Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Surviving the New Adventure


You have waited many years for this moment.  You surrendered to the mission field, graduated from Bible college, spent many months on deputation, and now you are headed to the field!  Life could not be more exciting, more adventurous!  The moment you have anticipated, dreamt about, and talked about is finally here. 

When you get to the field, it is exactly as you dreamed.  Everything is so different, yet so intriguing.  The people live differently, shopping takes a whole adventurous day, the local language sounds just like you stepped into a foreign film setting.  It is a lot to take in, but you are basking in the thrill of it all.  "Yes, this was exactly what I had in mind.  This is exactly what I have been looking forward to all of my life," you reflect.

The people do quirky things, and you think it is charming.  Things happen that you just know the people at home will not believe, so you write home about it with great pleasure, knowing your friends and family will be just as amused as you are.  You journal each day (whether on paper or on your blog) about the incredulous things you are seeing and experiencing.  This is the life! 

And then, a few months down the road, those funny things slowly start to lose their humor.  They start becoming ordinary, and the excitement that got you through those first few months starts to subside.  You have thrown yourself whole-heartedly into learning the language, and you are coming to the realization that learning a language is a much slower process than you anticipated.  After all, you have been here nearly a year and still cannot say an intelligible full sentence correctly.  People still ask you where you are from everywhere you turn, especially whenever you speak.  Winter comes and it is bitterly cold (or even the opposite extreme and in the 90's!).... not at all like back home.  Christmas Day arrives and you might find yourself completely alone or, at best, with another missionary family; and well, quite frankly, you are slightly disappointed because you were not able to celebrate like you know your family was celebrating at home. 

Living on the mission field becomes harder and harder, and suddenly you look back and realize that it is no longer an adventure.  Those customs that were "cute" to you at first are, really, just rather annoying.  After all, don't these people know that there are better ways of doing things? 

And slowly, little by little, the adventure has worn completely off.  Life trudges on and does not always take the directions you had anticipated.  People are not asking "What must I do to be saved?" like you always dreamed they would.  In fact, if they were to ask, you would not even be able to tell them.  "Does everyone realize how hard it is to learn a foreign language?" you wonder as you think about how embarrasing it is that you have not been able to lead one person to Christ's sweet salvation yet.

The letters from home stop coming as often, and everyone expects that you have settled into a happy, little routine.  And you have... except that you feel kind of stuck.  "This is where I am supposed to be, but I did not realize it would be so lonely.  Every time I open my mouth to speak, people hang onto my words trying to understand me like a mother watches her toddler trying to speak."  You feel foolish and want to crawl into a shell and hide.  And it does not help that you do not understand anything that is being preached at church either.  You, the "great missionary" who left all behind to serve Christ, even start feeling un-churched.  Of course, you sit faithfully in every service (while training under a veteran missionary) but still only catch words here and there - certainly not enough to feel conviction or encouragement.  You miss your home church; you miss traveling to the greatest churches of America and being in the greatest Missions Conferences ever to be conducted.  Forget all of that... you just miss hearing English everywhere you turn!

Slowly, discouragement sets in.  "I will never fit in here.  I will never speak this language correctly.  I will never adapt to the way they do things, etc..."  And then you find that you are in a place you never thought you would be.  After all, was it not you who, when you talked about foreign missions to children's Sunday school classes, watched as those small eyes widened in wonder at the adventure of taking the Gospel to a foreign mission field?  Was it not you who gave touching testimonies to ladies' groups about your burning desire to reach these people?
But, oh, dear young missionary wife!  You are crossing a bridge between two mountains.  The first mountain is the one you left back home, and the second mountain is the one you will reach once you start making friends and learning to adapt in your new home.  But, right now you are caught between those two mountains, on a shaky, rattling swinging bridge.  It seems so much safer to turn around and run back to the first, comfortable mountain that you left not so long ago.  But, if you will just endure and keep taking one small, shaky step at a time, one day you will find that you have reached the other side.  And, it is a beautiful mountaintop, filled with the greatest pleasures and beauty one could ever imagine!   From one who has made it to that second mountain, I encourage you to hang on!

I often wonder, if young missionary wives understood this transition process... from adventure to loneliness and change and, finally, to adaption, would there be more missionaries who made it through those first, transitioning years?  Most missionaries who give up on their calling, do so during the first four or five years. 

I also wonder if praying friends back home truly realize the lonely tears that are shed during that transition period.  If they did, I am sure they would be more faithful to write little notes and send little care packages to those young missionary families.  If you are one of those praying friends, let me encourage you to find a missionary family who has been on the field anywhere from one to five years and focus on that family.  And when the devil comes and tries to rattle that already-unsteady bridge, the missionary family will hold on tighter and take another step forward.... another step toward their future of staying.

41 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for writing this post. The message was very timely - thanks for the encouragement!

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  2. O.My.Soul.! Thank you, beyond words, for what I just read! I am that missionary. I am that wife. As I sit here with tears streaming down my face, I can't say anything except thank you. Very Much!

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  3. This breaks my heart but in a good way, I am going to pray and ask God to show me a missionary family for me and my family to adopt. Thanks for baring your heart with us....Pat

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  4. Wow. This is really good. I hope to remember this is here after we're on the field. I remember feeling this when we were in Arizona for the summer, and that was only for 3 months! I'm sure this will be a comfort to many missionary (including me!).

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  5. Thank you for this post!! My husband and I are getting ready to leave for the field this month. I'm going to bookmark this post so that I can go back to it when I know I'm going to be feeling the things you described. My husband grew up in the country we are going to and can speak the language so I'm going to be "alone" in the whole learning thing. Though I know the Lord will help me. Thanks again!!

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  6. Ok. I'm crying, Jolene.

    I can imagine how hard the transition time must be for a missionary's wife. Thank you for bringing our attention to this and for encouraging us to pray for and encourage other missionaries.

    You ladies are true heroes! Stay faithful. The blessings that lie just "across that bridge" are worth every difficult step you take to get there!

    Well written, my dear sister!

    Love, hugs, and many applauses to you and other ladies just like you!

    Anna

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  7. Jolene, what a great post. Oh, how I remember those lonely years. I know that it is not only the parents that struggle with that, but also the kids. Definitely need to keep each other in our prayers! Love, Mona

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  8. Thank you for posting this! We have been on our field for 6 months and that bridge you talked about seems to get longer and longer some days. Thank you!!!
    Masey

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  9. This is from a young missionary wife who has been on the field near two years. THANK YOU! You encouraged me today

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  10. Thank you for sharing this post with those of us that are home praying for you.I imagine the days must be lonely at times.I want to be more faithful in praying for missionaries and remembering you with letters and packages.:)

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  11. So rightly said, and so encouraging. I never thought about it as being on a bridge like that, but that is definitely the feeling you get sometimes! Thanks so much for this great post.

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  12. Oh, this is so great, and encapsulates to a tea so many of the experiences of my first few years on the field. If only I had known that these feelings were perfectly normal and part of a process when I was in the midst of them! I am so thankful that God led you to write this to encourage others. And I can attest too that what you said about there being a second mountain (adaptation), is also true! It does get better! I am praying for all of you dear moms in this very difficult transitional time!

    And Jolene, I love your blog! I look forward to getting to know you more here!

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  13. Dear friend,
    Very well written and so true! Every. word. Some of that I have been through and some of it I am still working on. One step at a time across that bridge. Thank you for being a source of great encouragement to me and to so many!
    Wonderful post!
    Love you!
    Heather

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  14. Thank you, Jolene! What a great article. I shared this on my wall on FB. Hope you don't mind. If people in churches could encourage their missionary wives, it might keep them on the field longer and happier. Thanks!

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  15. Wow Jolene, Very well said! Love ya!

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  16. Enjoyed reading this. There is a romantic notion of missions back in the states, and you really did a good job describing how the honeymoon wears off. God bless you!

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  17. Thank you for this post Jolene! I am not a missionary wife; but I am a church planter's wife and we feel the same way. I am sure that it is not to the degree that those in far away countries do; after all, we do hear English being spoken around us (at least it sounds like English). Praying for your family and I am going to adopt another family to pray for as well. Tinyla

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  18. Thank you, Jolene, I am not a young missionary wife, but I really needed this. The only reason I am not a young missionary wife is because we came to the field later in life. Just the other day I was lamenting that I cannot go shopping with my daughter (now that she finally enjoys shopping)because she and her family live in the states. I miss all my children so much, so thank you for these encouraging words.
    Pray for my language skills!

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  19. Very well-written! Thank you for sharing your heart like this! I love you, Missionary Lady!

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  20. "I love you, Jolene! Thanks for the bridges that you have crossed & the ones you are enduring & for accepting any in the future that the Lord may have for you as you take steps for Him into different areas of ministry on your mission field....for we know the Christian life is made up of many mountains & valleys along the way. You are such a blessing & encouragement to so many. *Hugs* to you, my Friend....my sweet, sweet friend! ♥

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  21. You have such a talent for writing from the heart and your posts are always a blessing. I recently heard the testimony of a young missionary wife to Africa that was very similar. Sadly, so many think of missionaries as heroes, and they ARE, but don't realize that they are just normal people who have real human struggles that they face as well. Have you ever considered writing a book? I've read your mother-in-laws' book and appreciated her willingness to be straight forward and not "sugar coat" anything that she wrote about. If you wrote a book, it would be a great resource, just like your m-n-laws book for young people who are following God's call. I know some things can only be learned through experience, but I also think knowing what to expect from a missionary wife's perspective would be so helpful. Anyway, all that to say, "Thanks for being a blessing and God bless you"! ~ Rachel

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  22. Excellent Jolene - truer words were never spoken. God has given you a gift for writing. Thank you for using it for His glory!!!

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  23. How very true, as you know, your "Surviving the..Adventure" was. I'm praying your writing will be a real blessing to those "new" missionaries (men or women) and bring them to our remembrance to stay in touch more--I am definitely extremely bad about such things :(
    Well, anyway, praying for you and thanking you for your faithfulness, and letting God have your heart so it can be in the work!
    Love ya, Debbie

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  24. This was very good I always need new things to pray for the
    Missionaries my friend and I pray for a lot of missionaries and we don't want to pray the same thing so please let me know what I should
    Pray for .
    Thanks for any suggesting you can give us

    Virginia

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  25. VERY perfectly said. You shared your heart and got the point across like I've never heard before. Love you!

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  26. I love your insights and I am going to pass this on to two of my missionary friends. I know it will bless and encourage them as it did me. Yes, me. Even I get discouraged here in my mission field. You have blessed me.
    Much love and many prayers,
    Vicki

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  27. I couldn't help but cry when I read this. Thank you...

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  28. Wow! I was recommended to your blog by a dear friend in my church back home. We have been on the field for 14 months now, and I couldn't have given a better description of that time! Thank you for this blog, I look forward to following it from now on! What an encouragement! Thank you again, what a blessing! Robin T.- Honduras

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  29. That was a great! Every future missionary wife should read that. You did a great job of making it as real as can be. Sooo true too.

    ~Cinnamon

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  30. Jolene, What a great article. (It makes me proud that I was your English teacher if only for a year or so!!) What encouraging words to young missionary wives. I really enjoy your blog. Keep it up. Love you. God bless you.

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  31. I see my son and his wife and all they have experience the first year and a half on the field. Oh my, the trials, yet they have remained faithful. Thanks for sharing. Excellent article! All of us back in the comfort of the states need to read this.

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  32. Wow! I could have written those exact words myself (although probably not quite as well as you did!!). So. True!!!!! I went through ALL of that! This is something that all preparing to serve in missions should be taught.

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  33. Thank you so much for this post. I needed to hear it. Just add fog so that you can't see the other side and an occasional chilly wind of attack you weren't expecting and that's about where I'm at right now....in the center of God's will!

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  34. As one who remained at home and continues to pray for mission families, it has done my soul good to know there are 35 comments to this one (so very timely!) post. There are several specific families that are included in my prayers, but I know I can add more, to hold their names for the Holy Spirit to know I love them. This one will get more coverage.

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  35. Beautifully expressed and full of truth. Love,Maria

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  36. I've really enjoyed your posts, though this is my first time commenting. I like what you said about the "bridge between two mountains"! :-) I've been on the field for five years now, but we've moved three times so my bridge has seemed a little long at times! :-)

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  37. These words were such a blessing to me this day! I'm between the two mountains right now...

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  38. ....I LOVED LOVED LOVED the article of what those first 5 years look like. I've never felt so understood! I think I might read it again! SUCH a good job! I was so impressed!

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  39. Mary Beth Snyder, KiribatiThursday, March 22, 2012

    Thank you very much! So well put. I received this link from someone and am glad she shared it with me. We have been on the field for a little over a month and I can relate to some of it and brace myself for later. I'm glad to know what to expect and to receive the encouragement. May the Lord bless you for helping us younger missionaries and their families and friends.

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Thank you for your encouraging comments! "As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country." Proverbs 25:25