Today I’m going to give you a side of Short-Term Missions that you won’t find in the newsletters or in the promotional materials from your sending organization. If, however, you spend any length of time on the mission field (long enough for the “honeymoon stage” to wear off), you will experience.
Oh don’t be alarmed. I’m not venting and I’m not writing from a “dark place”… but I’ve catalogued a few of the things we’ve felt and experienced over our two years in France.
Frustration is not necessarily a bad thing unless it goes on, unchecked, for a prolonged period of time (If that’s the case for you… you’ve got to find a way to snap out of it).
Frustration, as a periodic emotional response is simply a sign that:
- you’re human and
- you’re out of your comfort zone.
That’s all… no biggie.
12 ways in which STM can be frustrating:
- Sometimes you have to make choices based on finances that are finite. Do you go out with the others or opt for home-made? (This is less an issue when you are bringing home a stable, regular income)
- The application process can be long, taking weeks or even months. Sometimes you get insight into where you’re at in the process but not always. When you don’t, you’re left wondering and depending on your personality type, too much wondering can be negative. You wonder if they think you have what it takes. You question your call… your gifts… your talents / abilities. (the antidote: be patient and trust the Lord. If he has called you – if you’re in his will – and if you’ve done your part, you are in his timeline. Trust that it is good)
- You don’t see quantifiable results as quickly or as clearly as you think you would in your church back home. So you question your effectiveness. (Remember… you’re in a different spiritual context. That’s just exactly it… you’re NOT back home. Work diligently and trust him.)
- Teams don’t always fall into place as smoothly as you’d expected or hoped. You will always be teamed up with someone… whether a fellow missionary, a local minister, a new Christian that you’re trying to disciple or a ministry worker in some area of the church. Sometimes there will be a natural affinity, other times there won’t. Sometimes you will complement each other well, other times less so. Sometimes “life” will simply get in the way and it’s no one’s “fault”… but it can still be frustrating.
- Even if you speak the language you may remain cultural outsider for a longer time than you expected to. You just don’t think like them so it takes mental energy, accommodation and patience to adjust to how things get done. Every time. Even after years. It can be frustrating.
- Administrative hurdles are seemingly always present. Whether at home in North America or in your country of service, you don’t quite fit: the tick boxes on government forms don’t apply neatly to you like they do just about everyone else. There may always be an element of unease when working through paperwork and there may always be a need to explain your situation… again, again and again. It can be frustrating.
- You may or may not own your own home (maybe you sold it to go on missions), or be contributing to a retirement savings program, things that all responsible adults are supposed to do. The thought of that weighs heavily on you, particularly if you have a family.
- The future isn’t always clear… and it depends on many factors. Trying to make sense of them all is like trying to keep a dozen plates spinning in the air simultaneously. Eventually, something’s gonna break (and it may just be your sanity).
- Your paycheck is paid, not by a stable company, but by individuals & churches who may opt to pay monthly, quarterly or in a lump sum annually. Sometimes they are unable to follow through on their commitments due to factors out of their control. Regardless of the reason, you find yourself on the field and your account is like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard… bare, and it’s frustrating.
- Your day planner is way more flexible that it would be in a typical employment situation. That can be great or it can prove challenging. Unless there are clear goals or measurables, you can have a hard time believing that you’re actually accomplishing anything.
- You typically have to spend time fundraising before hand. This can last months (or years) and all the while, you’re like a racehorse penned up in the gate. You just want to take off and be on the field of your calling. It’s frustrating to be in a “waiting season”.
- You can have pre-existing expectations of what it will be like, what you will accomplish, how things will work etc. and you realize, overtime that things just don’t work like that. It can cause you to second guess yourself. You realize your own naïveté which can be a healthy exercise. If you dwell on it too much though… it can lead down the garden path.
Frustration can take you to the edge…
Sometimes if feels like God is taking you right back to zero. That’s the moment you consider just trading it all in for a normal life, one where…
- you fit everyone else’s expectation of a responsible adult (including your own)
- you can tick all the boxes with ease
- you can more easily measure your success & achievements and
- you can decide to go out to a restaurant as a family… for no special reason.
- you know what you’ll be paid from week to week without portions of your income suddenly evaporating.
You consider trading it all in. You think really hard about just giving up on whatever it was that brought you here in the first place.
You almost long for it….
Then your throat tightens, and your eyes well up with tears and you realize that that would be nothing more than the easy way out: The easy way out of a challenging moment in time, and the easy way out of God’s will for your life…. his perfect will.
Stepping back from the edge…
Your throat has tightened and your eyes have leaked and something the size of a mustard seed is seen by your mind’s eye and you realize that it’s faith. Not heaps, but enough to recall to memory those special moments that you journaled a few years ago; messages you can go back to, services where you can pinpoint exactly where you were, in which church sanctuary and who the preacher was.
You pull them back out of your mind or flip through the pages of those very journals… and you can once again re-touch the feeling, the sense of assurance, the certainty that… in the midst of uncertainty, you heard the voice of the Lord and he gave you direction. You followed that direction and you made your way to this place. The place that today may be a place of frustration but a place where he continues to walk by your side.
The frustrations have not disappeared but as you rehearse all of these things in your mind, there is an under-girding sense that there is purpose in, and beyond, the frustration.
With this, you have what it takes to, again tomorrow, put one foot in front of the other and be faithful in the myriad of little things that, when added together, constitute the building up of God’s kingdom… in your life and in the country of your service.
In this world you will have trouble, but fear not, I have overcome the world.
What passage of scripture do you go back to when faced with frustration?
What helps you step back from the edge?
Let me know in the comments below…
Next Post: STM can be Humbling!
OK, so you know better how to deal with frustration, but there’s another feeling that can come into play. It’s different from frustration and perhaps less negatively perceived, yet it still takes some getting used to because it takes us out of our comfort zone.