Have you ever wondered what it is like to live on the mission field? There are so many reasons people become missionaries. The life of a missionary is often admired and praised, regardless of the knowledge of day-to-day activities.
When we told J.L. Williams that we were going to move to Haiti to be missionaries, he told us, "If it is within your power, don't do it."
Of course, we were taken aback. J.L. is known for being all about missions - his life poured missions into every aspect of it, touching everyone with a glimpse of his passion. He explained to us that if it was within our power to NOT go, then it was not truly God calling us. Within our own power, we can keep ourselves from doing it. When God is truly calling us, we have a leading and urgency that cannot be calmed or quieted.
We have been in Haiti for nearly 4 years now. In this time we have met so many people who have come to Haiti for varying lengths of time for vastly different reasons. If you are contemplating going into missions - regardless of length of time - here are 10 reasons you should NOT go.
1. Missions is exciting!
While there are many things in missions that are exciting, this is not a good reason to pack your bags. Daily life in missions can often feel mundane. Once the newness wears off, you will find yourself in a new rhythm. In this stage, life goes on as "usual." Though there are new aspects to this "usual," it still can feel mundane and lack the special awe you had imagined. For example, my days are about like this:
wake up and ensure kids are eating a healthy breakfast
start school with kids
quiet time while kids are working
continue helping kids with school
check kids' school
The afternoon is usually spent either getting groceries (a LENGTHY process), taking a child to an activity, or preparing for Bible study.
There is not much that feels out-of-the-ordinary for me in my regularly scheduled activities. My exciting God moments are probably as frequent as what I could experience in my home culture.
3. I will feel closer to God.
Regardless of where you live and what your "job" is, your relationship with God - and with others - requires dedication and time. Living on the mission field does not always help with this. There are new stressors and things demanding your time and attention. Things that are often a "quick-fix" in the states can take much longer on the mission field. Be accountable for your relationship with God and the time you spend with Him, no matter where you live. There are times on the mission field that you can feel like you are in a spiritual desert...missions does not equal better relationship with God.
4. People will respect me more if I am a missionary.
People will choose how they feel. Some will respect you for who you are, regardless of where you live. Others will find something that they don't like about you regardless of who you are. Strive to be a respectable person wherever you are. Missionaries do not win popularity contests...and they often feel ostracized and/or lonely. If you're looking for respect, live a life of respect. Ultimately, seek your image in who God is and who He says you are!
5. I want to live in a foreign country.
There are much easier ways to live in a foreign country besides being a missionary. Some countries welcome missionaries gladly, and expect great things (which is exhausting). Other countries do not welcome missionaries, and may even despise them (which is exhausting). If you want to live in a foreign country, do it! Fulfill that dream - but do it on your time and on your dollar unless you know missions is right for you!
6. It's on my bucket-list.
Bucket-lists are great. They help us dream big and focus on meeting some of our big goals. There are so many things on bucket lists. If being a missionary is one of them, make sure you have reason for it. Simply doing it to say, "I did that once," will not end well. Being a missionary is not easy, so take the time to ensure you're ready! Otherwise you could go home worse-off than you started.
7. I want to start over (don't like home; run from my past; don't want to face hardships at home).
My daughter reminded me that the book Christy was about a young lady who really didn't want to be at home anymore. She thought missions would be a good alternative. She struggled throughout her time and learned a lot. There are so many ways to run from life...I think most missionaries want to run from life at some point. If your purpose in becoming a missionary is to start over, you will meet that goal. However, you will suffer for it in the long run. As is so often said, stay and work through problems first. Then go as God leads.
8. My friend (or family/parents) was a missionary. I feel like I should do the same.
It would be a lot of fun to join friends on the mission field. It could feel like the honorable thing to do - become a missionary since your parents/grandparents were missionaries. I think (and hope) they would be honest with you to tell you that they don't want you to go just because they did. Think about it - do you want someone to say they are a Christian just because you say you are? I certainly do not - not even with my own children! Because as soon as the world comes crashing down around them, they will not be able to stand. I want people to choose Christianity because they see how much they need and want it for themselves! The same is true of being a missionary - to go because someone else did will set you up for failure when the world comes crashing down...and trust me, it will.
9. Being a missionary will make me special.
My youngest felt this should be on the list of 10 reasons. His answer? "You shouldn't go be a missionary to make you special. God says your special already!"
So there you have it - out of the mouth of an 8-year old. If you are struggling with your self-image, seek your Creator who will remind you of who you truly are. Let Him show you how special you are. Don't pack your bags just to find that!
10. I went with a group on a short-term trip, and it was incredible! I want to go back and live that way all the time.
Throughout the past 4 years, this may be the most commonly stated reason for wanting to become a missionary. We have worked with a LOT of short-term groups. Nearly every group has at least one person who says they want to come back and "live like this all the time." I'm going to let you in on a secret - short-term trips are NOTHING like LIVING on the mission field. They are designed to give you as much positive interaction as can be crammed into your time. They are designed to scratch your itch and help you feel connected. They are designed to educate and inform you so that you can go home and be an advocate for help and change.
As a missionary, you are not on a sprint. You are on a super-marathon. You are not trying to cram everything in, and it is not all positive. You are working on learning language and culture, building relationships with all new people, and mourning the life you sacrificed in order to come.
So there are 10 reasons...and I am sure there are many more. If you are not sure when to go, or how you know for sure, ask a missionary!
The reality is that there is only ONE reason for why you should become a missionary - being called.
So ask yourself, "Am I being called?" If you do not know that God clearly said to you individually, "Go," you could be walking into suffering that is unnecessary. When the uncalled go to the mission field, they suffer...but they also can cause others to suffer. Too many times, people are sent out and those who receive them are distracted from their ministry because they are trying to help someone survive. All missionaries can go through this. What gets them through? Knowing they are called. Without that clear conviction to stand on, people can be nearly destroyed.
At the end of the day, when I want to throw in the towel and pack it all up to go back to running water, 24/7 electricity, family and friends, English language, restaurants and nearby groceries (that, by the way, have everything!), I am reminded that God called me here. If He called me, He has a reason. I do not want to leave too early and prevent His complete plan from taking place in me. I want to be faithful to wherever He calls me, and I know He will provide all I need while I surrender daily.
Gami & Cathi Ortiz
Best friends; married for 17 years; parents of five wonderful children; living on mission in Haiti since 2013.