We all tend to think that everyone else has it easier and better than we have. We’ve noticed this sentiment in some of our church members.
- One young man says he wants to start a church (a noble idea), but not here in the village. He’s going to plant a church in __ (some village near a city several hours away–that doesn’t speak his mother tongue.) Why not a village closer to home that speaks Tsonga? Because there’s such a need there, or it would just be better in some way.
- Another young man decides to take a similar job with similar pay (to the current one) in another city. Why not stay close to his family, his village, and his home church? Oh, that job will be better somehow.
- Another young man says that an internship with a church in the city will better prepare him for rural ministry than the local Bible college started specifically to prepare men for rural ministry. Why? The city has so many more attractions, including preaching in English, etc.
- Young ladies think that getting a cleaning job in the city would be better than staying home and mothering their children.
The grass is always greener on the other side. Change and newness help to make a different position seem better, and sometimes there is some truth to that. Sometimes the other situation genuinely is better.
I remember going back to America for a quick visit in 2011 during America’s summertime. The grass was so green, the flowers so colorful! I kept exclaiming, “It’s so beautiful! It’s so beautiful!” Africa has a beauty of its own, but it is rugged, wild, and untamed; in the parts filled with bush grass and thorny overgrowth, you really have to search for the beauty.
This temptation comes often to missionaries. Perhaps it comes to everyone in the ministry, but I can only speak for the missionary. I got to thinking about this because of a recent Facebook discussion in which a BMW asked whether being a missionary wife was essentially the same thing as being a pastor’s wife (just in a different field–which obviously makes it totally different! But you get the idea of the question.)
Most BMW responders quickly and confidently pointed out the extra difficulties a missionary wife faces in ministry that a pastor’s wife in America wouldn’t. But one BMW noted that ministry was actually easier for her in many respects as a missionary wife than it had been as a pastor’s wife. She mentioned the squabbles, criticisms, and cliques that she experienced in her American ministry; in contrast to the complete acceptance and love she experienced from the nationals in her host country.
In a difficult or disappointing stretch in ministry, which may occur more frequently than the encouraging times, a missionary may hear of friends ministering in America and think about how easy their ministry would be if they were there. If only I were there, my church would be bigger, better, more like Christ! I would be more appreciated, more respected, and the flock would actually follow my (husband’s) advice. We wouldn’t have to deal with all this ___ (immorality, apathy, drunkenness, laziness, etc.)
Missionaries can also fall into the foolish trap of comparing fields. If only we were in Missionary Z’s field, our ministry would be more successful. They have it much easier because of… It is so much harder to serve here due to the burned-over territory from the prosperity gospel, or the idolatry, or the animism, or the atheism, or whatever, than it would be to serve in their country.
But remember that you don’t have the whole picture! Perhaps they also wish to trade places because of their own silent trials.
Yes, some of that thinking may be valid, fair, and true. A few missionaries have shown no qualms in saying they “could never do what you do.” I even included a question on this topic on my get-to-know-ya missionary questionnaire for the BMW blog: what makes your field difficult? (Because we all think that our field is the hardest for some reason, and some of those reasons are legitimate.)
But it’s not good; it’s not lovely; it’s not of good report; it’s not praise.
As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach–holidays when many missionaries, especially newbies, are homesick, this grass-is-greener syndrome may pop up. But let’s just call it what it is. It’s discontent. It’s a failure to praise God “in everything.” It is bitterness against God for putting you in a place so removed from the comforts of home and then apparently not making you successful there. It’s pride, because you compare your successes and failures with another’s and can only be content with your situation if you look the best at the end of the comparison.
The grass may truly be greener on the other side of the ocean. And yet it may not. But that’s not where you are. And you are commanded to think on praiseworthy things and to praise God in everything–where you are.