Further Up and Further In
7 Nov 2016
The missionaries in our history books often made the decision to go to the mission field for the rest of their lives, it was their one vocation and calling. We now live in a society where it is normal to have 5 or 6 different careers in our lifetime, and this impacts the missions world too. Most missionaries will serve overseas for a season of their life, be it 2 years, 22 years, or something in between. For our missionaries out there right now, one of the hardest questions they have to face is: when is the right time to come home?
Are you a missionary considering whether it is time to leave the mission field? This sensitive and wise advice, from some of our missionaries who have been serving for more than 10 years, is for you:
South East Asia: Tropical
I would encourage you to talk through your decisions with some older missionaries or an independent Christian counsellor. Making decisions to come home can often be fueled with emotion or under stressful circumstances. We chatted through our decision making with a counsellor, via skype, who was not trying to sway us one way or the other but was merely helping us by asking questions and talking through our decisions with us.
East Asia: Megacity
This is a hard question because there are some very good reasons to go home. We would say, seek the Lord, seek wisdom from others around you. Don’t stay on the field for the sake of staying on the field, but don’t go home just because it seems like the easier thing to do. For us, we have seen more fruit from the 7-10 year mark, than the first 6 years.
Middle East: Oasis
I would ask you, “Why are you considering leaving? If because of education for the kids, lack of fellowship, health needs – consider moving location to somewhere which provides better opportunities, but still allows the use of the new language and culture learnt. If you are not seeing fruit – remember that ‘successful ministry’ is more about personal faithfulness in living the Christian life, and sharing at every opportunity. Fruit is the work of the Spirit. Additionally, the Lord has given you skills and abilities that would take others many years to gain. You have a responsibility to use those gifts wisely.
Western Europe: Cosmopolitan
It would totally depend on the situation. In some cases, leaving the field might be the wisest and best thing to do, in others it might not be. The one piece of advice that we would consistently give is to seek God and His will and leading. If it is truly His timing for you to leave the field, then you should, and if it’s not then trust Him and stay. You should also, where possible, ask others to be praying for leading and discernment. We truly believe that this is the best way to discern, and should be the common practice for all Christians in all that they do, with missionaries and their time on the field being no exception. One thing to comment on is the pressure that missionaries can feel to stay on the field a certain length of time, as if that is a primary determiner of missionary success. It is true that there are certain things that can only be done over a longer period, but merely committing to long-term isn’t necessarily a guarantee that things will get done.
Central Asia: Desert
I would like to ascertain what is your reason for considering leaving? Do you feel you have nothing left to give? Are you tired? Discouraged? Missing your home country? If so, I would suggest that you take an extended home leave to take time to rest. Allow yourself to be re-filled so that whatever you choose comes from a place of fullness rather than tiredness.
Are you considering leaving for practical reasons? Not able to find adequate schooling for your children? No longer able to get visas for the country you have been serving in? Is it for your health, or the health of your aging parents? If so, I would also suggest time to rest before making a concrete decision – to know that you are making that choice because God has led you to it. I would encourage you to ask yourself some hard questions, to ascertain if you are making this decision based on what appears to be a ‘legitimate’ reason to leave the field, but is actually a cover up for struggling with feeling as though you have nothing left to give.
Whatever the reasons, I would encourage you to ground yourself in your relationship with God, and to remember that trusting in and obeying Him are the most important things – whether that leads you to your homeland, or returning to another hard term on the field. If you are living with Him as your centre, and the rock on which you stand, then you will be able to cope no matter what you encounter each day.
East Asia: Urban
Consider whether your best years of service in that field may still be ahead of you.
Let’s be praying for our missionaries who have served faithfully for many years, but who are now struggling and tired, and thinking about calling it a day. Pray for them to have an opportunity to rest, and for time and space to seek God’s will for them going forwards. Pray too that they will receive wise counsel from others, to assist them discern what the Lord is saying to them. Pray for them to have the courage to come home, or the courage to stay on the mission field, as the Lord leads.