Dear New Missionary,
I spent last week with about 40 of you, helping with your training.
I saw the fire in your eyes and the urgency in your prayers but heard the waver in your voice.
I saw myself in you, 16 years ago, when it was I who sat in your chair with the same simultaneous passion and anxiety.
What do I wish I’d known? What do I wish I could tell you now?
It’s going to be hard. Really hard.
And it won’t just be the things you anticipate will be hard. Sure, there will be the bugs and you might hate your kitchen and driving might terrify you. You might cry because the potatoes are just not cooking right and you accidentally insult someone and no one speaks to you at your new church. Your kids might get a strange rash and you will buy the wrong medicine and you’ll wonder what on earth you were thinking to bring your family to this strange place.
Then there’s the fear. You won’t let your kids play outside without you; you’ll hold your purse a lot more tightly; you’ll worry about the pollution affecting your lungs. You’ll sleep a lot less soundly and get up at night just to check out the windows, one more time. It might feel like everyone is smirking at you behind your back. And you’ll wonder why you ever thought you could have an impact on this new place.
But then there will be the things you didn’t anticipate would be hard. Your sin won’t stay in your home country, in fact, it will seem to ooze out of you in buckets. Your team leader won’t have enough time for you, and you’ll feel left dangling, high and dry and bewildered. The poverty surrounding you will hang constant guilt around your neck. You will communicate like a two-year-old. You’ll lose your sense of self-respect. You won’t feel good at anything anymore.
You will, in essence, lose yourself. And it might feel like dying.
But, in that losing, you will find yourself. And in that dying, you will live.
In the hardness, you will find that you are capable of enduring more than you thought possible. You will find that you actually can drive in that traffic, that you can make a pumpkin pie from scratch, that you can say something intelligible in another language. You will look back after a year, two, three years and be amazed at all the things you can do that you never thought you could do.
You will experience the astonishing joy of realizing that different does not have to be scary. The woman behind the veil is more like you than you would have guessed; the foreign pastor has the same worries for his congregation as you do. The alley that looked so dark will one day feel familiar; the words on billboards will start to make sense.
You will find that having less means that you find more joy with less. A can of root beer will make a great Christmas present; sticks and rocks will entertain your children far more than Toys R Us ever did. The poverty surrounding you will build a deep and abiding sense of gratefulness for what you do have.
And the sin and loneliness and conflict and fear? They will give you daily invitation to press into the One who is your refuge. In deeper ways than you ever realized, you will come to know the One who emptied himself and left heaven for a foreign land. Names like Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace will find new and rich meaning. The saving power of the gospel will not just apply to those you are preaching to, but daily to your own heart.
The longer you stay, you will find that this journey has been a whole lot more about what you needed to learn than what you had to give. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll wake up one day and realize that you have made an impact on this new place. But in the same moment, you’ll realize that this place has had a far greater impact on you.
And you’ll find you have experienced the biggest privilege of your life.
Godspeed, New Missionary. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.