Ten things you should know about being a missionary

  1. The very fact that you are foreign is, on its own, a key part of whatever ministry you do. As a foreigner, you generally have more respect, authority and liberty in whatever you do, and people will want to be friends with you.
  2. The flipside of that is that being foreign can also be a limiting factor in ministry – especially in terms of language, and also because of the perception that you are automatically better and richer, or different (and so your religion is for you, but doesn’t apply to them, for example).
  3. Every conversation is ministry. So even if official ministry work takes up 40 hours of your week, you’re actually doing much more because when ministry is based on relationships, everything counts. Sometimes this means it doesn’t feel like you’re “working” (which is good – eg. “I was doing ministry watching a movie with friends at my place”); but sometimes it means you are carrying around more emotional stress than you realise (not so good – “Hearing Juan’s life story was moving and it’s awesome he trusts me, but that was intense”).
  4. Churches expect you to do stuff. Why would a missionary want to “just attend” a church? Of course you want to help out in every ministry humanly possible. Otherwise you must be lazy.
  5. People think it’s a sweet job. You have to remind them you pay the mission, they don’t pay you anything – it’s your Christian friends back home who give you money to pay the rent and feed yourself.
  6. Often you won’t get much thanks for what you do. Because it’s your job.
  7. In spite of the points made above, being a missionary is in many ways just like any other job. There are issues between colleagues, administrative things to deal with, meetings. In my case, being in full-time ministry hasn’t made me “closer to God” than any other job would have, or better at praying or reading the Bible or anything – I still struggle with the same time management and discipline issues.
  8. You are no longer your own person. Sure, we were bought with a price and we belong to Christ – but it’s more than that. Things which you have a clear conscience about before God are no longer necessarily okay, you’re not the only one who answers for and bears the consequences of your actions – the mission does, too. And, well, in spite of several moments of outrage and frustration, I’ve learned to submit to that. I am okay with it. My challenge here is the potential for hypocrisy to creep in here, when I have to uphold and defend opinions I don’t actually agree with.
  9. Despite (8), who you are as an individual is, to a large extent, what matters, is the testimony, is what you share with other people. You need to be normal and extraordinary at the same time – or rather, you need to be extraordinary but in a way that people can relate to and aspire to, simultaneously human and celestial (which is what we are, right?).
  10. Some would call all this a sign of maturity! Many of my friends are not kids, but I’m seeing more and more clearly the difference, in things they say, minor decisions they make. Amongst other lessons, I have learned to: (a) be wrong – even when others might say I wasn’t in the wrong and have nothing to apologise for; (b) criticise lovingly, and not just constructively. In sum, a different brand of seeing beyond myself, and understanding the consequences for others as a result of my actions, great and small.

Note: This was originally Seven things you should know about being a missionary. But because somebody somewhere said it’s always gotta be 10, I’ve added another three.

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