By Emily Drayne
A missionary gets to live in a new place, explore new locales, try new foods, have cross-cultural experiences, and more. What’s not to love? They live the same life, just in a different location—right? No! A million times no.
The amount of planning, prayerful consideration, financial preparation, and training that goes into becoming a full-time missionary is staggering. Missionaries undergo months of training to prepare for something that one must experience to truly understand. They need a lot of self-discipline, hard work, and faith to make that leap.
The Need for Spiritual Disciplines
Some people think since missionaries constantly are talking about Jesus, they have little need for spiritual upkeep. But that’s like assuming church ministers don’t need to maintain a relationship with God because they preach about him every Sunday, spend their week encouraging others, and study his Word. Satan does not discriminate. He targets everyone: churchgoers, ministers, and missionaries. God has provided Christians with spiritual disciplines and the fruit of the Spirit, among other things, to fight off temptations.
In some parts of the world, multiple missionaries serve in the same cities and communities. This can lead to conflict, even if the missionaries are from the same organization. Missionaries are human. They may have differences of opinion on how to run church services or small groups, how to spend money, the effectiveness of certain types of outreach, and many other things. It’s how missionaries choose to resolve these conflicts that can determine their success in that community. Training and spiritual disciplines can make the difference.
Disciplines and Fruit
Many of us, when we were young, were taught that spiritual disciplines such as serving, prayer, financial stewardship, and reading the Bible go hand in hand with the fruit of the Spirit. Sometimes the fruit is the product of the discipline, and other times the disciplines are a direct result of showing the fruit.
Serving others in any capacity, let alone in a foreign country, requires patience, love, kindness, gentleness, and sometimes self-control. That last character trait, self-control, is practiced with most spiritual disciplines. It takes self-control and discipline to read the Bible every day, manage one’s finances, journal, and fast. The joy of the Lord is a fruit that should be shown while striving to win the lost to Christ. People notice when we have joy. Our inner light shines and allows them to see the Father.
Solitude is particularly difficult for many people today, even missionaries. With the world at our fingertips on our smartphones and tablets, we struggle more than ever with this spiritual discipline. Like Jesus, we must set aside time for solitude to reconnect with our heavenly Father. We need self-control to put the screens down and focus solely on him. “Unlearning” the habit of constantly looking at our smartphone may be difficult, but we must stick with it. Paul challenged Christians, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).
Ministry Under Pressure
A missionary must work constantly to build a program from the ground up and see the project through to the end. The missionary must also deal, in most cases, with a cross-cultural move, so family dynamics often shift while trying to learn a new language and make friends in a new setting. Missionaries and their families typically are new to a community. People will be watching them closely. Some might want them to fail, but all will be looking to see whether they actually are who they claim to be as Christians.
Ministers in America face some of these same pressures. They’re in the spotlight. Some people are waiting to see them stumble, which will give those onlookers an excuse to write off Christianity. These ministers and missionaries—and all of us as Christians—have a responsibility to prove that Christ lives in us.
We owe our ministers and missionaries a huge debt of gratitude and respect. It’s not easy being in the spotlight, maintaining their marriages and families, being constantly “on,” and keeping up their own spiritual lives. The church body as a whole expects a lot from these folks, and rightly so, but we need to love and encourage them, as well.
Satan’s mission is to destroy Christians and the body of Christ. We must be spiritually fit to withstand his destructive advances. Remember Paul’s words: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.