two.
3. Say Yes
You see the needs around you and your heart breaks. You want to fix everything. Be involved in every detail. So, you say yes. It’s too hard to say no, anyway. Then your schedule fills more and more until you can’t even find a minute to breath. But you keep pressing on because without you everything would fall into chaos.
4. Expect Results
You became a missionary to change the world. So why won’t it change? You’ve been working for weeks, months. Where are the results? What is the point of all your hard days and long nights if you can’t see the benefits? What you don’t realize is that the seeds you plant your first year may take ten more to come to fruit. You may never even see the results. But when they come, they will be more beautiful that you had ever imagined.
5. Become Discouraged
After weeks and months of not getting the results you wanted, being bogged down by countless responsibilities, and fighting away culture shock while trying to prove yourself to those around you, you get tired. You feel yourself careening toward burn-out and it hasn’t even been a year yet. You become discouraged and begin to doubt. Was this all a mistake? Did you confuse your calling?
Maybe this was you. Maybe this is you. But please don’t lose heart.
The first year, the first years, of ministry are hard. That’s just the way things are. And yes, you will make mistakes. You’ll rush into things you’re not ready for. You’ll struggle with doubt. You’ll say things you regret. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a mistake.
So maybe the next time you are tempted to revolt against culture shock, you accept it with humility. When you feel your pride bruised with your inexperience, you respond with grace. When your schedule is filled to the brim, you step back and rely on God’s ability to work. And when you become discouraged because the world isn’t changing at the pace you set, you take a breath, slow down, and remember the journey that brought you to this place.
If God is in the business of using broken vessels, he can work despite the flaws of an over-eager, first-year missionary.
Natalie Arauco serves in a small, mountainous village of Guatemala. She teaches English every day at the village school all while sharing the love of Jesus with her 12-17 year old students. Natalie also works alongside the local church with their community outreach and discipleship ministries. Natalie writes about culture, missions, and her adventures in her blog: Natalie in Guatemala.