I think a lot of Christians have a “glamorized” view of missionary life, because missionaries share the grand trials, great victories, and emotional stories of their work on the mission field. But, in reality, a lot of missionary work is very mundane, sometimes to the point of being inane. At least, it feels that way in the midst of whatever is occurring at the time. However, when you look back after 6 months, a year, two years, you can see God’s hand in so much of what has happened, even if you were left wondering where that hand was in the midst of the seemingly monotonous activity.
All that aside, here are some things I’ve learned in our 27 months on the mission field of Bucharest, Romania. More precisely, what I’ve learned despite the “inanity” and feelings of “monotony.”
1. You must never let down your guard against cockroaches. Yeah, you may clean out your entire kitchen and spray it top to bottom with poisonous insecticides, and you may go a couple of months without seeing a single one afterwards. But be forewarned, they will return. And when you kill that one you see, you will open a cabinet door and find 5-10 more scurrying for the darkness. Always maintain vigilance.
2. Your marriage and your children must still remain a high priority. You don’t want to gain a million converts at the cost of your marriage or your children. They are gifts from God, no matter where you live
3. Even more important is your relationship to Jesus. It must always be first place. Jesus said, “For you have the poor with you always” in the context of disciples complaining that Mary of Bethany “wasted” an expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money used for the poor. But He didn’t agree–He honored Mary because she honored and worshiped Him extravagantly, above all else. There are people everywhere with a multitude of needs, poor, sick, disfigured, trapped in sin, lost in darkness, spiritually immature, etc. And we could work ourselves to burnout and death if we forsake our relationship with God to constantly work for Him.
4. Learning a language is one of the most humbling tasks I’ve ever done. When you’re in public with a decent, but very limited knowledge of the language of the place you’re in, you will look stupid, appear aloof or ignorant, and be annoying to natives who are in a hurry; you will not necessarily know how to ask for what you need; you will struggle through conversations with your neighbors with your horrid grammar and painfully slow speech; you will need help from friends to master the post office, doctor’s office, hair salon, pharmacy, anything related to the police or government, apartment hunting, etc. You might have old ladies yell at you (several within a 24 hour period) about how your kid will get sick if his ears aren’t completely covered or that one gets wet feet from splashing about in rain puddles, and you won’t know how to answer them. You might just have to stand there and take it…at least until you learn how to say, “Leave us in peace! He/she is fine. I have five kids and know what I’m doing.” 😉
5. No matter how much “just like America” a country may seem on the surface during a short visit, every culture is different, but you won’t see that until you’re completely immersed in it. Even over two years in, I find myself every so often thinking, “What the heck is that all about?!” And usually, I never find out.
6. I am so American. Yes, of course I should be since I was born and lived there nearly 33 years, but there are some things ingrained in me because of my Americanness that are just really hard to change. For example, in America, it’s considered rude to tell everybody what you think all the time and give frequent, unsolicited advice. While I like constructive criticism and advice to help me, I still have not succumbed to the constant flow of advice that comes my way, especially related to child-rearing. I don’t get offended too easily, and can usually just ignore it (unless it’s good advice), but sometimes I long for an ever-so-small touch of American politeness and un-nosiness. I’m still very American in that respect.
7. If I can be a missionary, anybody can! I like a schedule and I like plans to be made and stuck to; if things go too random or sporadic, I start to get a little freaked out. On the mission field, even in a big European city one, nothing is set. Pretty much ever. I’ve learned to adapt and trust God and keep a good attitude even when I feel like Milton from Office Space, haha! God’s in control and I just grab on for the wild ride! Right before we moved here, one of our pastors prophesied over me that I might feel like I don’t quite cut it, but that God said His grace is sufficient. I think I grab onto those words every single day, as those are the prophetic words that spoke loudest to me…and still do.
8. A home is more than just a place to eat and sleep. My whole family loves having people here, whether for Bible studies, movie nights, parties, game nights, discipleship, fellowship, etc. I pray almost every day that our home be used for God’s glory and that His peace and life and presence would fill it so much that others coming here would sense it. And many have told us they do.
9. Communism is just a bad idea. Even 25 years after it ended here, there’s still repercussions of it on daily life and the mentality of the nation. I pray that it will fall in countries like North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. I pray for the nations of the world heading further and further into socialism. The government is no substitute for God and God-given families.
10. Lastly (this is not an exhaustive list by any means…I’m continually learning), if or when God calls us back to the U.S. or to another country, we will leave so many dear, dear friends behind. But I look forward to visiting with many hugs and much joy as we have made some lifelong friendships here. I am so thankful to God for these people.