An Open Letter to the Missionary (Woman) Quitter

When criminals entered our home last December 2nd and attacked our family, our lives changed completely. The obvious, immediate question after the crisis was, “Do we quit being missionaries?”

It was an excruciating question to work through, partially because it was completely unexpected. We had had no thought of leaving the field. My husband’s screen saver on his phone when we were dating said, “Go tribal!” Hadn’t I known what I was getting into? No, actually! And yes. His heart for the Unreached has defined him, been his core, since I’ve known him. It seemed there was no avenue forward that didn’t involve reconstructing either Seth’s or Amy’s make-up. We reached out for counsel.

As you may have guessed, especially if you already heard of our situation and were thinking “in our shoes,” not many counselors had an easy answer. It would have been wonderful if God had spoken to us in a vision. Most counselors were unwilling and unable to give a certain “yea” or “nay.” Understandably so.

What a blessing that most counselors were amazingly supportive. By “supportive,” I mean that they understood and articulated that leaving our field was an obvious and valid option, and that we weren’t bad Christians to be considering it–that godly Christians have chosen both paths, to leave or to stay.

But a few comments stuck with me memorably–in a negative way–that, in my opinion, made our decision even tougher. They hinted or outright stated that they viewed me as weak or wimpy to even go back to the States for an eight-week visit to think about our future, that I was holding back my husband (because his personality did not struggle with the decision to return to the field even a fraction as much as mine), thus I was unsubmissive and “wearing the pants in the family” (and therefore, my husband had blame for not “leading me” appropriately), that I was not obeying certain Scriptures that encourage risking all for Christ, and that I was not a strong person or missionary or Christian if I couldn’t go back.

Well, comments like these (made by people who have not experienced even a quarter of what I have) were not accepted well by a traumatized woman concerned for her traumatized children! And there, in that sentence, may lie part of the answer. Some people cannot empathize fully with a wounded person until they themselves have experienced the humiliation of trials and suffering. I cringe when I remember my naive judgmentalism as a young missionary. Oh, how I’ve changed now, and eaten my words (rather, thoughts) a hundred times over.

It is true that many leave the field for wrong reasons at the wrong time. And it is true that we do not hear enough encouragement to risk all for Christ. I don’t want to take the teeth out of Scriptures like these:

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

But: Around the time when I was struggling with the fact that I knew that we would be going back to the field, I heard of a missionary woman who was likewise struggling, almost…despairing. And my heart went out to her. She had “put in her time,” labored for years on the field, followed her husband to a difficult people, had children in inferior hospitals on the field, and after numerous trials, was beginning to crack under the pressure. I cried for her, someone I’d never met. Why should she, dear timid warrior that she is, be criticized if she needs to come home (America) for the sake of her sanity?

Honestly, I struggled to even word that last paragraph, because I know alpha male theologians who would respond that she shouldn’t need that, that if she were responding biblically she could handle this, etc. But I think long-term missionaries understand what I mean, because They’ve Been There.

So while I truly don’t aim to encourage anyone to leave the field, especially for wrong reasons, please understand my desire in this post. I desire simply to offer compassion to that lonely, spent missionary woman who so badly needs to hear compassion, not guilt trips, if she goes home for good or simply for a rest. At other times, I will take the opposing side and encourage perseverance. But for right now I want to simply offer compassion, only compassion, in an open letter to the few missionary women who may be in this situation.

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You dear woman,

You’ve been told so many hurtful things.

It is okay. It is okay to leave the field because you are cracking under the pressure.

Your hair is prematurely graying. You are beaten down by the degrading depravity of your field. Your health is failing. You have forgotten that you used to have an easy laugh and can’t remember what it feels like to converse easily with another Christian without weighing every word and its possible miscommunications. And you struggle to list one positive item per every fifty negative things about your field.

You have fought on the front lines of the war for a long time, and you are coming home a wounded soldier. Yes, soldiers wounded in the war receive an honorable discharge. You deserve a medal. Indeed you are a hero! So few people want your job that you are irreplaceable.

God bless you! You tried. You gave your all. You gave beyond your all. You submitted to your husband and raised your children in challenging circumstances. Now channel what remaining energies you have into enduring yet more change, but hopefully a more restful change because of its familiarity. If your coming home allows you to gain the benefits that Jesus got when He “came apart to rest a while,” and to continue being a helpmeet to your husband and to keep going in the ministry, though it be no longer foreign, then come. Come home, and continue to follow Christ as well as you can in the place where you are.

You will hear no word of condemnation from me. Only compassion.
Only compassion, dear missionary friend.

Love in Christ,

Amy

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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10 Responses to An Open Letter to the Missionary (Woman) Quitter

  1. Excellent. Very well said and so needed. I once met a missionary woman who had a health issue that was causing extreme depression, and she had come off the field to get some answers. It was an easy fix, and she was rejoicing. I’ve known others, as you expressed, battered and worn. Some were mistreated. I believe each missionary family needs to take care of its own. If husband, wife, or children have a need, we have the obligation to try to help that person. What happened to your family was traumatic for all of you. No one can imagine what you all went through. I am so glad you could get away for a while and have some time to heal. God bless you! Great post!

  2. Ann Bedford says:

    Amy, what a sweet compassionate spirit you have and are expressing. I cannot imagine anyone saying such hurtful things to a missionary who is going through a difficult time. We are not God. He is the only One who can look on the heart. And I think your comparison to a wounded soldier is very appropriate. Missionaries are soldiers for Christ just as we all are but stationed in a different place than we are. Where does it state in the Bible that if you are called to be a missionary to a certain field that the calling is for a lifetime? If it is there I would like to know where it is. God bless you and your family.

    • Amy says:

      Thank you, Mrs. Bedford! Once a pastor mentioned missionaries leaving the field and asked us kind of rhetorically and sarcastically, “What? are they not called anymore?” I felt the same way as you– I know very few people who have been called by God to be in the same place their whole life!

  3. Katie says:

    Oh, Amy! This trial and the thinking process that followed has given you much insight! Love you to pieces! 🙂

  4. Dana Jordan says:

    Hi Amy,

    I want to write more when I have more time, but I completely support you and agree with every word you wrote. I know you are a submissive wife because I know what kind of character you have. I know you are submissive to God’s plan for your life because I know your character. Of course, you are human too and may struggle to feel submissive to what God has for you at times, but I know that you love Him and will obey and follow Him…wherever that is! Even if it’s in America! 🙂

    I’m sorry that you have struggled so greatly, especially over the past year, and I will try to pray for you every day this month.

    Love, Dana

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  5. Amy, You are a sweet blessing and your message is so beautiful! It has been a joy to watch your ministry and how God has used you in Africa. I remember Seth, at PCC, his vibrant, happy love for the Lord and your willingness to go where God called both of you! Sorry you received a message of judgement instead of love; it seems some “spiritual” leaders direct by guilt instead of grace. Christ never leads us with guilt, just love, understanding and His un-ending grace. If people are led by criticism and guilt they will miss the perfect will of God for their lives.
    My parents ministered in Albania where they suffered many difficulties, fled the country due to civil war only to return to a ravaged, dangerous people. We are human, those conditions take their toll, mostly on the woman.
    Amy, you are a wonderful person, a great wife and a fantastic mother! God has used you on the front lines of battle and only He knows when it’s time to come home. We go and do according to His will so one day we will hear, “well done thy good and faithful servant…” Other’s words can, “become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” if not spoken with love.
    Praying that God’s grace is sufficient and that His voice is heard amidst the noise of criticism.

    • Amy says:

      Thank you so much! I didn’t know you were a MK. Wish I could pick your brain a little more. Thank you for taking the time to encourage me.

  6. Kathy says:

    You are a wonderful missionary wife and mother, including being a homeschooling mother. Don’t take any negative comments to heart–they have not walked in your shoes. What a traumatic time you have been through. You are very strong to go back overseas, have a new child and finish your Sunday school curriculum–you are a great Proverbs 31 wife and mother!

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