By Emily Casada
It was the middle of a hot tropical summer in Cancun, Mexico. Sweat dripped down my staff t-shirt as I loaded a visiting mission team into the 15-passenger van for a winding, bumpy, 30-minute drive to our next ministry site. We were 4 or 5 weeks into an 8-week-long summer of visiting missionary teams. At this point, my family and I had been in Mexico serving as missionaries for more than a year and a half.
Our staff was stretched thin. My husband had been working 60-hour weeks running programs at the Christian community center we staffed, leading work projects for teams, food shopping for the missions teams, and visiting families we were caseworkers for. I was working part-time in the ministry and full-time taking care of our 2-year-old son. One of the women from the team, bless her heart, looked at me and asked – don’t you just love it? Of course she meant being a full-time missionary here. I stammered, uhh, love it? Ummm, yeah. Sometimes, sometimes I do… but it’s also, very hard.
Mission teams are a blessing to the ministry, providing finances for work projects in the impoverished communities we serve and sponsorships for the children in our child sponsorship program. But how do you explain to someone experiencing a euphoric spiritual high on a short term mission trip that it’s not always like this? We call it “the mountain top experience” where everything seems amazing. But visiting another country for a week is not the same as living and struggling through it day after day.
We see the good, the bad and the ugly. We are tired and stressed. This is our life. You fly home tomorrow, and we stay here preparing for the next team. And all the while we feel like we have to be “On” every minute a mission team is visiting so that they have a good experience and want to return with their church again next year. We were struggling to make it. The stress of living overseas, long hours, conflict with leadership – led to burnout.
It was at the end of this second summer that we made the difficult decision to leave the ministry 2 years into our initial 3-year commitment. We prayed and cried and struggled with the decision. We wavered back and forth, wanting to be obedient. We could stay one more year and fulfill our commitment and at the end be depleted, washed up, in a really unhealthy place. Or we could leave now, knowing we had persevered through two difficult years. We knew we weren’t in a healthy place and our family, marriage, physical and mental health, ministry and relationship with God were all suffering.
We are now almost one year back in the U.S. My husband and I are both working full-time jobs back in the career world. It’s been a struggle. And people ask us, don’t you just love it? Of course they mean that we love being back home in the U.S. I stammer, ummm errr yeah, we love being close to family again. But it’s also, very hard. How do you explain it to someone who has never experienced missions overseas? This doesn’t feel quite like “home” anymore. We miss the children and close friendships with coworkers we made in Mexico. We miss ministry and struggle to find fulfillment in the career world. We have trouble reconnecting with old friends who have moved on, and with our home church because we’ve changed. We are no longer the same. Our values and desires are completely different because of our experiences overseas.
Some days it’s so hard; we take it day by day. We pray and cry out to God. Why is this so hard? We are so glad we went and were obedient, and we won’t look back one day wondering what if? But it’s hard. Will we ever feel content again? What ministry is He preparing for us next?
We trust Him with everything. That He is working in us and preparing us for the next step He has for us. But it’s hard in the valley, not being able to see the top of the next mountain or what’s on the other side. It feels dark and it’s difficult to feel as close to God as on the field, when you relied on Him daily for everything, and He showed up in amazing, impactful ways. Day by day. Step by step, we strive to follow Him. Where else can we go? We are living the words of John 6:68-69: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Emily Casada and her husband Alan were missionaries in Cancun, Mexico where they worked with vulnerable children and families at a Christian community center. Emily has a huge heart for international missions and orphan care. They currently live in Kentucky with their 4-year- old son.