So 15 years in Africa, nearly 33 years of Marriage, three lads of our own, 5 grand kids, fostered 22+ children and adopted 8. But by Gods grace we are still learning. However maybe we have some things to give back in the way of advice to those eagerly starting off on the mission adventure, things that maybe you can take hold of and use as you prepare. Let me say this letter is meant to encourage and through our experiences help those considering short and long term mission.
The first thing is keep check on your expectations. Short term mission is a whole universe away from long term. I remember getting off a plane in Pittsburgh having been invited to do some deputisation. At the arrivals were a band and a crowd of people with banners. The banners said "welcome home our missionaries". The band struck up a tune as a few young people came through the door and curious, I went over to the crowd to find out the specifics. I asked one guy what"s the commotion and he said praise God our missionaries are returning. How long they been away I asked? He said 10 days. Short term missions are great and exciting and the opportunity to share with your home church is a wonderful thing, however the longer you are away be prepared for the disappointment. Often long term Missionaries are forgotten by friends, family and supporters. That is just natural; while you are overseas people get on with their lives, families, careers. Supporting churches change leaders and priorities. Life goes on so be prepared.
This has implications that you will have to be aware of. The once vibrant support base if not nurtured can shrink. I am not just talking financial here but emotionally too and both these areas are a source of real attack from an enemy who goes around like a roaring Lion trying to devour you.
Financially never forget that God is your main supporter. However He uses weak fallible people like us and if like us you are not part of a larger missionary organization it can get a bit hairy at times but then again when God provides its more to praise Him for.
Emotionally short term missionaries tend to live on the crest of the wave which is great and so it should be and it"s fantastic to know there is a supporting church praying for your time away. Long term however can be very different. So make a point in having a support base that asks you the difficult adult questions like "How is your Marriage?". 'What are your frustrations?". "How are you coping without your family at home?". Ask yourself the question "Who is there for you when tragedy or serious difficulties arise"? When you start a work you thrive on the letters, love gifts, chocolate, parcels from home but expect these over the years to decrease.
Remember you are at war. I read about another long term missionary who had served in the military as well, what he said was interesting. I quote:
"Working in a foreign field is the same as being in a war. I know. I've fought in both and the similarities are striking. There is not much glorious about warfare. It may look exciting on TV or in the movies, but in the trenches it's a lot of hard work. And the enemy has ambushes everywhere. Often you can't tell the enemy from the friendly. And your friends get injured and killed. It hurts."
In any Army, the strategy, the encouragement and all come from well trained usually gifted men and women. They hold you too account and give you the means to accomplish your mission. The military also have a creed of their own that says 'Never leave any one behind no matter the cost". The US SEALS extend this with the following code of honour:
â€¢ Loyalty to Country, Team and Teammate
â€¢ Serve with Honour and Integrity On and Off the Battlefield
â€¢ Ready to Lead, Ready to Follow, Never Quit
â€¢ Take responsibility for your actions and the actions of your teammates
â€¢ Excel as Warriors through Discipline and Innovation
â€¢ Train for War, Fight to Win, Defeat our Nation"s Enemies
â€¢ Earn your Trident everyday
In short if you are going the whole hog on mission, you will do well to find yourself men of integrity who are not just patting you on the back when the battles are won but who also are there when you have taken a few hits and maybe the war does not go too well.
If you are preparing for short term mission you will have been advised on a lot of health issues and asked to have the various injections needed. Great advice, but sometimes unexpected things come along as you travel. A few years ago I had tick bite fever that put me on my back for months. Long term also has something"s as a younger fit person you never take into consideration. You start to get older and more prone to illness. For example I now have diabetes and Peripheral neuropathy. I had to have 2 discs in my spine fused and through it have nerve damage and walking difficulties. It seems now that most of our funding not only looks after the children"s HIV needs but also our own failing health. Jesus encourages us to count the cost before we build and it"s good to look at these things and ask ourselves the hard questions before we embark on a long term career.
Another difficulty or should I say challenge is the expectations of others. Short term missions are often busy busy busy and goal orientated. A bit like an SAS team, they come in, do their mission and then go home. However they leave behind the long term and to be frank I have heard some really negative things said about long term missionaries from those who come over for a few days and do not understand that the long term missionary has long term goals and also a 'normal' life to be led among the people. And let"s be frank life can often be boring. Food needs cooking, clothes and house need cleaning. Veggies need growing and the needs of a family need taking care of.
An AOG missionary gave some insight:
Boredom is real. I heard that before I left my home country. But now I have long periods of down time that I used to fill so easily at home. The first two months or so in a new place are the hardest, since you're establishing new friendships and a new pattern of life.
Knowing yourself is very important. I have been stretched a phenomenal amount, especially in the first months of my assignment. If you have any hidden personal issues, God will bring them to light. Be willing to deal with them as they come up; don't push them away. God needs to break you in order to use you.
Be teachable, and be a lifelong learner. It's easy to depend only on your ability to figure it out once you get there, since firsthand knowledge may seem more dependable than book knowledge and theories. It's not true. Know before you go.
It takes time to ease into the structure. At home, I had lots of energy to fill my day from early morning to late at night. But overseas, I tire so quickly. Realize that being stretched physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well as facing a new culture, language, and living situation wears you out. It's okay to slow down. Being a missionary is not about being superhuman and accomplishing a long list each day. Some days all you'll accomplish is a trip to the grocery store or a government office. It's about trust, obedience, and hearing the Master's voice.
So please as Cyril of Jerusalem said "Do not judge a man until you walk in his sandals.
I will finish there for now and maybe in the New Year write about spiritual and mental health issues of long term missions and how to cope with criticism and disappointment. But first let me thank you from the bottom of our hearts to those who have loved us, supported us, and helped us physically and financially during 2014. May our Lord bless you in abundance during 2015.
PS David Royle
Mount of Olives Mission
Po Box 793