And no, I’m not referring to the fact that as I write this (EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was written several weeks ago) I’m on spring break (meaning that my beloved cafeteria is closed for the week), and that due to water damage earlier this semester I don’t have access to the one room in my residence hall with a stove/oven, which means that I have to survive on food made in the microwave in my room (all of which doesn’t really sound that bad, considering that some people don’t even have microwavable food, microwaves, electricity to power the nonexistent microwave, a residence hall room to sit in, a break from school, a school to go to, a cafeteria to normally go to, or pipes that can break and cause water damage—so no, I’m not talking about that).
No, the struggle that I am referring to is the fact that mission work can be a struggle, that it can be tough, that it can be discouraging. This has been a common theme running through many of my conversations in the past few weeks with different missionaries, both domestic and abroad. The more and more that I talk to missionaries, the more and more that I am realizing that mission work is not a stroll through the daisies; that it is not always a fabulous, glamorous job; that it is definitely not always easy. When Jesus talked about being “persecuted because of righteousness” (Matthew 5:10) and being “hated by all nations” (Matthew 24:9), he wasn’t just talking to the apostles.
Probably the biggest part about this is that mission work is first and foremost about working in this broken and dying world to share the news of the restoration and life found only in Jesus Christ. Which means that missionaries ultimately seek to work with broken people, with sinful people, with ungrateful, unforgiving, malicious people. And please don’t try to simply picture in your mind the toughest thug as you read this—please remember first of all that all of us are broken, sinful, ungrateful, unforgiving, and malicious (and also please remember that Jesus loves/forgives you). At the same time, the goal of spreading the Gospel is to work with people who are going to be hostile to the message that we share, people who are not going to want to be loved by us. And as any parent, camp counselor, or psychiatrist can tell you: the most difficult (often impossible) people to work with are those who don’t want to be helped.
To really get a fuller perspective on all of this, though, you have to realize that this kind of work goes beyond what we can see, hear, taste, touch, and feel. The battle that missionaries fight is a spiritual one (check out Ephesians 6:12). Missionaries are going head-to-head with the spiritual forces of darkness, not by swinging machetes or pulling out machine guns, but by sharing and spreading our one weapon in this fight: the Word of God, and the message contained therein, the Gospel. This fight is often difficult, exhausting, discouraging, and painful.
OK…pause real quick. Before you start thinking that I’m having a pity party over here for missionaries, and that you should feel super sorry for them, let me put this in perspective: all Christians are called to be missionaries; “real” missionaries simply go by that name for their job description. If you don’t get what I mean by this, please check out my previous posts, in which I describe how we all can be used by God to further his Kingdom. And thus, whenever we are engaged in this holy work, whenever we are out there sharing Jesus through our words and actions, we’re going to be persecuted, we’re going to be rejected, we’re going to find ourselves in the spiritual battle of the Kingdom of Heaven against the Kingdom of Hell. As Paul puts it: “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Thus, expect this work to be tough. Obviously, missionaries are (hopefully) doing this kind of stuff “full-time”. But remember for yourself also, the more and more that you follow God’s call to go and make disciples, the more and more you are going to face opposition, rejection, and discouragement. Missionaries have A LOT of other struggles besides the big themes that I have touched on in this brief post that you probably won’t ever encounter (so, yes, their struggle is a lot more real usually than for most people), but my hope is that you too find yourself in struggles. That you do find yourself feeling weak while spreading the Gospel. That you are often feeling discouraged. Because when all of that is happening, it probably means that God is using you. And, as one missionary pointed out to me, the more weaker and weaker, the more inadequate and beaten down that we find ourselves, the more we can see how God is the one whom we need to depend on, and that he is truly the one who is using us even as we struggle and even as we make a lot of mistakes. He can use us the most when we realize that he is the one doing the work through us.